Mariama Bâ and Her Novel "So Long a Letter"

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About this sample


Words: 1042 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Sep 20, 2018

Words: 1042|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Sep 20, 2018

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Role of Mariama Ba's Background in "So Long a Letter"
  3. Summary and Conclusion
  4. References


C.S. Lewis once stated, "Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become" (Brainyquote Com, 2017). Mariama Bâ's "So Long a Letter" is a poignant example of how an author's background can profoundly shape the themes, characters, and messages embedded within a literary work. The setting of Mariama Bâ's "So Long a Letter" holds profound significance as it is intricately linked to the author's background, rooted in Dakar, the capital of Senegal during the precolonial era, steeped in Senegalese traditions and culture. During this period, life was shaped by the tenets of the Muslim religion, the practice of polygamy, and the patriarchal structure of society.

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The Role of Mariama Ba's Background in "So Long a Letter"

Mariama Bâ (April 17, 1929 – August 17, 1981) was a Senegalese author and feminist who wrote in French. Growing up in Dakar, she was raised in a Muslim household. However, from an early age, she began to question the gender inequalities perpetuated by African traditions. She inhabited a society similar to the one portrayed in her book, where girls had limited access to education, women were subservient to their husbands, and men were deemed superior to women.

"So Long a Letter" unfolds as a sequence of events narrated in the form of a letter, penned by the fictional character Ramatoulaye, a recently widowed Senegalese school teacher. It serves as a testament to Ramatoulaye's emotional struggle for survival following her husband's abrupt decision to take a second wife. Mariama Bâ's own life experiences are echoed in the novel through shared settings and key characters like Ramatoulaye and Aissatou. The common thread of criticism of chauvinism runs consistently through both their lives.

Examining the setting reveals that the author's background significantly influenced her novel. Bâ grew up during the colonial era, receiving her early education in French while simultaneously attending a Quranic school. In the novel, Ramatoulaye, her children, and other females are depicted as attending Quranic school, with only a few also enrolling in French schools. They faced opposition from the men around them, reminiscent of Bâ's own maternal grandparents, who had no intention of educating her beyond primary school. This illuminates Bâ's critique of the gender inequalities prevalent at the time. Her commitment to feminist ideals stemmed from her upbringing and schooling.

Bâ's work emphasizes the importance of women in various roles — grandmother, mother, sister, daughter, cousin, and friend—and their vital contributions to society (The Patriotic Vanguard, 2013). She delves into the myriad aspects directly affecting women in the novel. Ramatoulaye's pain upon her husband's death, not because of his demise but due to his rejection of her in favor of a younger wife, underscores the enduring impact of such a decision. The fact that Modou Fall marries Ramatoulaye's daughter's best friend further reflects the author's exploration of the women's mental states, drawing from her personal experiences.

In contrast, Aissatou, unlike Ramatoulaye, takes charge of her life after her husband Mawdo Ba marries a second wife. Aissatou openly expresses her disapproval of polygamy as a violation of women's dignity, proclaiming,

"I am stripping myself of your love, your name. Clothed in my dignity, the only worthy garment, I go my way" (Page 32).

As a divorcee and self-proclaimed "modern Muslim woman" (The Patriotic Vanguard, 2013), Aissatou's experiences during her marriage are reflected in Ramatoulaye's musings on matrimony. Both women present a perspective shared by Bâ, highlighting the pivotal role of marriage for Senegalese women.

Bâ reveals the power dynamics present in society and the entrenched stereotypes that justified patriarchal structures. In the novel, these power imbalances result in women's inability to shape their destinies. While they endure the misbehavior of their husbands, they do not take drastic action, even though it inflicts emotional pain. This passivity is a consequence of their economic and psychological dependence on their husbands. The novel emphasizes the significance of family unity, symbolizing the nation's success. Ramatoulaye's frustration arises from the division of her family due to her husband's second marriage. Bâ underscores the vital role of education, as she and Ramatoulaye are both portrayed as teachers in the novel.

Summary and Conclusion

Bâ's personal experiences as a Senegalese woman, teacher, and wife influenced her novel. Although she divorced after twenty-five years of marriage, while Ramatoulaye remains married for thirty years, parallels between Bâ's life and the book are evident. Bâ chose to remain in her marriage with Modou Fall this time, embellishing the story by depicting Ramatoulaye as a resilient woman who remains committed to her marriage despite her husband's betrayal. The experiences depicted in the novel mirror Bâ's own life to some extent. While Ramatoulaye has twelve children, Bâ had nine.

Through "So Long a Letter," Mariama Bâ articulates her thoughts, perceptions, and emotions in various ways. These parallels between her life and the novel illuminate how Bâ used literature as a medium to convey her message. Bâ firmly believed that books were the means to transmit her message across generations. The universal appeal of her book, published in over a dozen languages with more translations underway, underscores its timeless relevance. As Bâ put it,

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"The power of books, this marvelous invention of astute human intelligence. Various signs associated with sound: different sounds that form the word. Juxtaposition of words from which springs the idea, Thought, History, Science, Life. Sole instrument of interrelationship and of culture, unparalleled means of giving and receiving. Books knit generations together in the same continuing effort that leads to progress. They enabled you to better yourself. What society refused you, they granted" (Mariama Bâ, 1981).


  1. Bâ, M. (1981). So Long a Letter. Heinemann.
  2. Brainyquote Com. (2017). C. S. Lewis Quotes. BrainyQuote.
  3. The Patriotic Vanguard. (2013). Mariama Bâ: Pioneer of African Literature. The Patriotic Vanguard.
  4. Lindfors, B. (1994). Mariama Bâ: An African Woman’s Literary Contributions. Research in African Literatures, 25(3), 131-134.
  5. Diawara, M. (1997). "Reading" Mariama Bâ’s Un chant écarlate. Research in African Literatures, 28(1), 180-184.
  6. Kane, O. B. (2013). The Themes of Women and Feminism in Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter. Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Science, 1(10), 33-39.
  7. Fofana, A. M. (2016). Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter: An Epistolary Representation of Muslim Women. Journal of International Women's Studies, 17(4), 87-98.
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Mariama Bâ and Her Novel “So Long a Letter”. (2018, September 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
“Mariama Bâ and Her Novel “So Long a Letter”.” GradesFixer, 04 Sept. 2018,
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