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Thread: So Long a Letter

  1. #1

    So Long a Letter

    So Long a Letter, by Mariama Ba is a work in translation, originally written in French. It contains so many universal themes and lessons.
    Has the translation been a barrier in understanding Ba sometimes?

    Also, are there some things (including the obvious polygamy) that readers cannot relate to? For example, can we relate to Ramatoulaye's way of rearing her children even though we may not be parents? Can we understand the generation/culture gap even if we don't come from Senegal?

    Also, what are your favorite quotes from this novella? I LOVE
    "Friendship has splendours that love knows not. It grows stronger when crossed, whereas obstacles kill love. Friendship resists time, which wearies and severs couples. It has heights unknown to love" (54).

    I feel like this is a theme in the book--the importance of friendship. And I'd love to believe that the secret to a successful relationship concerning romantic love is have friendship as an underlying support beam. Do you think Modou and Ramatoulaye had friendship?
    "I sought my soul, But my soul I could not see.
    I sought my God, But my God eluded me.
    I sought my brother, And I found all three."
    --W. Blake

  2. #2
    I like that quote too . I think there's a lot to be said about friendship in this novel. It seems like Ramatoulaye's friendship with Aissatou is what keeps her going strong (other than her children). Aissatou is there to give her advice and just to be there for support. She evens gives her a car which is such a generous thing to do. I love the fact that both of them give equally in their friendship. I think that's what was lacking in Ramatoulaye and Modou's marriage. There wasn't a strong friendship or foundation between the two, so eventually their love and marriage fell apart. Ramatoulaye even said that she gave more than she received from him. They never gave equally in their friendship so there was never that strong foundation. So to answer your question...Yes, I do think that in order for there to be romantic love, there needs to be friendship as the foundation.

  3. #3
    I do not think we can ever really read a story and not find connections. Although we may not understand the specific societal differences that create tension between these specific generations, we can all relate to having our parents "not get us." We may not be in a situation where we have to chose between staying with our polygamous husband or not, but we can relate to having cognitive dissonance. We all think one way, but our actions may not always follow what we know is right; we all understand the internal tension where you don't do what you know you should do, or you don't stand up for an issue you know you need to stand up for.

    I think that Ramatoulaye and Moudou did have love, and Ramatoulaye admits to still loving him after all he does to her. However, i do think they also shared a form of friendship. Ramatoulaye explains that she misses just having her nightly chats with her husband, which shows a kind of friendship. But i agree with sillygoose in that the problem with their "friendship" is that they didn't give equally.
    Even though Ramatoulaye may not have financially supported Aissatou the way Aissatou supported her, i still think their is equal giving in their relationship. Showing friendship does not have to be based on materials, and Ramatoulaye compensates with showing care and support to Aissatou.
    But there is something different in being friends with someone and being married with someone. Friends can have totally different ideologies and ways of handling situations, just like Aissatou and Ramatoulaye. In marriage you can be different than your spouse, but because you are so united into a couple, it is much more difficult to have different ways of seeing stuff and still staying together. For example, it would probably be easier for two people of different religions being friends but harder being married... it can obviously work, but may require more effort than the already needed effort.
    So, in a way i think Ramatoulaye and Moudo may have been fine being friends and just talking to one another, as opposed to being married.

  4. #4
    The book was extremely upsetting because all the women were treated like objects. The wives of at least 25 years were replaced with teenage wives and discarded by their spouses. Yes, it polgamy is the norm, but it is interesting to see how the women are actually extremely insulted by having a co-wife.
    Then, Ramatoulaye tried to raise her kids to the new standards of this new generation, only to find that her one daughter is pregnant and three of them are smokers.
    Abe Lincoln was quoted saying "What one generation tolerates, the next accepts" but it seems like it is taken to a whole new level. Maybe Ramatoulaye is being too lineint because of what she went through.
    I personally think Moudou is an idiot.
    1. For not telling his wife of his engagement
    2. For marrying a teenage girl
    3. For trying to be Peter Pan
    4. For ignoring his wife and children, post second marriage
    5. For marrying someone who is not in love with him, only his money.

    I agree that friendship played a very important role in the novel. Ramatoulaye probably would not have pulled through, had it not been for Aissitou or her other friends and daughters, espcially Daba.

  5. #5
    Duckduckgoose said
    "But there is something different in being friends with someone and being married with someone. Friends can have totally different ideologies and ways of handling situations, just like Aissatou and Ramatoulaye. In marriage you can be different than your spouse, but because you are so united into a couple, it is much more difficult to have different ways of seeing stuff and still staying together. For example, it would probably be easier for two people of different religions being friends but harder being married... it can obviously work, but may require more effort than the already needed effort."

    That's a great point. However, I think that every friendship, every relationship, is based on some level of respect. this respect may not be the most vital part of the relationship, but it is necessary. For having a friend whose religion is not the same as yours-- if the person is your friend, then you obviously are not letting religion hinder your relationship. Both of you have mutual respect for each other, as well as trust and all that good stuff.
    If you want to marry someone whose religion is not the same as yours, then it's not that the difference in ideology is making it harder to be together (because lets face it, interracial and interreligious marriages are harder to sustain, as duckduck pointed out). What's making the marriage harder to sustain is the external pressures from society. If the wife is Christian and the husband is Hindu and they live in a community where the majority of the couples are both Christian and Jewish, then you won't see those strains. And once again, I'm assuming that because they've agreed to marry each other, they are at the least tolerant of the religions and have a profound level of respect for their significant other. In this same community, if you introduce a couple where both partners are Christian, there may be external pressures on this couple.
    Is that valid, do you think?


    Dear WakingUp,
    why am I writing in letter format? sans indent and capitalization...
    anyways, I was thinking about all the emotions this book took me through. In the beginning, I was angry and despondent at the same time. When Ramatoulaye received a car from Aissatou, I was beaming at her [Aissatou] character, her personality. I was so proud to see such selflessness. I felt like a proud mother or something. When Ramatoulaye found out about Aissatou's (her daughter) pregnancy, I was shocked, disappointed in Aissatou, and so incredibly proud of Ramatoulaye for being the bigger person who sacrificed her emotions, who didn't whine or wallow in her emotions, who pulled up her grown-up pants (although i'm thinking she didn't wear pants because she didn't even like the Western trousers) and became everything her daughter needed.

    Ramatoulaye is like a role model and a martyr. She goes through the horrible events and comes out shining. We don't want to be in her situation, but if we were, we would be proud to have her strength, or at least I would.
    And you (not necessarily you as in WakingUp) might think that divorce is the smarter choice, but I have to applaud Ramatoulaye for the level of commitment she portrayed. It's getting to be a bit rare these days, ya know?

    One more thing, I don't think that Benitou was a gold digger. Ba portrays her as a victim. Daba tells Benitou's mother-in-law that she [M-I-L] ensnared her daughter in the marriage. "A victim, she wanted to be the oppressor. Exiled in the world of adults, which was not her own, she wanted her prison gilded" (48) Ramatoulaye says. In fact, Benitou's mother gained much more than Benitou. Jewels and cars weren't worth that much to young Benitou. She could have been happy or fallen in love. Anything was possible, but Modou stole her youth from her.
    "I sought my soul, But my soul I could not see.
    I sought my God, But my God eluded me.
    I sought my brother, And I found all three."
    --W. Blake

  6. #6
    Hey guys. Well you guys probably will laugh at this quote from coming from a guy, but it is really interesting and one of my favorite quotes from this book.

    "Everything unites men. Why, then, do they kill each other in ignoble wars for causes that are futile when compared with the massacre of human lives? So any devastating wars! And yet man takes himself to be a superior being" (79).

    This quote is really good because it is really true and brings a good point. Men kill each other in stupid wars, but still claim that they are superior to women. Lots of times men decide to fight one another to get their way rather than rationalizing it out by speaking in a peaceful manner. This is why women should have some power in government to balance the irrational thoughts of men and to represent the view of the other half of society. I think this is one of the points Ba is trying to get at. Well, just like to bring that up from a guys perspective.

  7. #7
    Great quote decimsimia!

    Honestly, after I read that for the first time, I was like "Why has she been talking about women and equality and then said this quote generalizing with males?"

    I like your explanation ["irrational thoughts of men" haha ], but in addition, I think that Ba/Ramatoulaye uses the term "men" to stand for mankind, and with this, unites men and women, giving the two genders a unity based on their flaws. Because [and this is going to sound funny coming from a female] women aren't so much better. Just because women haven't traditionally served in wars doesn't mean that they [we] don't have these flaws. Women can be just as racist given the chance. There is a fair lot of noble men and women alike. How ironic that the common point that unites men and women is that neither is perfect.
    "I sought my soul, But my soul I could not see.
    I sought my God, But my God eluded me.
    I sought my brother, And I found all three."
    --W. Blake

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