Responses to Polygamy

So Long a Letter is a quasi-autobiographical novel written by Mariama Bâ. The dominant theme of the novel is the economic and social state of Western African women. Mariama’s book was written in the form of a long letter. In the introduction, Ramatoulaye Fall is presented as she writes a letter to her longtime acquaintance, Aissatou Bâ. Ramatoulaye talks about her recent widowhood and furnishes her friend with intricacies about her husband’s demise. Mariama argues that while polygamy was an element of the West African culture, the practice was not a compulsory one upon the individual. Ramatoulaye is a victim of the cultural authorization of polygamy. In other words, her husband could marry a second wife. Polygamy is permitted by the society. After living for decades under this system, Ramatoulaye was unable to garner public support against polygamy. Conversely, Aissatou rejected the practice of polygamy and opted to relocate to a liberal and modern environment in the United States in pursuit of a monogamous life. In both instances, polygamy defines how women are perceived in the society. It similarly defines self-perception among women. Ramatoulaye asserts her situation in the universe, acknowledging the need for autonomy for her children and confirming her intellect through literature.



Personal Response

The women in the novel had a great respect for education and as such, I think that Aissatou and Ramatoulaye advocated for all women, young, and old, to pass through this process. I think that the situation about women in West Africa is a very distressing one. While many educated women work tirelessly to liberate fellow women, access to education is relatively difficult. Poverty and gender discrimination are some of the key obstacles. Western-style education has definitely assisted the two protagonists in numerous ways including the adoption of a different perspective concerning polygamy, independence, and access to opportunities. In one of the instances of polygamy, I observed the role of the older women in perpetrating the negative position of women in society. Polygamy has the effect of reducing the available resources within a family unit as well as breaking up the existing marriages.

In the process of reading the book, I came across a conflict between tradition and modernity. In So Long a Letter, Moudou’s choices illustrate how marriage can be perceived as both traditional and conventional depending on the character. On one hand, Ramatoulaye, the first wife, was the embodiment of the traditional aspect of matrimony. She was forced to comply with her husband’s wishes in accordance with Senegalese culture. She has no alternative when Binetou is taken as the second woman. The second wife is perceived as a contemporary representation. She lives a carefree life, living off her husband’s finances, and displaying a penchant for debauchery and irresponsibility. However, at the heart of it, Binetou is still under the trappings of a traditional culture characterized by misery for women. I think that for a long time women have lived under the shadow of men. For centuries, women have been subjugated and forced to live without the basic rights. It is the right time for women across the world and in Africa to rise and take their rightful position in society. Polygamy is an outdated practice that should be eliminated altogether. It is not appropriate for women to be forced into such types of relationships.

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