Reclaiming the Voice in So Long a Letter

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Reclaiming the Voice in Bâ's So Long a Letter

Peter Barry identifies as one of the major aims of Postcolonial criticism the rejection of "the claims to universalism made on behalf of canonical Western literature" and more specifically "to show its limitations of outlook, especially its general inability to empathize across boundaries of cultural and ethnic difference" (198). Although Bâ's intentions are not primarily anti-colonial, her novel So Long a Letter exemplifies how African literature provides a different perspective of their culture, and despite not fitting the model of the English canon, is valuable and significant on its own terms. Bâ is not writing in defence of Africa. She is writing about Africa, and gender and class are much more fundamental to her work than race. It can be argued that rather than writing back to Empire, she is writing back to African male authors on behalf of African women, reclaiming the voice that has been previously denied to them.

Mariama Bâ was born into an influential Senegalese family in 1929. She was one of the first women to receive a Western education in Senegal. Reared by her maternal grandparents in a traditional Muslim household, she attended school only by the grace of her father, who had a strong vision of the future for his daughter. Bâ attended the French School in Dakar and went on to study at the École Normal in Rufisque, entering with the highest exam score in all of French West Africa, graduating in 1947. She experienced life under colonialism, and also witnessed firsthand the events surrounding Senegal's independence from France, which was granted on April 4, 1960.1 Taking the social and political context from which Bâ is writing into consideration, it i...

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...Bâ's Fiction." Ngambika: Studies of Women in African Literature. Eds. Carole Boyce Davies and Anne Adams Graves. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1986. 161-71.

Carole Boyce, and Elaine Savory Fido. "African Women Writers: Toward a Literary History." A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures. Ed. Oyekan Owomoyela. Lincoln: U. of Nebraska P., 1993. 311-46.

Rueschmann, Eva. "Female Self-Definition and the African Community in Mariama Bâ's Epistolary Novel So Long a Letter." International Women's Writing: New Landscapes of Identity. Eds. Anne E. Brown and Marjanne E. Goozé. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. 3-18.

Yousaf, Nahem, "The 'Public' versus the 'Private' in Mariama Bâ's Novels." The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 30.2 (1995): 85-98.

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