So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ is a short novel written in the form of one long letter. The letter is written from one woman to her friend. I’d argue that it is as much a feminist statement as it is a novel.
The plot line is basically a pretty familiar one- working women who still must take care of all the household duties while their husbands who fall for younger women. The difference being that in Senegal (as in many other Muslim cultures) rather than having an affair or getting a divorce, the husbands simply marry the younger woman and tell their first wives about it afterwards.
I found it interesting how little blame the letter-writer placed on her husband or especially her friend’s husband. She seemed quite forgiving of the younger wives as well. It was the mothers-in-law who were really to blame! They schemed up these second marriages and the men seemed almost powerless to resist them.
Particularly since the novel is apparently semi-autobiographical, I wonder whether the author was aware of this pattern of placing blame on the women rather than on the men. Is she unconsciously placing the blame on the women or is she deliberately commenting on the tendency to blame women? I can’t really tell.
Mostly I think that the author is saying that the real blame is not on individuals but on the societal structure of polygamous marriage.
I also found it interesting that the letter-writer complains about women having to do all of the childcare and housework even if they also are working full-time, but then seems to require only her daughters and not her sons to help with housework!