Honors British Literature
1 March 2013
A Mother’s Sacrifice
A woman’s life immediately changes after the birth of her child because of the unbreakable bond that has been created. As the mother raises her child, she begins to learn and practice true sacrificial love. In Mariama Bâ’s novel, So Long a Letter¸ this love is prevalent within every family. All of the mothers throughout the novel show a great devotion to their child. Although all of the women fulfill their motherly duties in their own way, they all make sacrifices in order to provide their child with what they believe is best. Despite any difficulties that they may encounter, all of the women realize that being a mother comes with the obligation to “love without beginning or end” (Bâ 87). The strong bond made between a mother and her child often builds life-changing sacrifices that affect the lives of the entire family.
The main writer of the letters, Ramatoulaye Fall, is faced with many situations that require her to make great sacrifices. She is forced to set aside her values of Women’s Rights because of her husband’s decision to practice polygamy. Her original activist mindset would seek to divorce the man who betrayed and disrespected the effort that she put into their marriage. However, she knows that leaving his household is impractical, especially with the twelve children that she has. She willingly puts her own welfare on the line by being a working mother and by handling her children’s rebellions. When times are too hard she often pleads, “Oh health, live in me” because of her constant exhaustion (13). Despite the daily struggles she faces and the feeling of being pitied by others, she continues to raise her children successfully. She is able to look past her problems by thinking that her children’s “success at school was my pride” (58). She realizes that all of her sacrifices are worthwhile because in the end all she needs is her children’s happiness and the ability to continue loving them.
The receiver of these letters, Aissatou Bâ, decides to handle the situation of being betrayed by her husband differently than her best friend. Instead of staying with Mawdo, she leaves with the parting words, “Clothed in my dignity, the only worthy garment, I go my way” (33). She believes that maintaining a sense of pride is what is best for the wellbeing of her entire family. She seeks to create a better life for her four sons by leaving the comfort of their home country, Senegal, and taking them to the United States. Leaving the shelter of her husband’s home and starting over in a brand new environment takes both courage and sacrifice. She takes the initiative to be both the mother and father figure to her four sons. Her ability to strip herself of all things familiar all while staying strong would not be done without the love she has for her family. She is able to achieve a successful life for her sons without Mawdo because of her unfailing devotion to her children’s wellbeing.
In the novel there are instances where a mother’s devotion does not display a positive sacrifice. Lady Mother-In-Law makes great sacrifices that are life changing for both herself and her daughter, Binetou. She does everything in order to ensure that both she and her daughter have a promising future. She is known as “a woman who wants so much to escape from mediocrity” (36). However, accomplishing this goal is completed in a way that is not honorable, but instead selfish. She disregards her daughter’s love for youth and continually pushes Binetou into a marriage with an older, married man. Even after Moudou’s death, Lady Mother-In-Law does everything to ensure that she and her daughter are fully benefited. However, the path towards success causes her to abuse the bond that she and her daughter share. She sacrifices her dignity and a sense of humility. She loses concern for any embarrassment that her daughter may feel because of the situation they are in. She is blinded by her only goal, which is to overcome a mediocre life. Although her sacrifice may not seem beneficial to her child and selfish, it is still completed because of the bond that the mother and daughter share. Lady Mother-In-Law shows that a mother will do everything in order to grasp an opportunity for a better life.
Another mother whose motives may seem questionable is Mawdo's mother, Aunty Nabou. After losing her husband “She devoted herself with the affection of a tigress to her ‘one and only man’, Mawdo Bâ” (26-27). Her love for her son is so powerful and controlling that it begins to interfere with Mawdo’s wellbeing. The thought of losing her son to a woman, who she deems as unworthy, is too devastating, causing her to go to drastic measures in order to keep her son. She is willing to sacrifice her son’s happiness by taking away his wife and replacing her with someone that she finds suitable. Although her actions are unjust, the bond she has with her son shows great strength. Her son, like Binetou, is unable to turn away from his mother’s needs. Aunty Nabou’s sacrifice may have been for selfish reasons, but they were worthwhile because she is able hold on to a dependable son.
Sacrifice can be represented in both positive and negative ways. The mothers in the novel So Long a Letter each portray a different reason for the sacrifice that they make for their children. However, despite these differences, each sacrifice is made because of a bond that the mother has with her child. In the novel, the ideal life a mother has for her children is carried out completely because of strong dedication and love. A mother is willing to work around any troubling circumstance and do whatever it takes in order to give her children the happiness that she believes they deserve. Although this happiness may not always be ideal for the children, a mother will always know what is best.