Mariama Bâ (1929-1981)


So Long a Letter (Une si longue lettre, 1979) won the Noma Award for Literature

Scarlet Song ( Un Chant écarlate 1981) was published posthumously.

Africa map2003 Africa Political Map. "Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. University of Texas Libraries. Dec. 2004  <> Accessed Feb. 2005.

1960 the future Republic of Senegal gained independence from France in 1960, and currently has a population of about 10 million.

Religion = 95% Islam + animism + Christianity

Only 1/3 of population is literate; Senegalese oral culture centers on the “griot” (92; story teller, singer) and music

Languages = Wolof and over 20 different tongues; French

Other Historical Terms:

 "May 1968:" In May 1968, students around the world--in Berkeley, Chicago, and Paris--staged rebellions against the establishment.

"Negritude" was a consciousness raising movement that emphasized the value of native African traditions. A main proponent of Negritude in Senegal was Léopold Sédar Senghor, a poet who was that country's first President.

Colonialism, according to Senghor, "means an economy directed to the sole end of enriching the colonizer," France (51).

Work Cited: Léopold Sédar Senghor, Prose and Poetry (London: Oxford UP, 1965).


Some questions Ba’s novel poses revolve around ‘choice’.

1)    Are we products of our environment, or can we choose how we interact with the world around us?

2)    Does fate determine our choices, or do we depend on free will?

3)    Can two disparate cultures coexist—even in love?

4)    What power does community have over choices?

5)    What power do communal myth, superstition, and perception have over ‘choices’ we make?

6)    Do fundamental differences exist between oral and written cultures?


Mireille = Mee - ray

Ousmane = oose- mawn

Yaye Khady = yaw - yay - kaw - dee



Respect for parents and elders


A culture that transmits stories, histories, and customs by word of mouth rather than in written form


Marriage with more than one spouse


See Churchill page




Respect for elders

Community and tradition

Analyze your group’s assigned passage closely, as if you were going through it with a ‘fine tooth comb.' Fill in the graph above with your analyses and thoughts. How does Mireille’s attitude toward her parents/elders and community/tradition differ from Ousmane’s? If this were a drama and not a novel, how would you title this passage as a ‘scene’?

GROUP I (Last names A-H): p. 20-21: From “Ousmane listened . . .” to  “worthy manifestation of love”
GROUP II (Last names A-H): p. 27-28: From “Tears, yes! . . .” to “Nothing could stop Mireille now.”
GROUP III (Last names I-Z): p. 34-36: From “In his locked room Ousmane undressed . . .” to
“customs were safe against attack.”
Group IV (Last names I-Z): p. 42-44: From “And because she felt herself to be all Love . . .” to “
We shall be together again.” 


1: How does Yaye Khady’s reaction to Ousmane’s marriage contrast with Djibril’s reaction to the marriage? What does this show about what she believes in—(divine) fate or (free) will (66-68, 74)?

2: What role does a daughter-in-law play in Senegalese culture (72-3)? What does this say about the culture's values regarding family, women, and money?

3. Mireille obviously clashes with her mother-in-law Yaye Khady, creating tension with her husband. Why else does Mireille fail to assimilate into Ousmane’s life? Why do you think that Ousmane and Mireille cling stubbornly to their Senegalese and French ways of thinking about the world?

4. What do the other two couples (the two G’s, Lamine and Pierette) tell the reader about the ways in which Mireille and Ousmane’s relationship is different?


1. Do Mireille and Ousmane’s cultural differences justify his affair? Why else, besides money, would Ouleymatou want Ousmane?

2. What is the meaning of the title, Scarlet Song? (166)

3. Why is baptism so important to Yaye Khady?

4. How does the anonymous narrator’s tone change in the last half of the book?

5. What does Mireille’s fear about reprisal about her and her son in France say about her character? Would she really have faced such scrutiny? (161)

Interpretive Questions II:

A. How do African women’s lives differ from Westerners’ in Bâ’s novel, Scarlet Song? In what ways are women still in a sense colonized, even though their country has gained independence? What solution, if any, does the author suggest for overcoming gender inequalities?

B. Mireille reflects on “indifference” (159, 161) at the end of the novel. Riva in Hiroshima mon amour also refers to the fear of encountering indifference. Consider, through comparing these two works, the function of the coming-of-age story in narratives about political events. Can love stories really overcome readers’ natural “indifference” about foreign cultures?

updated Oct. 2012 Wendy C. Nielsen, Ph.D., English Dept., Montclair State University