This personal story is used to explore many divisive conflicts within Africa: the male-female, the colonial identity vs. African identity, modern vs. traditional.
In recalling her own experience at school, the narrator of the novel claims that "books knit generations together"1, and this book attempts to explore the dilemma of people with a divided and conflicted identity. Ramatoulaye is not an ordinary African woman. She has been highly educated at a French college; she has succeeded within the education system that supported the culture that dominated her own for more than two hundred years. The fact that Africa was involved in an often bloody period of unrest, rebellion against colonial powers and eventual civil war throws this education into a problematic context. One question that Ramatoulaye must face is whether she has been essentially westernized, and thus "spoilt" from the traditional Africanist points of view, by this education. Is this an African woman writing about polygamy or a black European woman writing about a failed marriage It is a question that is never fully answered in the novel. The fact that it is not answered is not a weakness, but rather a strength. It illustrates that some dilemmas for those people raised in two cultures can never be solved, and that the acceptance that they can't be solved at least brings about a level of equanimity towards them, if not contentment with their existence.
Part of her bitterness towards her husband for leaving her stems from the Western traditions of equality, fairness and justice between men and women that she has learned at school in France. His causes an identity conflict within the character that is perhaps reflected by the literary form that Ba chose to use for her book.
She chooses a very European form: the novel, to explore her experience. She also, ironically, chooses a very traditional form of the novel to write about her abandonment. The epistolary technique was used by the first novelists during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.2 Ramatoulaye is choosing a literary form borrowed from the culture that has made her so acutely aware of the injustice of what has occurred to her. In the same way as she is perhaps doubly disadvantaged within her society :- being both a black African and a woman, so she chooses a most European framework for to record her experience; a novel and an epistolary novel.
The importance of the fact that the novel is written from a woman's point of view would be difficult to overstate. In his influential book on African literature, Christopher Miller has said that women are traditionally seen as a "femme noire"3, a kind of mysterious and dangerous figure that can nevertheless be defined from the point of view of