Friday, March 11, 2016

From "Sultana's Dream" to "So Long a Letter"

My Muslim Women Writers course has concluded its fifth week. Having read Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain's Sultana's Dream and Mariama Ba's So Long a Letter, we are now reading Nawal el Saadawi's The Fall of the Imam. I just want to say a word about the first two.

Both are works of social criticism, albeit in different ways. Published in 1905, Sultana's Dream presents a reversal of purdah, the tradition of separation of the sexes and the seclusion of women. In the imaginary country of Ladyland, men are kept in seclusion while women run the affairs of the country, with dreamlike efficiency and success.

Set in Senegal, So Long a Letter deals with polygamy, the situation of girls and women, and the political condition and future of a country. Even though the letter writer, Ramatoulaye, has suffered immensely as a result of the insensitive behaviour of men, especially her husband, she avoids any simplistic casting of all men as perpetrators of evil and women as innocent victims. She acknowledges that there are good and bad people on both sides.

While Sultana's Dream describes an utopia and was ahead of its time, So Long a Letter deals with contemporary issues in a realistic manner. It dwells on women's experiences in an Islamic society, especially their relations with men. As a work of social criticism, it highlights the need for social change.

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