Sinking One’s Teeth into Mariama Bâ’s 'Une si longue lettre': Teeth, Number, Complementarity

Dr. Charles O'Keefe
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Mariama Bâ’s novel raises confusion to the level of overriding theme, be it confusion in the form of the text’s genre classification, of narrative instance, of characters’ names, or of diction and syntax. Against that background, one can profitably explore how confusion extends to the novel’s use of the image of teeth, teeth that on several occasions in the text gain the attention of the narrator Ramatoulaye.

Teeth are readily linked psychologically with the confusion of smiles either welcoming or aggressive. In addition, teeth can be marked by tension in the context of weaning when for mother and child baby teeth turn the mutual pleasures of breast-feeding into the mutual pain of separation. Those same baby-teeth appear in the opening page of Une si longue lettre in a way that ever so subtly evokes the myth of Cadmus, a myth itself rife with the confusion and tension inherent in primordial savagery leading to civilizing enterprise, a tension not without resonance for the issue of France’s putative mission civilisatrice. Similarly, teeth later in Bâ’s narrative become confused markers of erotic reliability.

The links made in Bâ’s novel among the image of teeth, the use of number, and the issue of complémentarité can be shown to allow the conclusion that for this text confusion approaches ideology.

Keywords: Mariama Bâ, _Une si longue lettre_, Cadmus, Teeth, Francophone literature
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Charles O'Keefe

Professor of French, Chair, Department of Modern Languages, Denison University

A teacher of French at an undergraduate college, Charles O'Keefe has published books on André Gide and Patrick Modiano, as well as articles on Stendhal, Andre Gide, Léopold Senghor, and Patrick Modiano. His current scholarship deals with Mme de Lafayette's _La Princesse de Clèves_, Mariama Bâ's _Une si longue lettre_, and Patrick Modiano's oeuvre.

Ref: H06P0227