Nervous Conditions Online Discussion

by jentooley
Jennifer Tooley
The entire work Nervous Conditions is all about the development of the mind; in this case the development of a young girl not only becoming an adult but finding her own path of becoming a person despite the constraints of being a woman. We see that Tambu fought long and hard to have the opportunities that she made available to herself, she struggles to find what she wants. Along the way there are the different tensions represented by the different women in her life; her mother wants her to remember where she comes from and honour her roots; Nyasha wants her to have a companion in her modern and foreign thought processes; and her aunt wishes her to be somewhere in between. Tambu is left to define her own proper path while the outsiders can argue whether she freed herself or remains trapped in a way similar to the rest of them .
The story has an underlying feminist tone to it, do you think a women’s studies class could read this book and analyze it through a feminist perspective? What points would they be missing if it was only analyzed through this approach?
Looking at the meaning of the title did it reflect what you think the story was about or did it remind you more of a psycology textbook? At which point in the book did you make the connection that Dangarembga was commenting a concern for the character’s conditions?
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10 Comments to “Nervous Conditions Online Discussion”

  1. If this story was only analyzed through a feminist perspective the whole point about the responsibilities of the colonists to do all they could to keep the culture of the colonized intact would be missed. The inability to feel completely part of one world or another applies to both males and females in this instance. Education could only serve to improve the physical conditions for a female, but for a male it provided an even tougher road to haul as he would be given expectations of acceptance that were sadly not a reality.

  2. I think that you could use this book in a woman’s study, because it is obviously built around females in the African culture and how they cope with different aspects of white culture. You could analyze how the different females adapt.Tambu who is coping I would think the best.Her Mom thinks White ways are just evil and has a major breakdown near the end of the novel and just wants to die. Tambu’s Aunt Maiguru how she is intelligent but still is the domesticated women and Nyasha cant cope at all and becomes extremely ill. These four women all have very different paths in the book. But the women studies could miss the importance of Babamukuru and how he is basically a god to his family and the events surrounding him.

    I made the connection nearing the end of the book. When i finally thought of the title again. I put the title towards Tambu first and mainly focus on her. How she was nervous when first going to the Mission and staying at her Uncles house.Nervous going home to the homestead and how to act while at home. Nervous about how to act at the mission.

  3. I think that if Nervous Conditions had been used in a women’s studies class it would inevitably be read from a feminist perspective. The importance of gender roles would of course be seen as prominent, but I think what might be missed and what many do miss is the fact that so many of the issues raised in the book are, in actually, one in the same. These issues being gender, culture, skin colour, language and religion, are really all differences that have led to lack of understanding and therefore descrimination. I claim that they are all the same because they cannot each be solved separately; they are either all solved, or descriminate continues, and too often they are attempted to be resolved as separate problems.
    An example of this which is slightly closer to home would be the civil rights movement and the second wave of feminism. These two movements both occurred through the 1960’s and 70’s yet most people say them as separate events and few fought for both. This left a coloured woman in a difficult position. Does she side with her white sisters whom look down at her for being coloured? Or does she side with her coloured brothers whom look down at her for being woman? Either way she is still seen as a second class citizen.

  4. I would argue with you on the fact that she made all her opportunities for herself. She worked hard yes, but in the end if her teacher hadn’t trick a rich white woman into giving her ten pounds she wouldn’t have been able to go back to school and if her brother hadn’t died she would not have been able to go to the missionary. There’s no doubt she worked hard growing her own maize and doing well in her studies, but in the end it was luck and chance and benevolence from men. It kind of ties is in with what Benjamin said about Babamukuru being a God to his family and to Tambu herself. She even says this at one point when she first comes to live at the mission.

    She could have grown the maize and not made enough money, her brother might have lived and there wouldn’t have been any need for her to get a higher degree of education. This is one of the reasons she’s not sorry for her brother’s death. Yes he comes off as extremely unpleasant, but without him dying she never would have been able to change and find independence, or what she thinks is independance.

    I’m sure that ties in with feminism somehow, but really interpretation can be different depending on the angle it’s perceved. I found that I read it from a feminist point of view (although it’s very hard to miss the colonisation and racial themes) it just stood out more to me.

  5. I agree with your first sentence, how Tambu is developing into an adult and finding her own path as a person despite the constraints of being a woman. It is a journey for every human to find his own path in life, and Tambu is faced with a more complicated situation which forces her to directly and blatantly ask herself who she is and what is right. Being a woman ads to the complication of that process (it would being a man as well) but for Tambu it is especially harder because of the huge gender inequality apparent in the societies and time periods she lives in.
    I think that Nervous Conditions would definately be analyzed through a feminist perspective in a women’s study course. It is an easy target for a women’s study course because the protagonist is female and is narrated by her, Tambu, who expresses every intiminate detail of her feelings, which most of she would not even dare to tell anyone. I’m not sure if any points would be missing if this book was to be analyzed through this approach. I’ve never taken a women’s study course but I assume that they take every aspect possibly available (from the subject) into consideration, especially since Tambu is effected by everything: her feelings towards Nyasha’s behaviour, the relationship between Maiguru and Babamakuru, the china wear in the dining room, her father, brother, mother, sisters, Babamukur’s colleagues, the students at school-white and black, what the prefects at Sunday school wore, the difference between missionaries and expatriates, down to Babamakuru’s guard dogs. In one way or another, everything is eventually connected to Tambu.

  6. I feel that a great deal of important themes and ideas would be lost if this book were to be analyzed through only one perspective (be it feminist or other). One of the beauties of this novel was that it was able to tackle such a broad scope of themes so gracefully. Personally, I enjoyed the breadth. Although it could be used solely for feminist study purposes, I think there are other works that deal with subject matter related to womyn’s issues more directly that would be better suited for the job. Psychology text book? haha. Truth man, truth. I can’t say that’s the first thing that came to mind when I read the title. Unless one was to read the introductory material at the beginning of the book however, I can see how that title would seem somewhat unrelated. I think the constantly tense atmosphere lent itself to this title though.

  7. There is no doubt that a women’s studies class would read this book and apply various feminist angles to it. The fact that the reader is taken through the story by a female narrator strengthens that perspective further. As spoken by Tambu herself, “all the conflicts came back to this question of femaleness. Femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness” (Pg. 118). Thinking about it now, it was hard not to focus solely on the feminist angles of the story, since so much of the plot was intertwined with gender and identity issues, which were linked back directly to the female narrator. However, to approach this novel only from this angle would be to completely undermine the implications of other issues that were brought up. As mentioned by some of you above, one of these issues is colonialism, and the fact that it would be inaccurate and unfair to diminish the importance and implications of such a vast issue to only a feminist approach. Rachel, I agree with you that the points brought up in the book are interconnected: putting clear and defined borders on them doesn’t work, just as Tambu’s questions of gender roles and roles in a colonial society often overlap. The title itself doesn’t suggest purely feminist undertones, but rather an all encompassing view of the state of existence of any person (male or female) navigating through a new environment. I think the title is fitting, in that it doesn’t give anything away plot-wise (seriously…..nothing) but it is still the perfect two word summary of Tambu’s relationships with both the world that is familiar to her and the one which she is just entering.

  8. Marta and Nigel – nice work. I like how you have extended and circled back into the commentaries that come before you and were kicked off back on Monday afternoon by Joan G. As for ending where we began, I also enjoyed Marta’s comments on the title and likewise I too find it an evocative invitation in relation to almost every character in the book. And indeed for the characters that do not appear outwardly “nervous” – such as Lucia – it becomes an invitation to consider what adjectives can applied to her “condition”.

  9. Before I read the book I did find myself wondering where the title came from; however, as I got more into the novel, the title completely escaped my mind. It wasn’t until I was all done that I took another look at the title and saw the narrative from a whole new perspective. Maybe it was not quite a psychology textbook but it did lend some interesting insight into the psychological position of the narrator and other characters.
    Also, I agree with Nigel. This could be studied purely from a womyn’s rights perspective but then we would lose so much of the other insight. In fact, I think this book could be studied from lots of different perspectives but if we were to just focus on the ideas from those perspectives we would be failing ourselves. For example, if one was to look at this straight from a colonization perspective, would we capture all of the intricacies of the family dynamics and womyn’s rights? Maybe not.

  10. While studying this novel in a women’s study class would seemingly cut out many noteworthy perspectives, I think it would also open the door to a different understanding of the novel as well. While many themes within the novel were heavily colored with cultural tradition, studying the book through a feminist perspective may lose sight of the weight of these influences, which are obviously very important in African life. The female narrator within the story, has a unique understanding of her life; although suppressed by her own culture, she is using the available modes to achieve her own personal goals which she finds exclusively important. With reference to the title, I think that it is perfectly fitting. While at the beginning of the story I paid it little mind, by the end it made simple metaphorical sense. Tambu’s cousin Nyasha suffers from a very literal nervous condition, bulimia ( psychology textbook:) ), while Tambu’s own aversion to the cultural norms of females staying at home and cooking and washing etc are representative of a different kind of bulimia; an inability to swallow the beliefs and traditions impressed on her sex by the forefathers of her culture.

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