Nervous Condition

by auro909

Aurora G. Torrejon

The Power of Determination


 Nervous Condition excels as it was the first novel by a black Zimbabwean woman to be published in English. Tsitsi Dangarembga introduces her audience to the story of Tambu, a young girl from an impoverished Rhodesian farm who has to deal “with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other” (16). In this autobiographical novel, Tambu recalls her anticipation when in a patriarchal society her brother’s death and her uncle’s approval and support, emerge as the only opportunity for her to take over the male duty to raise her family from hunger and need by pursuing an English education at the mission, and later at Sacred Heart.


The novel is set in the 1960’s, which was not only a turning point in the protagonist’s life but also a decisive period in Rhodesia. It was in 1965 when the formerly British colony of Rhodesia declared itself independent. This creates an interesting parallel between Tambu and her country as both faced obstacles in their determination to break free.


Oppression, racism and hierarchies are all difficulties that challenge this girl and her fortitude to succeed. In this page turning novel, we see the victorious emancipation of a girl from the social and economic conditions that have previously beset her.


As the title suggests, the novel deals with a nervous condition. Although Nysha (Tambu’s cousin) literally suffers a psychological condition, Tambu’s condition silently develops as she struggles to assimilate the new ‘Englishness’ and her ‘Shona’. Her eagerness to embrace the affluence that her new lifestyle presents, makes her drift away from her homestead, her values, and the people that at one point she cared for (like from Nysha). Tambu explains that what at one point her narrative would have described as a mansion is now referred to as not more than just a house. At this point we witness a transition in the narrator’s humble attitude towards life. At first she insists that “it is impossible for people who have everything to suffer so extremely”, but as her character develops and her dreams for education become a reality, we find that she loses that sense of ‘having everything’ as she becomes more and more ambitious and self centered. This condition metaphors a major dismal of society: Insatiability. People become so focused in themselves and in wanting what they don’t have that they don’t value what surrounds them.


 It is the narrator’s acquired life experience and education that allow her to share this story and understand how she was blindly manipulated by ideals from the dominant British culture. Through the eyes of Tambu, Dangarembga delivers an expression of liberation not to be missed.



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