Nervous Conditions: World Issues Exposed

by rachelmoxham

Nervous Conditions, written as a bildungsroman follows the life of Tambu as she grows and struggles between two clashing cultures: African and Western. The story exposes many of the issues and problems the world faces today, from decolonization to culture loss, as we transform into a global village. Written from the perspective a female protagonist, the story also contains a strong feminist influence.
The author, Tsitsi Dangarembga, was born in Rhodesia, although spent part of her childhood in England. She can most likely relate well to Tambu who also grew up in Rhodesia, but was not initially allowed to attend the local missionary school. Nhamo, Tambu’s brother and the only son of the family was to take on the responsibility of creating income for the family and was therefore able to attend school, but when Tambu requested to go to school she was asked, “Can you cook books and feed them to your husband?” (15) It was not until after Nhamo’s death that she was given the opportunity. Tambu saw her chance at an education, and exposure to western culture as only bringing good into her life, but her mother’s perspective was the opposite. She believed the western ways to be evil and would take away her daughter, just as they did her son.
Both of these views are reflected throughout the narrative. Tambu’s cousins gain very different social skills and lose the majority of their African dialect after spending some time in England, creating a feeling of isolation for them as well as conflict within the family. Tambu also changes drastically as she moves through her westernized education. Whether that change is for better or worse is difficult to say. She gains a taste for luxuries, as well as an altered perspective of both cultures. Instead of becoming completely absorbed into the western culture, as was her mother’s fear, she gained the ability to not only critically analyze her own tradition ways of life, but also the new ones to which she is exposed; an ability further developed by the help of her cousin, Nyasha. She demonstrates these capabilities when she refuses to attend her parents’ forced wedding, and when she discovers that her aunt has as much education as her uncle, but is not given the same recognition or respect for it that he is given. From this knowledge she concludes that even with the education she dreams of attaining, she will not gain the same respect as a male no matter in which culture she is. This is one of the stronger points in the novel when she realizes the blatant differences between gender roles which she must face through her entire life.
No matter one’s age, gender or culture, any reader of Nervous Conditions can likely find a character in the story to whom they can relate, and therefore gain a better understand of the very real issues being depicted throughout the novel.

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