Nervous Conditions

by ashleywestenberg

Ashley Westenberg

Eng Lit 213

The Results of Colonialism

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel Nervous Conditions is a story narrated by Tambu a girl who lives in Rhodesia a colony of England. Tambu’s journey of coming of age allows the reader a chance to step into the life of a young African woman and witness her desire to rise above poverty and ignorance. Tambu comes from a large extended family living with her father, mother, brother and two sisters. Tambu learns from early on that her (lazy) father and extended family depend heavily on her educated uncle Babamukuru. In this story Babamukuru, a school master for a missionary school, symbolizes the epitome of an assimilated African man; he is also the God-like figure in Tambu’s family. Unfortunately, due to the sexist reality that woman are of lesser stance, Tambu is denied education until her brother Nhamo unexpectedly dies. Nervous Conditions opens with the powerful statement, “I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologizing for my callousness, as you may define it, or lack of feeling”, it takes the reader the entirety of the book to fully understand the depth of why this statement is true, and just.

Dangarembga reveals to us, through the educating of Tambu, how colonialism affects this one particular family and highlights the variety of struggles that result from it especially within the female characters. Assimilation, depression, hatred, alienation, racism, discrimination, victimization, uncertainty of self, are some of the realities of mixing the two races and the result of the white hierarchy over African tradition. Sadly, with subjective innocent young minds, Tambu, her brother Nhamo and her cousin Nyasha all reject their African culture and struggle to fit when they cannot relate to being either African or English. Nyasha adequately explains in this passage, “now they’re stuck with hybrids of children. And they don’t like it. They don’t like it at all. It offends them. They think we do it on purpose, so it offends them. And I don’t know what to do about it Tambu, I really don’t. I can’t help having been there and grown into me that has been there. But it offends them – I offend them. Really it’s difficult.”

Dangarembga also reveals, in Nervous Conditions, a stark similarity of family dynamics between the two cultures and indirectly proves that both races are equal, that one is no better than the other, only different. That women (and men alike) strive to be educated, to have purpose, to be apart of family, and society, and to be accepted. Nervous Conditions is a must read for those who want to be enlightened and humbled and to understand the effects of colonialism, what it does to cultures, to families to women.


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