Nervous Conditions

by hannalijoyce

Standing between African and English Cultures Yields to Nervous Conditions

Tsitsi Dangarembga writes Nervous Conditions to dramatize the cultural clash between Africa and Western Europe created by colonialism. Through Tambudzai’s story, Dangarembga explains that in African culture women should not be cultivated but learn how to grow vegetables and to become good wives. However, Tambu thinks differently, she aims for education. Her determination, the death of her older brother and the reluctant generosity of her rich uncle take her to a missionary English school where she learns about Christianity, speaks English and experiences the lifestyle of the “whites”. This cultural transition and indoctrination puts Tambu in discord with her family traditions and beliefs. The “Englishness” that Tambu is embracing gives her the opening to progress but also places her in a terrain of tension. The life of Tambu is surrounded by a variety of realities product of the cultural clash between Africans and the English: racial tension, religious conflicts, gender and cultural divergences.

Gender inequality is seen through the entire novel as an ingredient in the life of the female characters. The story of Tambu is a story of the female struggle: “my story is about my escape and Lucia’s; about my mother’s and Maiguru’s entrapment; and about Nyasha’s rebellion”. African tradition and men’s superiority subject these women with hardship. Simultaneously, English influence annihilates their convivial relationships within the family inevitably transforming their behavior. When young, Tambu developed a lack of feeling. She did not feel sorry when Nhamo died because his death gave her the opportunity to occupy his place at the English mission. The Christian mission, an institution that possesses threats, is a place of deliverance filled with wisdom. It is there where she develops new attitudes and adopts new thoughts that do not converge with her upbringing. The struggle to integrate the English influences into their lives is a common conflict among Tambu, her aunt Maiguru and her cousin Nyasha who also have a western education.  Nonetheless, Tambu eventually obtains a better understanding of the nature of being an African woman and she acknowledges that leaving her roots behind is a harmful attempt to progress. She grows wary of the dangers associated with appropriating foreign doctrines and ultimately she shows us that she is able to avoid the risk of assimilation.

In Nervous Conditions, Tambu uses her narrative to go back to her girlhood and analyse the conflicts that arise in her family during the 1960’s.  The reader can rely in the authenticity of her narrative due to the African voice that is sounding the Zimbabwean struggles. It is clear that Tambu is the portrayal of a triumphant woman that accomplished freedom not only from poverty and the rule of the men in her life, but from ignorance and the repercussions of colonialism. Undoubtedly, Dangarembga’s entrancing writing is a clear echo of feminism in post-colonial literature.


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