Nervous Conditions

by valdesjoha

Images of Colonialism

By Johannes Valdes

Born in 1959 at the Colony of Rhodesia in Zimbabwe, Tsitsi Dangarembga wrote Nervous Conditions during her mid-twenties.  Her novel takes us through the complex portrayal of the challenges a young Rhodesian girl must face as she leaves her impoverished background to gain an education.  Tambu, the protagonist, realizes that the only way for her family to escape the cycle of poverty lies in education, and with the unfortunate passing of her older brother, she gains the opportunity to be educated.  Guided through imagery,  readers will be brought into the mind of Tambu as she undergoes her journey towards progress while concurrently retaining her traditions.

Utilizing the effectual technique of imagery, Dangarembga facilitates her work of literature to describe the ramifications of colonialism as they set on her main character.  The story is guided entirely through the mind of Tambu as she experiences the transition from adolescence to adulthood.  Recalling her past, she can remember helping her grandmother in her gardening plot (Dangarembga, 19).  At a young age, Tambu exhibited the knowledge and inheritance of skills passed down from generation to generation. Then the story adjusts as psychologically her mental image of tradition has changed by reason of progress.  With the intent of advancing while balancing her tradition, she begins to sell her own corn crops to earn the means for tuition.  Such an act foreshadows scenes further into the novel as exposure to her new atmosphere gradually influences her.  Upon her earliest return back to the homestead, she is awakened to how unsanitary her living conditions were prior to leaving .  As Tambu enters the bathroom facility, she recalls how “it had never smelt and its pink plaster walls had remained a healthy pink…but now faeces and urine contaminated every surface”(Dangarembga, 125).  This passage uncovers how what once was normal to her had become shocking.

Furthermore, Dangarembga intends for us to integrate into her story through the mind of Tambu.  Read from a first person perspective, everyday events are filtered through her interpretations which allow readers to understand the character’s opinions and thoughts.  With realistic analysis, the story proceeds in the path Tambu draws out for us. Throughout the novel, this vantage point brings light to observances of cultural differences in social status and women’s rights as well as experiences of the effects of patriarchal rule.   By exploring the consequences of cultural conflict when the characters allow colonial ideas to displace their origin, Tambu comes within reach of forgetting her culture.  Meanwhile, her mother, who is seen as no more than a possession, consistently reminds Tambu of the reality of her ethnic heritage.

Much like the protagonist of her novel, Dangarembga lived in England, was educated in the British school system, and became fluent in English at the expense of her native tongue.  These events that formed her youth are therefore expressed through the fictional character Tambu.  As both Dangarembga and Tambu face changes in their lifestyle, they have both experienced the effects of Colonialism.  Nervous Conditions is a novel that explores the impact of such a process, and the use of imagery to highlight colonial relationships. 

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