Nervous Conditions

by billyev

Bill Everitt

English 213

Nervous Conditions – An Age Old Struggle

                Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel, Nervous Conditions is the story of Rhodesian women and the beginnings of their emancipation from the burden of their historical culture.  Tambu, the main character experiences firsthand the effect tradition has on her people — Rhodesian families of the time focussed on the oldest male member of the family, and rely on this person throughout their life – But after a death in her family, she is elevated to the position of eldest offspring, giving her opportunities never before available to a woman in her situation.  This raises issues within Tambu’s life; she now has to weigh the powerful force of tradition with the equally influential strength of a colonial education, something that may erase her own “Shona” self and replace it with something quite different.

                While the story appears to revolve around one man, Babamukuru, the lives of five women are the true subject of the narrative.  The five women symbolize a spectrum of change within their culture, Nyasha (Tambu’s cousin) representing one extreme and Tambu’s own mother, Mainini, representing the other extreme, with Lucia, Tambu and Maiguru making up the middle.  Nyasha at one end represents “anglicized” Africans, forgetting much of her native language and even shunning the customs of her people.  Her mother, Maiguru has also achieved a high level of education, but being from an older generation struggles with many norms of her culture.  Tambu is a scholar, who vows to never forget where she came from, yet tries as hard as she can to distance herself from the life she used to live.  Lucia is an aunt to Tambu, and although she only achieves minimal education throughout the story, she acts as if liberated from tradition by some enlightening force.  And finally Tambu’s mother —  who represents the conventional norms and customs of Rhodesian life at this time — labours to get Tambu the basic education she wants at first and then struggles with the amount of education Tambu is pursuing as a scholar.  The individual struggles of each of these women show the difficulties a much larger number of women experienced in what is now Zimbabwe at this time continuing into the present.  Nyasha’s struggles as well as Mainini’s symbolize people that existed in a status quo and now are trying to live in a new world.

By the end of the story, Tambu has witnessed the effects education has had on several different people.  Nyasha has become obsessive with her studies, clinging to her textbooks as if they are the only tie to reality she still has.  Maiguru has stood up for herself and told her husband for the first time that she will not just serve him blindly, but that her needs must be accounted for as well.  Mainini who at one point could not see the harm in Tambu getting an education has now regressed into a seemingly helpless old lady who just wants her daughter back in her arms. And Tambu herself has undergone some changes; although more educated than other members of her family, she stays in keeping with many customs of her people, while still reaching out to achieve her ambitions.

To Tambu, education is not a dividing line between her own people and westerners, but rather a new plateau that has yet to be reached by the majority of women within her nation.  Tambu has evolved into a sort of hybrid which as with anything is unique when it begins but becomes the norm over time.


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