Nervous Conditions, Inner Conflict, Global Scale

by jentooley

Jen Tooley

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga is written by the young Zimbabwean writer and director. This young and promising artist’s talent lies in her ability to make comments about human tendencies and psychological conditions that are universally felt, making her work relatable to any reader at any age, race, sex or nationality.

The novel focuses on themes which percolate throughout the story; some obvious whereas others are subtle and take longer to develop, much like the characters and plot. Narrated by the young girl Tambu, who after many injustices is given the chance to take the place of a dead brother. She does not regret the death of her brother and makes this clear from the beginning of the story, we soon learn that her story could not be possible without the ending of her brother’s. Tambu is taken to her wealthy and educated Uncle’s house where she will be given the same opportunities as her late brother. Once exposed to this drastically different lifestyle Tambu ‘judged [her brother] less harshly’ (70) and begins to deal with the clashing lifestyles, cultures, values and rules. In the Bildungsroman style the book is about growing up, dealing with conflict and coming of age.

As mentioned the novel revolves around the idea of clashes and conflicts, both internally for the characters and externally in the plot itself. African and Western culture, decolonization, culture loss, loss of innocence, feminism, choices made by or for Tambu and globalization include some of the other themes. This clash of cultures and inner conflicts prove to be damaging to both cultures and at times catastrophic for the characters. Clashes between African and British cultures appear once Tambu lives with her Uncle’s family and especially within the children who do not know whether to behave British or to try to remember how to behave African. Even when their own parents do not remain fully either- the children find it hard to strike a balance that suits them, the cultures and their parents. Tambu’s Uncle feels both the benefits of education and the responsibility that is brings you, later Tambu is bound for this trap as well. She explains how she ‘so recently was a peasant, was [she] not entering, as [she] had promised herself [she] would, a world where burdens lightened with every step, soon to disappear altogether’ (191). Here she makes two mistakes- firstly, thinking that she is the one in control and making these decisions for herself when arguably they are made by society and the men in her life; and secondly that she believes she is leaving burdens behind when really her education will only give her more burdens. This overlaps with another inner conflict for Tambu; having to act like a good young woman and yet have the opportunities and responsibilities of a man bestowed to her.

This leads us back to the beginning, the title in fact- Nervous Conditions can relate to the distraught mental state of the many characters living with these inner conflicts, decisions, injustices and burdens. It is these universal themes that make this book relatable and an excellent example of world literature. The long and painful process mentioned in the last paragraph can relate to the hardships of both decolonization and growing up.

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3 Comments to “Nervous Conditions, Inner Conflict, Global Scale”

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