Nervous Conditions

by haleywilliams

Cultural Identity in a Changing Society

Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions is a captivating novel that from the first sentence catches the reader’s interest. “I was not sorry when my brother died,” (Dangarembga 1) starts the novel and from there begins the story of the Tambu, a young black girl from a poor family, who is trying to create an identity for herself within the guidelines and restrictions of her surroundings. Set in the 1960’s in colonial Rhodesia, the novel explores the trials of coming of age in a time of political and cultural change, and the fight for rights as a woman. Tambu is joined in this struggle for independence by the other women in her life: her cousin Nyasha, her two aunts, and her mother. While the women are searching for different types of freedom, they struggle against a cultural resistance to change that threatens to devastate the family.

Growing up in a poor family in rural Rhodesia, Tambu is denied the opportunity to go to school even though she performs well on her tests. Her brother, as a male and the oldest, is given the opportunity to study at the mission school which is run by his uncle. When he is killed, Tambu finally has her opportunity to escape the rural lifestyle of her family and seek what she believes will help her to become free, an education. Little does she know that her education will not be salvation from her worries and that she will be faced with new problems that she is not prepared to handle.

This is a story not only about searching for an identity, but also conflict created by the attempt to embrace a new culture that is not compatible with existing cultural beliefs. Nervous Conditions is a perfect title for the story as the characters fall prey to confusion and the emotional turmoil that arises from a disconnection from country and alienation from one’s own people. Specifically Nyasha, raised partially in England and isolated by not speaking her own language and holding different values then those around her, succumbs to a bulimia as a physical escape from her emotional turmoil.

Dangarembga shares with the reader all of the uncomfortable situations that the narrator must transcend through and the identity questions that she is confronted with on her journey to understand who she is as a Rhodesian and a women. It is a beautifully written look into the experience of one who is rarely heard and seldom listened to. It shows that conformity to an exterior force can have intense repercussions and how crucial the need to find a sense of peace within one’s own culture can be.

Haley Williams


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