On the surface Tsitsi Dangarembga’s bildungroman, Nervous Conditions, presents the compelling coming of age story of a young Zimbabwean girl, Tambu. Once the surface is scratched Tambu’s story becomes a powerful tool in comprehending the realities, effects and legacies of colonialism. Dangarembga, once a young Zimbabwean girl herself succeeds in giving an outsider a genuine insiders perspective into what has been coined colonialism. She understands that to many it may seem so distant, abstract and broad. She challenges this by providing a medium, Tambu, whom we can see and walk through her village and life with.
Throughout Tambu’s journey through life we are constantly left wondering whether Tambu’s life is truly a success story or all too good to be true. Growing up in Zimbabwe is already difficult enough but for Tambu things couldn’t get much worse. She is dealt with the hand of young, black, poor and female, just about the most unlucky hand anyone could be dealt. Despite all odds, Tambu is determined, questionable to being a blessing or curse, and makes the most of it.
To say that her determination ridded herself of fear is an underestimation, like the title of the book, almost every character is living under the influence nervous conditions. Tambu’s determination, though she des not like to admit it t can be seen as growing out of her fear of being less, missing out, especially when the possibility to be more exists, “ I could not accept responsibility for my weakness.”
Family and cooperation was key to growing up on the homestead, it was not impossible but hard especially for a young girl. Tambu knew and could see that her brothers education was taking him else where, like her uncle, a headmaster living comfortably in town. By an unlikely event that most would consider a tragedy, Tambu is graciously lifted out of her reality with a get out of jail free card. Though Tambu is living her dream, getting an education she is constantly battling with the angel and devil on her shoulders and at most times not even sure which is which. Though her education is her emancipation, it comes at a cost. “ That boy Chido can hardly speak a word of his won mothers tongue” one of those costs her cousin was paying and soon she might too. Was the cost really worth it becomes the question, “Look at him he may look all right, but there’s no telling what price he’s paying.”
The story puts colonialism into a real scenario where its’ effects are played out daily in the lives of Tambu and her family. Tambu narrating the story describes it as “a long and painful process” but fortunately for her “something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things and refuse to be brainwashed.”