The moral, coming of age novel Nervous Conditions, is a book written by the Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga. In her work there are several thematic ideas presented through the eyes of a young African girl, Tambu. Though the book mainly focuses on this girl growing up in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe several other female characters are presented throughout the novel as well. The importance of these other female figures is what I believe to be the author’s real message as it shows how women can overcome the trials they may be born into.
Right from the very start of the book, the reader really gets a sense of women dealing with rugged lifestyles. It first starts off with Tambu’s homestead and the hierarchy of male dominance and then leads into the oppressive nature of Babamakuru. All the main female characters presented in the book, Tambu, Nyasha, Maiguru, Lucia, and Ma’Shingayi, are portrayed mainly as the caretaker, child producer, and maid.
Each of these women go through their own trials and manage to come out on top in the end. Nyasha would be the exception to this as she has a mental break-down. She is presented as the weakest of all the women in the book but even so, manages to come out on top a bit by starving herself and going against her father’s will. This “triumphant female” image is what seems to be Dangarembga’s true intentions when writing this novel so that all women could relate and look up to something. The women listed above all come from different upbringings and are different ages which allows for a wide range of the female population to connect to the characters.
Throughout the novel, these womanly triumphs can be traced to each prominent female character. Tambu finally gets an education and escapes what she thought was her fate in the beginning. Lucia gets a job and stands up for herself boldly even in the face of Babamakuru. Maiguru turns into the classic example of a respectable, modern woman who has money and also challenges Babamakuru in the end by leaving him. Lastly Ma’Shingayi, Tambu’s mother, who although is bound and trapped in the homestead most of the story, emerges in the end and accepts what she has as a woman and what she can do as one. All this creates the flow of a feminine power that is a constant from beginning to end.
In summary then, Nervous Conditions is a splendid book with several themes tied together with strong moral values. The underlying moral being that women can rise above their current standings no matter how oppressed or dominated they may be. Tsitsi Dangarembga challenges the female view in her society by presenting bold, feminine characters that take a stand in their own unique way. Dangarembga couldn’t of said it better at the back of her book by stating that African women need to just “get out there and do their thing”.