Nervous of resentment against his only brother named

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988) is
an age story set in Zimbabwe in late 1960 to early 1970s. The author looks at
the position of women in the colonial era through the life of her protagonist
Tambudzai. She describes the ways in which women reject the behavioral and
cultural codes that are constituted by the patriarchal system. In its entirety,
the novel conflates two primary discourses, the national and the patriarchal
system with unshakeable resistance to both. In nationalism, Dangarembga (1988)
offers her feminist lenses through which the audience is given the opportunity
to explore the relationship between women and the nation in terms of
nationalism and feminism (Dangarembga, p. 54). Additionally, it explores the
patriarchal oppression that every woman in the area is constrained by. For
example, the author introduced Lucia, Tambu, Maiguru, Tambu’s mother and Nyasha
as some of the core victims of the patriarchal system. However, despite the evidence
of difficulties experienced by women within Zimbabwean society, the issue of
feminism has been distracted and diverted by diverse social and political
issues in the context of colonial pressure. Therefore, this paper will focus on
exploring diverse issues explored in a story featured with a heavy burden of
femaleness in an extreme male-centered culture.


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Other than the difficulties faced by women in Shona
society, Dangarembga (1988) is concerned with the issue of gender as a way of
showing the root cause of women oppression through the socialization process. For
example, Ma’ Shingayi-Tambu’s mother explains to her “The business of womanhood
is heavy burden” (Dangarembga, p. 15). Nyasha and Tambu
are two primary women who grapple with the societal gender roles and
expectations in Shona society. For example, as a child, Tambu reflects a
feeling of resentment against his only brother named Nhamo. This is after
Babamukuru (Tambu’s uncle) and who is a highly educated headmaster at a mission
school offered himself to pay to school for Nhamo. When all this is happening, Tambu
has already discovered that the demands, the sensibilities, and needs of women
in her family and the society as a whole were not considered a priority. As a
result, she felt the pain of having a male controller in her life who enjoyed
all the opportunities when she is being deprived of the same. Consequently, she
confidently confessed “I was not sorry when my brother died”. This is
because she was sure that an opportunity to attend a colonial school will crop
her way. Regardless of the fact that she gets a position to attend the mission
school, she still surveys from a frustration of her duties to Babamukuru who is
an authoritarian and patriarchal figure and her rapidly increasing
independence. Similarly, Nyasha who also had an opportunity to study in England
does not look back. In this case, Dangarembga (1988) tries to showcase the rebellion
of female gender against the male patriarchy through educational achievement.
Nevertheless, it appears that gender plays a greater role in determining the
roles and responsibilities of people in the society. For example, Babamukuru
accepts to pay school fees for Nhamo not out of love but due to the
responsibility he has a male in the society. He actively takes the pain of the
growing derision of Nyasha his daughter (Dangarembga, p. 119).


Babamukuru’s children Nyasha and Chido have spent a
huge amount of their childhood in England-based schools giving them the
opportunity to adopt many Western values and cultures. As a result, Tambu’s
mother believes that Nyasha’s mental breakdown is influenced by the Western
culture exposure. She fears that the “Englishness” in Chido and Nyasha’s life
will eventually affect her only daughter. Critically thinking, the
“Englishness” creates a gap between Nyasha, Chido, and Tambu. This is based on
the fact that Tambu cannot speak English while on the other hand Chido and
Nyasha are not conversant with Shona. Additionally, Nyasha has already adopted
the revealing clothing worn in Western culture and which Tambu’s mother cannot condone.
As a result, Tambu is seen as a more obedient student as opposed to Nyasha.
Through the life of Tambu and Nyasha, it becomes evident that Dangarembga
(1988) wanted to show how colonialism made some Africans feels out of place. Most
Africans adopted a conservative mode of believing values and Christianity
thereby shielding themselves from life experiments as seen in Chido’s and
Nyasha’s Englishness (Dangarembga, p. 150).

and Race

When the novel is beginning, Tambu reflects
education as an opportunity for financial freedom based on the life lived by
Babamukuru. In her statement, she expresses the action by Babamukuru to pay
school fees for Nhamo as oceanic. She believes that his action was one golden
opportunity to live their family from the poverty and vulnerability they were
living in. Similarly, Babamukuru portrays education as an avenue for
alleviating dependency in the society. Due to this fact, Tambu is determined to
get the education so that she can successfully move out of poverty. However, at
the mission school, she learns that to African children, education is seen as a
privilege while white view it as a right. Despite these different, she
appreciated the opportunity to learn and shape her life out of poverty.
Therefore, Dangarembga (1988) tried to showcase education as a pillar towards
women freedom and independence.

Nevertheless, education has provided an open door
where the issue of race is well evident. For example, children in the African
setup were given the opportunity to negotiate the colonial education while
still maintaining their Shona identity. As highlighted above, Chido and Nyasha
have adopted some Western values and Englishness that make them look more white
than black. As a result, Nyasha takes up a divided position as she does not
know whether she’s white or black. Children in her school scorn her in the sense
that she behaves more white than black. Similarly, Tambu observes the same when
dealing with the white teachers. Schools are a social institution that advances
the socialization process from the society units. Dangarembga (1988) show that
issues of race and skin color differences are created by the socialization process,
hence, giving them an opportunity to note the difference between them.
Therefore, without the features and values that shows the difference between
people, the race would be seen as an issue in the society.


Other than expressing the oppression and
difficulties experienced by women, Dangarembga (1988) is also concerned by
poverty and vulnerability of different families through the life of Nhamo.  Immediately after joining the mission school,
Nhamo begins experiencing an embarrassment feeling due to the poverty incidents
hitting his immediate family. Conversely, the entire society respects and
appreciates Babamukuru due to the fact that he has not been a victim of
poverty. Additionally, Nhamo and Tambu were desperate to join school so that
they would get out of the impoverished home and settle comfortably in the
mission compound. To show the depths of poverty in this society, Nhamo disguised
him as an individual who does not understand the Shona language. The core
reason for doing this is due to the fact that the Shona language was associated
with poverty. Therefore, he adopted the English language so that he can appear
different from her sister Tambu. For Dangarembga (1988), education is expressed
as the pathway to affluence, however, the presence of Tambu and Nhamo in this
context proves that a good percentage of families in the Shona society are
living under poverty. For that reason, children in these families are striving
to get an education so that they can successfully get out of the vulnerability
their immediate families are expressing.

Chauvinism and Patriarchal System

Dangarembga (1988) sets the floor in a manner that
all men explored in Nervous Conditions are nurtured in a patriarchal society
where they do not take female challenges easily. For example, there is a scene
where Nhamo tells Tambu “Why do you seem jealous anyway”, Have you ever heard
of a girl being taken to school”. Traditionally, girls were not taken to
school. The society believed that their position is in the home. Their gender
roles were ascribed to cooking, getting children and caring for the husband.
Therefore, the statement by Nhamo did not come as a surprise as that how men in
the Shona society were raised (Dangarembga, 1988).  Furthermore, men in the Shona society are the
controller of everything, they determine whether an individual will bridge to
affluence or they will remain humble in poverty. For example, Tambu’s success
and bridge to school are achieved through the agreement of Babamukuru. In this
case, she must adhere to his conservative Christian tied values so that she can
access education in a free and fair manner. Basically, oppression and
difficulties of women in Shona society are powered by the patriarchal system
where men are placed at the forefront in controlling all happenings of the
society. As a result, most women are suffering in silence. For example, due to
Babamukuru’s presence and power in the education system, his wife Maiguru has
successfully pursued a degree. However, she has no work as the most as the
society believes that women should nurture their homes (Dangarembga, p. 103).


Nervous conditions are events that Dangarembga’s
(1988) novel considers due to the effects of colonization in the characters minds.
For example, through Tambu’s life, it is evident that she is desperate in
getting an opportunity to exit her impoverished family. However, at the mission
school, she was tone between the new colonial schooling and her Shona culture
where women take a subordinate position. In one unique scene, Tambu refuses to
attend her parent’s wedding due to the frustration she has received from her
uncle Babamukuru. Nevertheless, she does not have the power or authority to
express her anger as Babamukuru is the bridge to open gates of education. Similarly,
Nyasha suffers from anorexia due to the frustration she has experienced after
going back to Shona society. After studying in England, Nyasha and her
“Englishness” suffers a big thwarting as only a few people in Shona understands
English. Finally, Tambu’s mother suffers from anxiety and depression as she
believes that the “Englishness” taught in the colonial schools was the root
cause of what killed Nhamo her son and eventually took away her daughter (Dangarembga,
p. 207). Therefore, many of the issues expressed in this novel touch on the
issues of nationalism and patriarchal system and the influences they have on femaleness
and their position in the society.


As a non-fiction book, Nervous Conditions has
successfully cut across diverse themes of poverty, education, male-chauvinism,
patriarchal system and difficulties faced by women as they try to achieve their
goals in life. Through the life of Tambu, the audience is made to understand
the struggles under a patriarchal system that every woman had to undergo to succeed.
First and foremost, it is evident that women take a subordinate or second
position in the Shona society. For example, Tambu is given the opportunity to
access education only after his brother Nhamo died. Additionally, Babamukuru’s
wife has no job opportunity despite her degree level of education.  Therefore, despite the opportunities given to
women, the presence of male-centered societies halts the pathways to the achievements
and goals that they yearn to achieve. Furthermore, it is important noting that
the primary intention of Tambu wishing to join school was to offer her an
opportunity to exit the impoverished family. Even though there was a conflict
between her Shona culture and colonial school values, she was ready to
undertake any step towards realizing her dreams. However, her mother Ma
Shingayi is actively afraid that the changes happening in her daughter’s life
courtesy of the western culture would eventually kill her as they did to her
son. In entirety, Dangarembga (1988) introduced diverse struggles and concerns
in women life to help the audience view the society from a diverse perspective
and have a belief that everything is achievable with determination, purposefulness,
and perseverance.