“I was not sorry when my brother died. ” This was what Tambu, the main character and the narrator in “Nervous Conditions” blurts out when she hears about her brother’s death. It is symbolic of her of her bouts with dissonance as an adolescent looking back at her painful past and uncertain future. The Reality of Childhood Tambu encounters sexism as a child, in the hands of a typical African family. In patriarchal Zimbabwe, men are valued at a premium compared to women.
As such, families take great pains to give their sons with the best education that they could, while relegating their daughters to household chores, as they are considered not worthy of investing in. In Tambu’s case, her older Nhamo is held in favor by her family and is sent to a missionary school, courtesy of her uncle, Babamukuru, the school’s headmaster. To add insult to injury, her brother’s success interrupts her own quest for education, as her family withdraws her from school, thinking that there is no point in investing in a daughter’s education as “it will only benefit strangers”.
This perhaps alludes to the fact that there are no other roles assigned to women in their community, except to become a wife and bear children. Tambu also gets to witness the effects of cultural hybridism or duality in the changes that she notices from her brother after returning from school. He has developed a contempt for manual labor, an attachment with for the “civilized”, a disdainful attitude towards the women in his family and has even forgotten how to speak Shona. As such, Nhamo never fails to treat Tambu like a slave and make her feel insignificant because of her inability to go to school.
Tambu doesn’t take this double-standard and abuse sitting down and decides to take her fate into her own hands. She takes to planting vegetables in an effort to raise funds for her own education. Fortunately, in Umtali, a white woman who happened to see little Tambu selling vegetables instead of studying in school, provides Tambu with ten pounds to let her continue with her schooling. Despite initial resistance from her father, Tambu eventually succeeds in pursuing her education.
On the other hand, colonization was a painful reality for Tambu, having seen and experienced the dehumanization of Africans in the hands of the white colonizers. For example, when Tambu attends the celebration of the Sacred Heart in church, she is quickly consigned to a cramped room with fellow Africans. Tambu realizes that God’s servants treats “Others” like her, collectively. Thus, there is no Tambu, Nyasha, Nhamo, or even Zimbabwean. They are all lumped together in one group labeled African. The Turbulency of Adolescence
When Tambu’s brother dies after a bout with mumps, she takes his place in the scholarship slot awarded to him in the missionary school. This time around, it is Babamukuru who convinces Tambu’s father that she should take Nhamo’s slot in the scholarship and continue pursuing her education. Tambu is then given a full scholarship and stays at the missionary school, living with Babamukuru’s family. Tambu moves to the school and has Nyasha, her cousin, as roommate. Nyasha spent her formative years in England, where she and her parents were educated.
As such, she cannot relate to the culture of her home country, more so speak freely using Shona, the native language. As Nyasha didn’t really have the chance to establish her sense of self in either culture (African or English), she eventually feels that she is caught up in between two worlds. _____________ 3 She begins to break down physically and emotionally, and does so for most of her adolescent years. This is made worse by her tumultous relationship with her father, who seems to be disapproving of her behavior, particularly of her sexuality.
Because of all these, Nyasha develops an eating disorder (anorexia), and uses the act of eating and rejecting food to rebel. As a witness to her cousin’s disintegration, Tambu herself feels the turmoil that comes with being a cultural hybrid and that of being a part of a colony, slowly being eaten by its colonizer. At this point, Tambu also begins to walk the path towards self-identity, as could be seen when she states, “[q]uietly, unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things and refuse to be brainwashed, bringing me to this time when I can set down this story.
” Charting the Future Towards Adulthood This internal turmoil was a prelude to the changes that were to occur in Tambu’s character. For example, when Babamukuru decides that Jeremiah and Mainini must marry, Tambu disagrees. She struggles with her opinions of Babamukuru and her understanding of what sin really is. She struggles with the concept of marriage. Eventually, she is taken over by her family pride, by the thought that her parents would become a comic relief to others, and by the absurdity of the idea itself. In one passage, Tambu examines her beliefs and begins to expound on it:
Babamukuru did not know how I had suffered over the question of that wedding. He did not know how my mind had raced and spun and ended up splitting into two disconnected entities that had long, frightening arguments with each other, very vocally, in my head, about what ought to be done, the one half maniacally insisting on going, the other half equally maniacally refusing to consider it. I knew it was not evil to have endured all that terror in order to be sure of my decision, so when Nyasha asked whether I would go, I was able to tell her clamly, ‘No.
‘ But I accepted that I had ______________ 4 forfeited my right to Babamukuru’s charity. As an adult narrator, she shows how her absence from the wedding symbolizes a conscious withdrawal from the prevailing patriarchal order. Although she regrets missing the ‘celebration’ at the time, as an adult reflecting back she sees value in her independent decision making. She says, “When I saw the photographs I was sure that I should have gone [to the wedding]. But I had not seen them before I had made my decision and the decision was at least mine. “
In addition, the wedding functions as a symbol of the rite of passage for women in many countries other than Western ones, and thus has a strong significance for young girls like Tambu who are coming of age. Moreover, it is acknowledged to be a point where people must confront the intersection between culture, tradition, and modernism. As an adult, Tambu would be facing an ever-more multinational society, the ability to adapt continuously is necessary. Her story helps her reclaim the different parts of her own identity, resulting in a second ‘coming of age’, celebrating this newly formed identity.
Conclusion Through her newly acquired skills of criticism, Tambu calls for recollections of the past, as well as an interpretation of her personal struggles growing up. Her autobiography showcases her own history as a woman growing up in a traditional society, when modernism was just emerging. She would not allow her history to be told through colonial patriarchal tradition, so Tambu takes control and authority, using her knowledge and skills to write her history and that of the people around her. In the end, Tambu eventually realizes that she is not defined by the how she is
“categorized” by society and by the dictates of a supposedly superior colonizer. She ultimately discovers that the only person who can actually limit her and her potential is herself. 5 Hopefully, she would be a writing a different story altogether when Tambu rises from the ashes of her past like a phoenix and soars upwards to reach greater heights, free from the shackles of sexism, cultural duality and colonialism that once prevented her from realizing her true potentials. 6 Works Cited Eslamieh, S. (Undated).
Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions: Coming of Age and Adolescence as Representative of Multinational Hybridity. In MT Movable Type. Retrieved from October 27, 2008 from http://www. ucl. ac. uk/english/graduate/issue/1_ 1/salumeh. htm Hughes, D. (2000, January 3). Nervous conditions. In Long Pauses A line of peace might appear. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www. longpauses. com/blog/2000/01/nervous-conditions-1988. html Patel, R. (1999). Nervous conditions. In The Voice of the Turtle. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www. voiceoftheturtle. org/show_article. php? aid=169
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