Characterization of Tambu in Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

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It is often said that ‘we are ourselves because of others. Consider how this might be true of the characters in NERVOUS CONDITIONS, The main protagonist in Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga is Tambudzai or Tambu. The novel Nervous Conditions is set in colonial Rhodesia in the late 1960s, Nervous Conditions tracks ajourney for Tambu which takes her from her rural family to a private school. In that Journey she interacts With many different people, each of which influences Tambu‘s outlook.

Through the course of Nervous Conditions , Tambu is at the age when everyone experiences the changes brought on by puberty, leaving childhood behind. Added to that confusion, she is female in a strongly patriarchal society. She is black in a colonial nation where role is primarily determined by race. She is a Shona speaker in a land where fluency in English is valued, She is largely illiterate in a society that reveres education. Her uncle Babamukuru’s relative affluence has made her aware of the difference between a life of subsistence farming and the promise of [lying on the mission.

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Tambu faces a metaphoric journey on all of these planes. The combination influences her beliefs and value system. From an early age, Tambu is exposed to the injustices of a rural patriarchal society. Too young to fully understand the effects of racism or illiteracy, she can clearly see the results of male domination. When her uncle, Babamukuru, Visits the fields, Tambu’s father and her brother Nhamo see it fit to return to the homestead while her mother and the girls remain working in the fields, Tambu sees her mother “lips pressed tight continue in her labours.

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” She describes the “ferocious swings of her arms” which reveal her mother’s pent up resentment. Tambu is emotionally affected by the inequality: “the thought of my mother working so hard, so alone, always distressed me,” Dangarembga makes it clear that this is the normal state of affairs. The men are treated as superior in the familial hierarchy.

Tambu recognises that this IS the role that she is fully expected to inherit: “the needs and sensibilities of the women in my family were not considered a priority. or even legitimate.” Tambu is also preconditioned by her mother‘s passive acceptance of her role. Indeed, her mother illustrates and explains what she believes to be Tambu’s future. Her mother states, “This business of Womanhood is a heavy burden. When there are sacrifices to be made, you are the one who has to make them.” At this point we see the subservient role of women in many patriarchal societies around the world, however Tambu‘s mother then introduces another influence. She brings in the first reference to the complexity of an African woman’s plight, saying it is even worse “with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other.” She is attributing their state of poverty to being black, The enforced inequalities of colonial Rhodesia are brought into play. The term apartheid is most often used to describe the political system in South Africa, but for our purposes the inequality in Rhodesia can be regarded as similar. Although Tambu only comes into direct contact with this system, the people who influence her are in turn influenced by the system. Tambu’s first encounter – and the first for the reader – is the confrontation between Tambu and Mr Matimba With the white woman Doris and her husband while Tambu is trying to sell her mealies. A white “beefy youth” iomed them, making a stereotypically raCIst remark: “The munt being cheeky?” In Rhodesia, the word muntwas synonymous With the South African kaffir as is shown by the youth’s other remarks.

In the space of two pages, the youth is used to describe the overall inter-racial atmosphere in Tambu‘s homeland. The point is made also that Mr Matimba used the “softest, slipperiest voice” that Tambu had ever heard him use when he addressed the white woman. That blacks are supposed to be subservient to whites is made clear and colours the actions and attitudes of the participants in Nervous Conditions. Another experience with the system comes much later in the book, with the nuns at Scared Heart private school, The African students at Sacred Heart shared overcrowded accommodation. Although the nuns are progressive enough to share education between Whites and Alricans, they Would not share bedrooms: the Africans all had to be kept together. The point is also made that Nyasha’s bulimia could not be attended by a black psychiatrist as there were none. Another influence is Tambu’s father‘s and in particular his attitude to work which in no small part contributes to their poverty. Tambu notes that although they had “fair rains that year, our crops were poor ” Her father makes it clear that he expects his brother to care for the family complaining, “Babamukuru should provide a barbed wire fence to keep out the baboons,” While her father‘s innate laziness is accepted, it is not unnoticed as Tambu remembers her mother‘s hopeful thought that Babamukuru’s absence would force her father to “at last grow responsible.” This attitude is not limited to the head of the household, but to all males When Nhamo was obnoxious it was assumed that he “was doing no more than behave in the expected manner.” Nhamo himself puts the case bluntly when he tells Tambu that the unfair treatment is “because you are a girl.” That Nhamo himself affects Tambu‘s Ideas is emphasised by the very first sentence of Nervous Conditions: “I was not sorry when my brother died.” His self-centredness is not restricted to what perhaps was his right as a male, but he was also a callously uncaring person, When Tambu is growrng mealies with the intention of selling them to finance her way into school (something that Nhamo took for granted). Nhamo took them to school and gave them away as gifts. He even affects to forget how to speak Shona, even though this is neither true and that it distances him from his non- English speaking family. Another major influence for Tambu is the family of her uncle who is only referred to as an honorific “Babamukuru.” Tambu notes the difference between her family and her uncle’s. She reflects that “a grotesque and sad picture of my father and Nhamo in relation to Babamukuru and my cousin would come to my mind. I wanted my father and Nhamo to stand up straight like Babamukuru but they always looked as though they were cringing.” Tambu refuses to accept her lot, as Babamukuru is a liVing precedent that the homestead need not be the future. We read that Babamukuru remembers “how difficult life was on the homestead” and “did not want his children to experience the want and the hardship that he had experienced as a young child.”

In contrast to Tambu’s father, Babamukuru ”was not afraid of hard work,” Babamukuru was a success with “Plenty of power. Plenty of money. A lot of education Plenty of everything.” Although the major influence is the contrast between he father and her uncle. Tambu also compares her mother to her aunt, Maiguru, who was “altogether a different kind of woman.” Tambu sees that the mission will compare favourably to the physical aspects of the rural homestead. She would have more than one blanket and wouldn‘t sleep in a smoky kitchen. She would have new clothes that wouldn’t need to be beaten on the rocks in the river to become clean. She is exCited at the prospect of a bath in a tub. The differences are so acute that Tambu “expected to find another self, a clean, well-groomed, genteel self who could not have bred, could not have survived on the homestead.” it is significant to note that she directly associates all of these luxuries as “the consequences of having acquired an education.” Her belief in the power of education is echoes her father‘s comments and her uncles actual success, Although these physical improvements are actualised, it is soon apparent that some aspects of life at the mission are not that different, Maiguru is no happier With her lot than Tambu‘s mother. Nyasha tells Tambu that her mother “spends most of her life complaining.” The first meal shows that Babamukuru, for all his education and application, expects servility from his women in much the same way as Tambu‘s father. He objects that they would start to eat before he arrives. “Did you think I wasn‘t coming, even after you telephoned and I said Iwas coming?” When Nyasha helps herself to rice before he is finished servrng his own plate he again obiects asking if Nyasha thinks Maiguru “doesn’t know what she is doing, waiting on me?” Nyasha also has an effect on Tambut Nyasha has experienced life in England, and even when in Rhodesia, life on the mission is quite different than life on the homestead, Nyasha reads books that her mother finds unsuitable – we can assume one is Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Nyasha‘s progressive attitude to Anna the maid is also remarkable, While Anna kneels, showmg what Tambu sees as appropriate respect, Nyasha is irritable: “For heaven’s sake. stand up! . Every time you come in here | tell you not to kneel down, but you keep on doing it.” Nyasha decides fro herself what is right and wrong and does not instinctively accept her parent‘s authority, She stays out later than she should and her attitude initially scandalises Tambu: “Even if you have been to England, you should respect your mother,” she reprimands Nyasha.

Tambu’s belief that education can automatically rescue her from followrng her mother into servrtude is challenged when she discovers that Maiguru has a Masters degree, placing her education on a par with Babamukuru, Maiguru reveals the difficulties faced by even educated Women pointing out that she studied and got her degree “in spite of them all.” She echoes Tambu‘s mother’s comments reflecting that she had to make sacrifices for her “good man and her lovely children.” That Babamukuru is the uncontested head of the household is again shown when he and Nyasha fight. “We cannot have two men in this house..,not even your brother dares to challenge my authority,” he says at once confirming his prominence and male precedence. When the mission family Visits the homestead, Tambu’s mother‘s outburst shows her feeling towards the educated Maiguru and how she feels betrayed by Tambu Iivmg on the mission. “Because Maiguru is educated…Because she is rich…She steals other women’s children,” Tambu is unable to exist solely in her new world and the plight of mother. “thoroughly beaten and Without self-respect,” cannot be ignored. Adding to the mix. Lucia‘s presence threatens the entire family in a way that any amount of education cannot resolve. Education and exposure to new ideas enable Tambu to leave the old ways of Tambu’s mother, and even Maiguru. but not totally. They cannot become assimilated as Euorpeans. She is caught between two cultures. being neither one nor the other. The stresses of this multirfaceted existence can be seen in the changing relationships and circumstances at the mission. As Nyasha laments, “I’m not one of them but I‘m not one of you.” The influences in Tambu‘s life start With her rural upbringing. Some schools of psychology and soniology hold the effects of these early years to be the most long-lasting. Certainly Tambu wishes to escape her mother’s fate, but her mother and sisters remains positive or at least amiable influences. Her attitudes to men are formed by generally negative experience With both her lazy father and callous brother. Through contact with Babamukuru and his family, however, she comes to believe that education is the solution, The influence of Babamukuru’s family is also polarised to an extent. The symbolic stability of heruncle and his place in the community serves as a background for the effect of her female relatives. Maiguru is educated to the same level as Babamukuru. but is to all intents and purposes nowjust a genteel version of Tambu‘s mother. Nyasha and her attitudes and ultimately her illness are significant. Tambu assimilates all these influences and ultimately begins to form her own identity. “Quietly, unobtruswely and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things and refuse to be brainwashed.”

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Characterization of Tambu in Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. (2022, Jul 07). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/characterization-of-tambu-in-nervous-conditions-by-tsitsi-dangarembga-essay

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