"Nervous Conditions" is a novel by Tsitsi Dangarembga that explores themes of colonialism, feminism, and the complex relationships between men and women in post-colonial Zimbabwe.
One of the major themes of the novel is colonialism and its enduring impact on the lives of the characters. The characters live in a society that has been shaped by the colonization of Zimbabwe by the British, and the legacy of this colonization is evident in the power dynamics and social hierarchies that exist within the novel. The characters struggle with the internalized racism and self-hatred that has been instilled in them as a result of colonialism, as well as the ongoing effects of economic and political oppression.
Feminism is also a central theme in "Nervous Conditions," as the novel follows the experiences of a young girl named Tambu who is struggling to find her place in a society that is deeply patriarchal. Tambu is constantly being told what she can and cannot do, and she must navigate a world that is deeply hostile to the idea of female empowerment. Despite these challenges, Tambu is determined to assert her own agency and to carve out a space for herself in a world that seeks to suppress her.
The relationships between men and women are another key theme in the novel, as Tambu grapples with the expectations placed on her as a woman and the ways in which her relationships with men are shaped by power dynamics. Tambu's relationship with her brother, for example, is marked by a tension between love and resentment, as she struggles to come to terms with the ways in which he has benefited from their society's patriarchy.
Overall, "Nervous Conditions" is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that explores the enduring impact of colonialism, the struggles of feminism, and the complex relationships between men and women in a post-colonial society. Its themes are as relevant today as they were when the novel was first published, making it an important and timely read for anyone interested in these issues.
Men vs. Women Theme in Nervous Conditions
Note that Tambu isn't even allowed inside—though she's connected to the patriarchy through her father, as a woman, she's not actually afforded any prestige. Tambu finds it insulting and ignores her. Once that was complete, they were given no opportunities to advance, nor did they make many attempts to do so. Deciding that these thoughts are dangerous and unwise, Tambu begins preparing part of the meal. Tambu steps into the role of future provider, yet she is saddled with the prejudices and limitations that shackled most African girls of her generation.
Babamukuru's suggested fix, a wedding, doesn't sit well with Tambu, as it makes her question her own participation in the mission school and her desire to become educated and wealthy, like Babamukuru. When Tambu is first pulled out of school, something that shakes her to the core, the reasons both of her parents give her for why this is acceptable have to do with the fact that Tambu is female. His wife lives in fear of him but remains to take care of her husband out of social duty. Essentially, she already exists in gray areas even if she won't admit it. He eventually steps in the house with his siblings and other paternal aunts, while other female relatives remain outside.
Without the opportunities colonialism has created for them, Babamukuru and his family, as well as Tambu, would not be in their positions of privilege and power. He has no regard for his roots. After that, she studied psychology at the University of Zimbabwe and did copywriting work for a marketing agency. Looking back, Tambu has realized that she was conditioned by colonialism to deify the white missionaries and their educational system. Her eight for an education and a better life is compounded by her gender. Tambu turns away, disgusted by Nyasha's inappropriate dress.
I simply was not ready to accept that Babamukuru was a historical artifact; or that advantage and disadvantage were predetermined, so that Lucia could not really hope to achieve much as a result of Babamukru's generosity; and that the benefit would only really be a long-term one if people like Babamukuru kept on fulfilling their social obligation; and people like Lucia would pull themselves together. She doesn't like this, as she has to know what everyone's status is. She can't pinpoint why she also dislikes Chido, but she dislikes Nhamo when he takes the cousins for himself to speak to in English. He leaves to tell the neighbors and let them spread the news. They bury Nhamo the next day.
This is why Nervous Conditions was only published by a British publishing house four years later. Her desire for an education and to improve herself seem strong enough to overcome just about anything. Chido declines politely, but Nyasha seems to simply turn herself off. NoViolet Bulawayo's 2013 novel We Need New Names is another coming of age novel focusing on a Zimbabwean girl, though it takes place in the early 2010s. Instead, Nyasha is forced to develop her own objectively unhealthy coping mechanisms—constant studying, anorexia, and bulimia—to deal with the stress and the pain of being female in a patriarchal society. It is a direct connection to the legacy she inherits and the wisdom and skills that are passed down from generation to generation, and Thumb fondly remembers helping her grandmother work the garden.
She is a very independent woman, and is determined to educate herself and not fall into the normal roles of women in her society. Though the novel offers no fixes or remedies for the gender relationships that lead Nyasha to these habits and oppress Tambu's other family members, it instead offers Nyasha as a cautionary tale of what can happen when women's bids for empowerment aren't taken seriously. However, she cannot express her frustration out loud because she is so grateful to Babamukuru. He had pushed up from under the weight of the white man with no strong relative to help him. At the beginning of Nervous Conditions, Tambu sees education as a pathway to financial success, based on the example set by Babamukuru. She is, as far as Tambu is concerned, free of the constraints that society puts on women like Mainini. They control everything you do.
Tambu excels on the exam and is offered a scholarship to attend this well known school. She fears that the dominating culture may eventually stifle, limit, or eliminate the long-established native culture of Rhodesia—in other words, she fears that colonialism may force assimilation. In her assessment, Babamukuru is the one who looks after Maiguru in a big, luxurious house, and she isn't trapped by poverty or her husband. A patriarchal figure, he dominates his home and professional life with an unyielding fist. However, the mission school poses threats, as well: Western institutions and systems of thought may cruelly and irreversibly alter native Africans who are subjected to them.
She fears that the dominating culture may eventually stifle, limit, or eliminate the long-established native culture of Rhodesia-? Tambu is unsuccessful, as Nyasha refuses all invitations to play or pound maize. Tambu is not upset about this because Nhamo studied at a missionary school away from home with his uncle Babamukuru and his family. He struggles to remember Tambu's name. Finally, the pressure to conform to one correct way of being culminates in being hospitalized for an eating disorder—an illness that the first white psychiatrist Nyasha sees insists isn't something that afflicts Africans. Mahatma takes Thumb to the first city she has ever seen, where she sells green corn.