Nervous Conditions

Resisting the Colonial and the
Patriarchal in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s
Copyright © 2009. Peter Lang Publishing. All rights reserved.
Nervous Conditions
Literary depictions of feminist awareness have undergone major
transformations in the decades that span Nectar in a Sieve (1954) and Nervous
Conditions (1988), as this chapter’s examination of colonial and patriarchal
agendas in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1988) will show.
Markandaya, an Indian writing about India, and Dangarembga, a Zimbabwean
writing about Zimbabwe, both Westernized, postcolonial women writers, deal
with the ideological and physical entrapment of women in patriarchal
cultures.1 Significantly, both texts were written and published in the years soon
after their authors’ nations gained political independence. But where
Dangarembga’s text departs from Markandaya’s is in the sharply striking ways
in which a third world feminist consciousness informs this Zimbabwean
writer’s critical consciousness and impacts her postcolonial perceptions of the
nation and the national. While Markandaya’s text highlights the crippling
effects of Indian cultural practices imposed on women and thus questions
certain aspects of national culture whose tenets are mobilized by nationalism,
Dangarembga’s double consciousness is both rooted in national concerns and
uprooted from them. Insofar as women are located in the nation and its
culture the text can be viewed as having national concerns. But because it
focuses on how a culture supported and promoted by the nation, the national,
and nationalism, has oppressed woman the text can be deemed to question
the national. The text allows us to see why, if the patriarchal culture
underlying the social system licenses woman’s oppression, then that
patriarchal culture acts as an instrument of the nation. Situating both the
writer and text in their historical, political, and social contexts, I argue that the
writer’s approach to the national is informed by a feminist consciousness
rooted in the nation albeit in a manner that allows us to read into it a moving
beyond the national towards a postnational conceptual paradigm.
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Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in 1959, in Zimbabwe, which became
politically independent in 1980, when the British government formally
granted independence to Zimbabwe on April 18, 1980. Dangarembga went to
England when she was two years old and lived there with her family for four
years. She returned to study medicine at Cambridge, but after three years of
experiencing racism returned to Zimbabwe, where she encountered sexism.
For example, talking about the position of women in Zimbabwe, Tsitsi
Dangarembga states, “A Zimbabwean woman may become a militant,
genderless fighter but on pain of ridicule at the national level she may not
become a fighting woman … My own experiences as a young writer illuminate
grotesquely the energy-depleting toll on Zimbabwean women who grapple with
their country’s version of the usual sexist controls.”2 Dangarembga’s novel
confronts politically constructed fences, informed not only by the writer’s
connections to the diaspora but also by a feminist consciousness that
questions colonial (il)logic and indigenous patriarchal ideology.
In Nervous Conditions, race and class impact feminist questions in a slightly
different manner from that depicted in Changes. Unlike Changes, in which all
the three major women characters, Esi, Opokuya, and Fusena, are, in different
degrees, materially well-to-do, not all the women in Nervous Conditions are
similarly privileged. Mainini, Lucia, and Tambudzai’s sites of struggle are
marked by disempowerment because of poverty, a very real issue, which
prevents Tambudzai from going to school--her family cannot afford the school
fees. Dangarembga exposes the racial discriminatory practices instituted by the
colonial government in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), which, Dickson A. Mungazi
states, “enhance[d] its power to control, not only education, but also society
Compelling us to “remap” and “rename,” to reevaluate the relationship
between woman and nation, Dangarembga’s text reflects postcolonial third
world feminist perspectives in ways that invite Anne McClintock’s analysis, in
an article focused on women and nationalism in South Africa, that, “All
nationalisms are gendered, all are invented, and all are dangerous. . . . They
represent relations to political power … and to the technologies of violence . . .
legitimizing, or limiting, people’s access to the rights and resources of the
nation-state.”4 That nationalisms are gendered is underscored in the concerns
that Dangarembga here reveals in her text. The different ways in which
Nervous Conditions is invested in nationalism is reflected in the construction of
woman’s identity which reveals, what I see as, her postcolonial and
postnational feminism, particularly in her choice of individual characters,
language, and setting.
The main argument this book puts forward is that there can be seen a
seeming paradox in the literary representativity of the message Nervous
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Conditions conveys about the nation and national. If the national and cultural
overlap and intersect, imbricate interstitially then what are we allowed to draw
from the equation between women and nation? When this literary text
describes colonial attitudes and practices against the colonized it can be seen
as, in some ways, defending and upholding the national. When woman’s
marginalization is depicted, the text clearly opposes, rejects, questions,
confronts, subverts the national culture. So if women are the upholders of
tradition what does their marginalization imply? Mama reminds us, “In 1983,
several thousand women were detained by the Zimbabwean authorities, and
many of them subjected to beating and other forms of abuse during
‘Operations Clean Up.’”5
After national liberation, then, no longer diverted and distracted by
nationalist pressures in the same way, women could look inward, highlighting
the “woman question” in the political context of a colonial past and a
neocolonial present in male-dominated societies. As Rudo B. Gaidzanwa
notes, “Before the independence of Zimbabwe, the issue of black women in
society was overshadowed by other issues such as liberation of the whole
nation from colonialism” (8).6 Turning their attention to themselves, women
discovered that their lot in life was unchanged, that they were basically still
expected to adopt the wife/mother/domestic roles. In consequence of this and
an increasing feminist consciousness of how patriarchal ideologies oppress and
perpetuate disenfranchisement, women writers were more focused on
concerns that touched their lives, on questioning cultural constructions of
women. Further, writers, especially women writers, but most particularly third
world women writers, as creative artists, indicate a commitment to effecting
social change in positing alternatives to prevalent dominant attitudes.
Broadly speaking, I attempt to connect and contextualize the postcolonial,
national, and feminist to see how their trajectories intersect and overlap in
this text. Further, an analysis of Dangarembga’s feminist and postcolonial
perspectives will, as I hope to demonstrate, show how this postnationalism,
this postnational identity for woman derives from the national itself.
Furthermore, foregrounding the different ways in which women characters
resist existing patriarchal structures, the text, I suggest, invokes social change
in the attitudes of female characters like Tambu, Lucia, and Nyasha toward
patriarchally constituted cultural codes for women. Rosemary Moyana puts it
thus, “These are the women who refuse to be compartmentalized into their
chiseled roles. They question, struggle, and become liberated in different
Taking its title, Nervous Conditions and epigraph, “The condition of native
is a nervous condition” from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Preface to Frantz Fanon’s The
Wretched of the Earth (1961), the novel describes colonialism as a debilitating
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nervous condition for the colonized native.8 In depicting the effect that the
colonizer has on the natives, the novel focuses on the plight of the doubly
colonized woman, highlighting the connection between feminism and
nationalism. A literary critic, Charles Sugnet, emphasizes the connection
between woman and nation in Nervous Conditions:
The fact that Dangarembga read Fanon and found the phrase for her title only after
her manuscript was complete seems to fulfill Radhakrishnan’s request for an ‘equal
and dialogic’ relationship between women’s politics and politics of nationalism. The
phrase from Sartre/Fanon stands as an indicator that the two discourses are in
relation, a relation that flows from the body’s symptomatic resistance to two different
but related forms of domination.
By becoming narrator, teller, writer, finding the language to nudge her symptoms
toward articulate consciousness and resistance, she breaks out of those discourses
where she would remain perpetually as goddess/victim, and reclaims agency for
This quotation provides a platform for my argument that Nervous Conditions
conflates the two discourses, patriarchal and the national, in its resistance to
both. Dangarembga’s nationalism, thus, reflected through her feminist lenses,
allows us to explore the relationship of woman to nation in terms of feminism
and nationalism in this text. At the theoretical level, I put forward a question
that R. Radhakrishnan poses,
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“How is a genuinely representative national consciousness (and here I have in mind
the distinction that Frantz Fanon draws between the official ideology of nationalism
and nationalist consciousness) to be spoken for by feminism and vice versa?”10
The nexus among nationalism, feminism, and colonialism becomes clearer in
light of Fanon’s views on nationalism in the context of colonialism. Indeed,
that third world nationalism and colonialism are historically intermeshed is
evidenced in Horace B. Davis’s comments referencing Fanon’s views on the
damage to the nation’s psyche.11 Fanon contended that the end of colonialism
did not alleviate the misery of the native disenfranchised because national
liberation did not end class oppression.12 Davis reminds us that, “Fanon asked,
Does the rise of nationalism and the throwing off of the colonial yoke have a
rejuvenating effect on the psychology of the indigenous population? Does it
lead to the ending of alienation? Fanon’s answer to this question was that
alienation derived not only from national but from class oppression, which is
not necessarily ended by national liberation. … But the beginnings of selfrespect do not need wait for the ending of either class or national
oppression.”13 Nervous Conditions demonstrates, by raising concerns of selfalienation in the colonized, as, for example, in Nyasha and Tambudzai (and,
socio-historically, in the ex-colonized, in the fact that Dangarembga is
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exploring this issue after Zimbabwe’s national liberation), that the end of
colonialism does not end all damaging effects of colonial domination.
Dangarembga does not “wait for the ending of either class or national
oppression” to show the “beginnings of self-respect” for woman. It is worth
noting that while implicated in Dangarembga’s text is what can be seen as its
engagement with nationalism what is telling is the fact that though set in preindependent Zimbabwe, (“Dangarembga returns Tambudzai to her own
childhood in the Rhodesia of the late 1960s before the war gained
momentum.”),14 and written after it gained political independence, the text
does not deal overtly with the national liberation struggle,15 unlike the sequel
to Nervous Conditions, The Book of Not.16 According to Dangarembga, “her story,
although set in the past, is about the future Zimbabwe” which will have “no
option but to adapt increasingly to Western conventions, attitudes and
The African context/Western values construction the text sets up in an
oblique opposition between native tradition and bourgeois/colonial cultural
values, subsuming both under patriarchal subjectivity suggests, as noted by
Michael Chapman, “the impossibility of unlinking its woman’s story from its
national story. Rather, it confirms that old and new codes of behaviour are
entirely complicit in each other’s influence on processes of social transition”
(308). The fact that women played significant roles in the freedom struggle for
national independence from colonial rule in Zimbabwe is not apparent in
Nervous Conditions as it is in Dangarembga’s sequel to it, The Book of Not.
However, the plurality and multiplicity of Nervous Conditions can be seen in
Chapman’s observation that Dangarembga’s avoidance of the liberation war
focus[ing] instead on a difficulty that has currency for the woman writer in Zimbabwe
. . . may be summed up in the question: when the images of war continue to
preoccupy the national psyche . . . the woman’s subject matter . . . [is the subversion
of] patriarchal codes. (307)
According to Chapman, Dangarembga’s story can be seen as having a
“‘universalizing’ life” (307) because of the fact that she chooses to focus on
women’s issues instead of on the national liberation at a time when the nation
is preoccupied with decolonization. He sees Dangarembga focusing on “a
difficulty that has currency for the woman writer in Zimbabwe, [the subversion
of] patriarchal codes,” at a moment when “the images of war continue to
preoccupy the national psyche” (307).
Extrapolating from Dangarembga’s remarks that her story is about the
“future Zimbabwe,” I see her novel rooted in the nation with an underlying
attitude that I suggest can be seen as postnational feminist. Its women
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characters reveal how “their personal histories are undergoing radical repositioning at the same time as their political histories are altering” (Chapman
307). The postcolonial and feminist trajectories converge and confront the
colonial and patriarchal translated into the national/neo-colonial with
continuities and discontinuities, with affinities and ruptures, as Sally
McWilliams states:
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Post-colonialist and feminist versions of mimicry intersect in these young women’s
resistances to the man positioned next to the colonizer in this text. . . . . Tambu and
Nyasha are struggling to inhabit their seemingly ‘unnatural positions within the
educated class of Zimbabwean women faced with the changing values and mores of a
country on the verge of black rule.18
Embedded in the novel’s overwhelming concern with woman’s position in
society and on the colonial impact on women is a sense that national concerns
are not only secondary to women’s but serve to highlight their marginalization
by a culture and social system of a nation built on an infrastructure whose
ontological structure is sustained by women.
I envision in the text’s plurality in dealing with and avoiding of the
national a concern that goes beyond the narrow confines of the national and
translates into a postnational identity for woman. According to Flora VeitWild, “Though Dangarembga does not refer explicitly to post-independent
society, her complex analysis of the liberation of the mind implies the
contention that there is no easy way to nation-building in the Africa of the
1980s and 1990s.19 The text’s critical consciousness of the colonial project to
subordinate the colonized underpins its awareness of the task of “nationbuilding” and underlies its feminist discursive formations. As Chapman puts
the issues of socio-psychological interaction and cultural stress, which are explored by
Dangarembga in the gendered family situation, will continue to have an important
effect on the lives of people in any new Zimbabwean nation. (306)
To examine woman’s subject-positionality in Nervous Conditions it is
necessary, as Elizabeth Willey avers, to “link the postcolonial and feminist
theoretical projects”20 because “women as historical subjects are complex
interactions of not only sexual, but also racial, ethnic, class, cultural, and
religious differences”21 and as such, “claim a space specifically for women in
the postcolonial setting.”22 This text reflects, in its multiplicities and
subjectivities, the ways in which postcolonial feminism in the context of third
world national independence and neo-colonialism shifts woman’s concerns
from the national to the postnational conceptual level.
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Nervous Conditions, through an examination of the oppression of female
characters by family, culture, and society analyzes woman’s relationship to
culture and, as Charles Sugnet observes, “redefine[s] the ‘political’ and
rearticulate[s] the relationship between feminism and anti-colonial
nationalism,”23 and challenges the traditional role of woman. What enables
and empowers Tambudzai to critical self-awareness, to question bourgeois
values, to confront patriarchal tradition is the connection between the
evolution of Tambudzai’s consciousness (because she, as the narrator, wrote
her text after Zimbabwe won political independence) and the national
liberation struggle.24 In other words, to draw parallels between Tambudzai’s
intellectual development and Zimbabwean independence is to see their mixed
legacies. Just as for Zimbabwe, political independence brought the realization
of the need for psychological decolonization so for Tambudzai her Convent
education made her realize the need for the decolonization of her own
thought. Tambudzai is critically conscious of her subscription to a value-system
that liberates and binds her simultaneously, even as she realizes that “there
were other directions to be taken, other struggles to engage in besides the
consuming desire to emancipate[her]self and [her] family” (Nervous Conditions
152)25 Thus the parallel with Zimbabwe’s independence which liberated the
nation from political domination without an accompanying psychological
The task of psychological decolonization is made complicated and
difficult, the text indicates, by the educational system which fosters values that
generate a sense of superiority that goes along with the teaching of English
literature in the colonial context. In depicting Tambudzai’s dramatic progress
at the mission school that gains her a scholarship to a prestigious multi-racial
convent in colonial Rhodesia, Dangarembga shows how, to quote Sugnet, “the
dream’s very success undermines its assumptions” (43). The portrayal of
Tambudzai’s Anglophilic schooling critiques the missionaries who played a
major role in the colonial enterprise through their religion-affiliated
educational institutions. The educational system run by the missionaries was a
hierarchical selective system that fostered fierce competitive mind-sets among
the colonized natives by imposing English cultural and academic yardsticks of
excellence the achievement of which conferred jobs on those who succeeded.
Thus missionary education became a determinant of social success because it
ensured coveted jobs under colonial rule.
Reinforcing existing patriarchal agendas in a way, missionary education as
a cultural arm of colonial rule fostered bourgeois middle-class values defined
by material culture: Tambudzai’s awareness of the material contrast between
her thatched hut at home and Babamukuru’s bourgeois home which appears
palatial to her; “Christian” and indigenous patriarchal values in Babamukuru’s
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condemnation of his daughter, Nyasha, for wearing a short dress and for being
alone with a date that suggested to her father a defiance of Christian decorum
and patriarchal honor; bourgeois table manners that dictate that Nyasha not
begin eating before her father and that she finish all the food on her plate;
and an emphasis on the ritualistic aspects of Christianity, such as churchgoing, duties of a Christian wife in being the “good” wife demonstrated in
Maiguru’s painstaking efforts over food and other duties in the home for the
comfort of husband and children. Dangarembga thus highlights the insidious
ways in which colonialist and patriarchal agendas colluded to further
perpetuate the subjugation of women. As Carole Boyce Davies puts it, “an
African feminist consciousness recognizes that certain inequities and
limitations existed/exist in traditional societies and that colonialism
reinforced them and introduced others.”26
While Maiguru and Tambudzai’s mother (referred to as Mainini or
Ma’Shingayi or Sisi in the novel), question and confront the roles and rules
imposed on them by the male-dominated society, Lucia’s character
demonstrates the ways in which it is possible, within patriarchal boundaries,
for a woman to carve a space for herself by defying societal norms. All three,
Tambudzai, Lucia, and Nyasha rebel and struggle, in different ways, against
the dictates imposed by patriarchy. Thus we find embedded in the text’s
engagement with race and gender issues that show Dangarembga’s central
concern with, as Flora Veit-Wild states “how to avoid the usual ‘entrapment’
of women, to come to a true form of emancipation and at the same time avoid
self-destruction” (“The Elusive Truth” 119). Trapped between the patriarchal
and the bourgeois/colonial in Zimbabwe’s historical context, Lucia,
Tambudzai, Nyasha, Maiguru and Tambudzai’s mother question and
challenge their colonized identities. Nyasha, exceptionally, fails to negotiate
the gender constrictions as she challenges patriarchally defined sexual codes of
conduct for women, reflecting how, according to Spivak, “. . . traditional
gender-stems have been used to appease colonized patriarchy by the
fabrication of personal codes as opposed to imposed colonial civil and penal
codes. They have also been the instrument for working out the displaced Envy
of the colonized patriarchy against the colonizer” (“Diasporas Old and New”
However, despite the text’s emphasis on highlighting the patriarchal
constraints on women’s emancipation, it also reveals the contradictions within
the patriarchal system as we discover that the choices that enable Tambudzai
and Lucia to judiciously better their economic conditions and gain a sense of
liberation to some degree are made within patriarchally defined parameters.
For example, though initially Babamukuru opposes it, he finally gives
Tambudzai permission to attend the Convent. Focused thus on examining
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woman’s place in society, the text also reveals the contradictions within the
patriarchal/colonized social system. As Flora Veit-Wild expresses these
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Yet Nervous Conditions goes beyond an individualist feminist perception and analyzes
contradictions of African society in a wider sense. ‘Nervous conditions’ describe all
the contradictions exposed in the novel, the generally precarious relationships and
delicate balance between men and women, between the generations, between
educated and uneducated and between black and white. (“The Elusive Truth” 119120).
For example, though Babamukuru wants Lucia to leave for her village he ends
up getting her a job at his mission-school. Though these victories are gained by
appeasing the patriarchal Babamukuru, in the final analysis, these are
triumphant choices for Tambudzai and Lucia. Albeit Tambudzai discovers that
her fractured subject-position after her hard-won gender victory leads to her
realization of other kinds of subjugation predicated on race and class.
Thus Nervous Conditions provides an insight into, to quote Flora Veit-Wild,
“an awareness of the crisis of identity which the Zimbabwean woman has
undergone in the last decades” (“The Elusive Truth” 117). As a postcolonial
writer, hybridized through language and education, Dangarembga’s insight is
enriched by the duality of her background, Zimbabwean and English. Nervous
Conditions, which won the Commonwealth Prize for Fiction, has the
distinction of being the first published novel in English by a black
Zimbabwean woman.27 Dangarembga, described as having the “privilege of a
moneyed and intellectual family background,”28 spent some of her childhood
in Britain and went to a prestigious high-school in Salisbury. Though the
novel is not autobiographical, Nyasha’s character does have some
autobiographical elements, for example, Dangarembga’s highly educated
parents, like Nyasha’s, got their Masters in England. She also studied medicine
at Cambridge but not comfortable in the racial atmosphere there returned to
Zimbabwe without completing her studies.29
Dangarembga’s concern with analyzing the psychological, economic, and
societal damage wrought by the colonial encounter might lead one to expect a
positive portrayal of the national in so far as it represents and is represented by
the socio-cultural system but the novel questions it and its patriarchally
defined social practices, opposing its oppression of women while highlighting
the discourse of the colonized native throughout the text. Dangarembga
evinces mixed responses to the national as she critiques both the colonial and
the national cultural agendas inscribed into patriarchal bourgeois subjectivity.
As Gayatri Spivak very pertinently asks: “What is woman’s relationship to
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cultural explanations in the nation-state of origin? What is ‘culture’ without
the structural support of the state” (“Diasporas Old and New” 92).
Dangarembga’s novel thus can be seen as an intervention into the crisis of
woman’s relationship with the nation via its culture. In other words, it seems
as if the text explores the question of nationalism or national identity more as
a means to highlight the position of woman in society than as a focal point in
itself. This is not to suggest that to talk of the nation is not to talk of woman
or, inversely, that to focus on woman’s issues is to be unconcerned with the
nation. Rather, because women have been marginalized by the powers that
define the nation and the national, by focusing on women’s issues the novel
transcends, as it were, the national to take woman’s identity and
empowerment on to the postnational stage. This idea, that because women
have been relegated to the peripheries of national considerations in different
countries, causally linking woman and class not only in the national but also
in the global context, has been attested to in different ways by women writers
from different continents. Dangarembga, like them, is exploring issues more
immediate to her gendered situation as a writer in Zimbabwe. She explores
shifting national and gender boundaries but focuses more on the female
subject in a colonial context in a postcolonial fertile landscape. Both the body
politic in terms of female sexuality and the boundaries within which it is
confined by patriarchy and territorial ambiguity in terms of whether the text is
located exclusively in the colonial terrain or in the postcolonial are related to
gender and national identity.30
In Nervous Conditions, one system is pitched against another in the
collision of what constitutes an African and a woman as five different women
move over different places.31 Nyasha, for example, feels that she has to fight
both the African and colonial systems while Tambudzai slips into a system that
negates her world completely, while she continues to benefit from its values.
Tambudzai’s mother is defined by the village while Maiguru is not willing to
let go of the privilege of being with her husband because her sense of identity
is tied up with her husband’s. Lucia, the only one of the second generation of
women who actually has her own name,32 does not believe in but uses
patriarchally acceptable strategies to have a voice, and proves that she can be
successful without being westernized.33 According to literary critic, M. Keith
Booker, “Lucia plays an important structural role in the book, suggesting both
the oppression and the potential power of women in traditional African
society, while at the same time serving as a sort of traditional counterpart to
the Westernized Nyasha.34 The text thus demonstrates the female imperative
to challenge traditionally prescribed roles by reinventing her self and reshaping her identity.
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Juxtaposed against the “entrapment” of Tambudzai’s mother, aunt, and
cousin, is the deletrious, detrimental, and debilitating combined effect of
colonial culture, education, religion, compounded by traditional patriarchy.
Since the colonial is in collusion with the patriarchal, the line between the
colonial system of meaning and the national gets blurred as we find in
Babmukuru in whom both the patriarchally constituted ways of thinking
found in colonial and traditional cultures come together. Implicit in the
depiction of Babamukuru, who is deeply conditioned by colonialism, is the
novel’s concern with the psyche of a colonized people which has further
implications for the task of nation-building. This concern with the character of
the male native is further highlighted in the depiction of the characters,
Jeremiah and Takesure, both of whom are portrayed as irresponsible husbands
and fathers. Thus the text psychologizes concern about the difficult task of
nation-building when the psyche, attitude, and behavior of men like
Babamukuru, Jeremiah, and Takesure are less than desirable and laudatory.
Babamukuru’s internalization of colonial cultural ideology is testified to
by his insistence that his brother legitimize his twenty-year marriage by
undergoing a Christian Church wedding to atone for living “in sin.”
Juxtaposed against his colonial Christian ethics which impels him to compel
his brother and sister-in-law to undergo a Christian church wedding in order
to exorcize any devil is his internalization of traditional patriarchal values
evident in his patriarch’s role of helping his brother’s family lift itself out of
poverty. However, his attitude toward his wife, daughter, and other female
members of his extended family demonstrates both the “colonial” and
“traditional” sides of his character, dictating what constitutes being good, what
constitutes sin, and how a woman should conduct herself. He reveals the
contradictions in his ideology when he advises Tambudzai that he has
“observed from [his] own daughter’s behaviour that it is not a good thing for a
young girl to associate too much with these white people, to have too much
freedom. I have seen that girls who do that do not develop into decent
women” (NC 180).
That the systematic and endemic exploitation of the colonized was built
into and constituted the very substance of the colonial system’s gain and
success explains and emphasizes, as the text illustrates, how colonialism
destroyed the economic fiber and social fabric of the people in general and
damaged their psyche--but even those, like Babamukuru and Tambudzai, who
were able to achieve success within the economic framework that the colonial
government allowed were coopted into colonial culture. Babamukuru, for
example, is not even aware of the extent to which he has become a pawn in
the colonial game. Tambudzai succeeds in resisting the wedding, which she
realizes makes a mockery of her parents’ marriage, by not attending. This is an
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example, among others, of the ways in which the novel questions the
assumptions underlying colonial culture imbibed by the colonized.
In Tambudzai, the rational and the intuitive intersect and conflict as she
recognizes that to get an education she must obey the rules implemented by
those invested with authority and power even if it means going against her
sense of rational logic. She learns this lesson gradually the first seeds of which
are sown in her childhood when she learns from her grandmother the story of
her forebears, of the ways in which her grandfather was tricked into slavery by
the colonizers and how her uncle’s hard work paid off. Tambudzai learns to
work in the family fields beside her grandmother who “praising [Tambudzai’s]
predisposition towards working, consolidated it in her [Tambudzai] as a
desirable habit” (NC 17). She also gave Tambudzai “history lessons” in their
colonial history. Tambudzai’s great-grandfather was a “rich man in the
currency of those days, having many fat herd of cattle, large fields and four
wives who worked hard to produce bountiful harvests.” This description of the
wives working hard and of Tambudzai’s grandmother working hard, whom
Tambudzai describes as an “inexorable cultivator of land, sower of seeds and
reaper of rich harvests until, literally until, her very last moment” (NC 17,18)
underscores the social history of Zimbabwean women who were historically
conditioned to work hard in the fields as sole supporters of their families with
absent husbands lost to the colonial gold and diamond mines.35
Notwithstanding this implicit concern with the damage done to the nation’s
psyche and what it might augur for nation-building, the text highlights
woman’s subjugation and explores possibilities for challenging the role
imposed on her by a patriarchal society.
Though Nervous Conditions is set in pre-independent Zimbabwe and does
not deal overtly with the liberation struggle, in depicting the women as strong
workers who are responsible in a major way for both home and field-work, as
opposed to the men, who don’t do as much, it reflects one of the songs of the
liberation struggle of Zimbabwe:
As women of Zimbabwe/We symbolize toughness/ It’s so tough/It can only be
handled by women. It does not matter how hard or tough it/becomes; We ourselves
as women symbolize/toughness.36
As Olivia N. Muchena tells us, “Women sang [this song] everywhere during
the war . . . but now the words refer to women’s struggles for emancipation
from social and economic subordination” (Muchena 752). This song could
very well be about Tambudzai who ploughed a whole field to grow maize, and
all her women relatives who worked equally hard, mother, grandmother, and
aunts, as for example, Lucia, who “was strong. She could cultivate a whole
acre single-handed without rest” (NC 127).
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Tambudzai also learns early in life the illogic of her parents, though at the
time too young to see their deep entrenchment into the patriarchally defined
cultural codes. Though her family barely subsists as a result of crop failure, her
mother manages to sell vegetables and eggs to earn just enough to send
Tambudzai’s older brother, Nhamo, to school. When Tambudzai, at the age of
seven, is visibly upset upon realizing that there is no money left for her school
fees and that she would not be able to attend school, her father tells her, “Can
you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your
mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables.” Tambudzai questions her
father’s advice, knowing that her aunt Maiguru, who was in England at the
time, was educated, “and did she serve Babamukuru books for dinner?
[Tambudzai] discovered to [her] unhappy relief that [her] father was not
sensible. (NC 15, 16)
Tambudzai’s mother also dissuades her from going to school but explains
her reasons in a different manner. Reminding her daughter not only of the
“weight of womanhood” but also of the “poverty of blackness,” thus focusing
on woman’s oppression by both colonialism and patriarchy, she explains that
her father was right because even Maiguru knew “how to cook and clean and
grow vegetables.” In addition to her father’s view that an education was not
going to help her cook and feed her husband, her mother references race to
explain the double colonization of women, “This business of womanhood is a
heavy burden … with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of
womanhood on the other. Aiwa! What will help you, my child, is to learn to
carry your burdens with strength” (NC 16). Bewildered, Tambudzai cannot
make sense of her parents’ logic, that “[B]eing black was a burden because it
made you poor, but [her uncle] Babamukuru was not poor. [Her] mother said
being a woman was a burden [but her aunt] Maiguru was not poor and had
not been crushed by the weight of womanhood” (NC 16)
Right from the time that her uncle, Babamukuru, and his family return
from England, Tambudzai recognizes the power and authority of Babamukuru
as her family’s benefactor and mentor. She recognizes that all his power and
the respect accorded him derive from his education and his male status.
However, we notice that Maiguru, despite earning the same degrees as her
husband, does not get the same power from her education. Tambudzai wanted
her “father and [her brother] Nhamo to stand up straight like Babamukuru,
but they always looked as though they were cringing” (NC 49-50). She saw
that Babamukuru “hadn’t cringed under the weight of his poverty. … Through
hard work and determination he had broken the evil wizard’s spell” (NC 50).
Unlike his older brother, Tambudzai’s father, Jeremiah, had not “broken the
evil wizard’s spell” to overcome poverty. Configured into Tambudzai’s
cognitive awareness of her father’s abject demeanor and slothful ways,
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juxtaposed against his older brother Babamukuru’s exalted worth and social
status, is the underlying presence of colonialism.
Her uncle’s power and wealth do not prevent Tambudzai from noticing
the alienation of her newly-England-returned cousins from their native
culture. Neither Chido nor Nyasha remember enough of their mother tongue,
Shona, to be able to converse in it and seem ill at ease in the extended family
gathering. Not joining the dancing and merrymaking to celebrate their arrival,
their unease in the family gathering prompts Tambudzai, as yet uninitiated
into missionary education, to think that England was not worth losing one’s
culture for.
Initially fluctuating between criticism and acceptance of the culture that
she is exposed to at the mission school and in her uncle’s home, Tambudzai
later sees the necessity of adopting colonial culture as her education
progresses, to do what she deems essential to getting ahead in her schooling.
Her uncle, who worked hard to educate himself within the colonial system
and consequently succeeded, is enough of an example to make her see the
necessity of obeying the powers that be as the only means of achieving her
goals. All this is conveyed to her rather quickly as Tambudzai grows and
develops intellectually.
In her first phase, or stage of development, we see Tambudzai pitting her
full force against her family’s attempt to socialize her into her gendered role by
refusing to buy into her parents’ patriarchal ideology. Recognizing the
injustice when her mother does scrape together enough for her brother’s fees
because his cultural role as breadwinner prioritizes his education while her
cultural role as wife/mother does not, she puts her spirited nature to full use
by growing maize to pay her school fees which her parents cannot afford.
At crucial moments in Tambudzai’s education we find it is her mother
and aunt who support her. When her father dismisses her request for seed to
grow maize, it is Tambudzai’s mother who persuades him to grant
Tambudzai’s request: “Listen to your child [she tells him]. She is asking for
seed. That we can give. Let her try” (NC 17). For a second time Tambudzai’s
mother is successful in persuading her husband to give his permission to
Tambudzai when she wants to go into town with Mr Matimba to sell her
maize: “The girl must have a chance to do something for herself, to fail for
herself [she tells him]. If you forbid her to go, she will always think you
prevented her from helping herself. She will never forget it, never forgive you”
(24-25). At both these moments it is her mother’s intervention that gains
Tambudzai the requisite permission from her father.
Similarly, it is because her aunt intercedes that her uncle finally agrees to
allow Tambudzai to attend the elite Sacred Heart Convent. Achieving
excellence at the primary school, Tambudzai is ready for the second phase in
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her intellectual development. Her brother’s untimely death makes way for her
further education at the mission school where her uncle is headmaster.
Though her father and uncle consider educating her a waste because her
education would benefit the family of the man she married, circumstances,
such as her brother’s death and her own will-power pave the way for her
progress. We find her aunt coming to her support when Babamukuru opposes
her schooling at the multiracial convent, a prestigious private school, because
it was expensive and because associating with white people would prevent her
from developing into a “decent woman” (NC 180). Maiguru espouses
Tambudzai’s going to Sacred Heart Convent to her husband firmly and with
conviction, “If Tambudzai is not a decent person now, she never will be, no
matter where she goes to school. And if she is decent, then this convent
should not change her” (NC 180-181). Thus her mother and aunt support her
successfully by persuading her father and uncle that Tambudzai be given a
chance to educate herself so that she could then do what her brother was
meant to: support and lift the family out of poverty. They point out that she
would benefit her family at least till she got married.
Going to the mission-school where her uncle is headmaster privileges her,
like her brother before her, to live with her uncle’s family. Tambudzai, the
village-girl who has always lived in a thatched hut, is overawed by the majesty
of her uncle’s middle-class home: “the opulence of the living-room was . . .
overwhelming to someone who had first crawled and then toddled and finally
walked over dung floors” (NC 69). Her awe at the grandeur and opulence that
she sees does not, however, blind her critical senses. Used to a meager
existence in her village, she notes what to her seems wasteful living and eating
at her uncle’s place. But, not before long, she is acclimated into the middleclass material comforts of Babamukuru’s home.
Negating the world she has hitherto known, the culture she assimilates at
her uncle’s and the missionary school makes her both self-aware and unsure of
herself. The educational pathway to the ladder of academic and social success
is not the magic wand she had imagined would make her world miraculously
beautiful. On the contrary, after her initial awe at what she sees as material
success at her uncle’s, Tambudzai becomes subdued, her spirited nature
somewhat crushed.
Her progression from the missionary school to the Sacred Heart Convent
in some ways unsettles her even more when the white nun’s apartheid makes
visible to Tambudzai for the first time the colonizer’s racializing of a whole
nation. In retrospect, Tambudzai, the narrator, shares with the reader the
implications of being colonized as her experience at the Convent underlines
for her the precarious balance she needs to maintain between self and success.
Her initial awe at the world Sacred Heart represents is later punctuated by
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nagging doubts that the opportunity her education there will afford her might
not be worth the self-alienation it brings with it. But she consciously relegates
her doubts to the back of her mind as she realizes that she has no choice
because her education is a necessary means to succeed.
The selective process under the educational system set up to generate only
a handful of coveted admissions into grade school and then into high-school
and beyond prevents most from any hope of decent jobs which require a highschool or college education. But as Tambudzai discovers, getting the desired
admission into high-school comes with a price--the price of self-alienation and
alienation from her family and community compounded by her awareness of
the ways in which colonial education while providing social success has, in
other ways, been self-debasing/eroding. The fear embedded in Tambudzai’s
mother’s plea, “Tell me, my daughter, what will I, your mother say to you
when you come home a stranger full of white ways and ideas? It will be
English, English all the time,” (NC 184) warns against the assimilation of
Tambudzai into the colonizer’s hegemonizing culture consequent to her
education at the mostly all-white convent. As an older-but-wiser Tambudzai
narrates self-consciously, her attending Sacred Heart does not only lead to her
identification as the native with the colonizer but results in her self-alienation
initially. The text stresses that the dilemma, the two-edged sword of upwardly
mobile success and at the same time the alienation from her family and
culture that colonial education will spell for Tambudzai is the direct outcome
of the colonial social and economic policy that forces the native to become
complicit with the colonizer’s orientalist ideology.
By implementing a discriminatory educational system through a selective
process the colonial government made it possible for only a few to obtain a
higher education that was required for coveted jobs of teachers or headmasters
of mission schools. The discriminatory strategies underlying the rules and laws
governing the hierarchical educational system perpetuated the subjugation of
the Zimbabwean people by only educating a few. Dangarembga underscores
the fact that the political system ensured the economic poverty of most of the
colonized while it fostered an unhealthy competitive spirit. Tambudzai tells us
that “Glamour … surrounded the prospect of going to school at a convent.
And not just any convent, but a multiracial convent” (NC 78). By making only
two seats available for all the African Grade Seven girls in the entire country,
admission to the Sacred Heart Convent was coveted and fiercely competed
for. Tambudzai’s admission to the Convent would earn her the “privilege of
associating with the elite of that time, the privilege of being admitted on an
honorary basis into their culture” (NC 178).
Consequentially only a handful of the colonized got the advantage of an
education, the only path to social success. Therefore, Babamukuru’s job as the
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headmaster of the mission school, Nyasha’s passing the school exams with
flying colors, and Tambudzai’s admission to the Sacred Heart Convent are the
envy of all.
That their accomplishments in the colonial structure come at a cost of
subjection to humiliation and dehumanization is underlined throughout the
text. The all-powerful Babamukuru is silenced into accepting the crowding of
Tambudzai with five other African students into a dorm room meant for four
at the Young Ladies College of the Sacred Heart. To Babamukuru’s polite
query, “I have been wondering, Sister. I was under the impression that the
girls sleep four to a room, but I see there are six beds here,” the white nun’s
peremptory response, “It is inconvenient, isn’t it?” (NC 194) sets
Babamukuru’s “double consciousness” operating in this confrontation with
the colonizer. Babamukuru’s obsequious acceptance of the fact that six
African students have to share a room meant for four highlights his politically
disempowered position in terms of race, gender, class in the colonial structure.
When Tambudzai expresses delight at her admission to Sacred Heart and
her determination to take maximum advantage of every opportunity there, the
precocious Nyasha, cognizant of the psychological damage done by colonialism
and its culture, warns Tambudzai against the inevitable consequences of going
to the Sacred Heart Convent. The dialogue between the two cousins
highlights the double bind between assimilation and self-alienation within
which a colonial education would position Tambudzai but, clearly, the
glamour of the Convent and the chance of success it represents for her mean
that Nyasha’s exhortations to Tambudzai that any benefit afforded by that
education would be outweighed by its maleficence, fail to dissuade her.
Nyasha tells her that the Convent would make her “forget who you were, what
you were and why you were that. The process, she said, was called assimilation
…” (NC 178-9). She insists that Tambudzai would get a more valuable
education at the mission but fails to shake Tambudzai from her determination
to go to Sacred Heart. Tambudzai rejects Nyasha’s narrative of the dangers of
assimilation into the colonial culture because of her remark, that Tambudzai
would gain a more productive education at the mission. It was common
knowledge, Tambudzai declares, that the “European schools had better
equipment, better teachers, better furniture, better food, better everything.
The idea that anything about our mission could be better than theirs was
clearly ridiculous. … I for one was going to take any opportunity that came my
way. …” (NC 179).
In Tambudzai’s eyes Nyasha, her affluent uncle’s daughter, has everything
that she does not, the material comfort and easily available opportunities a
privileged background bring. However, underlying Tambudzai’s response to
Nyasha we detect an unconscious disquieting sense of unease at any advice
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that would force her to question her own ambition to succeed. Tambudzai
“did not appreciate the gravity of [her] situation at that time, [her] only
experience of those people having been with charitable Doris and the fervent
missionaries on the mission” (NC 178). But her family’s poverty strengthens
Tambudzai’s resolve to go to the Convent for, “how could [she] possibly forget
[her] brother and the mealies, [her] mother and the latrine and the wedding?
These were all evidence of the burdens [her] mother had succumbed to. Going
to the convent was a chance to lighten those burdens by entering a world
where burdens were light” (NC 179). The coded insight into colonizing power
with which Dangarembga underpins Nyasha and Tambudzai’s discourse
magnifies the discrimination in a systematic institutionalized economic
exploitation of Africans in colonial Zimbabwe. But she could afford it, being
my affluent uncle’s daughter. The class basis of Tambudzai’s decision is
highlighted in her knowledge that, unlike Nyasha, she “had to take whatever
chances came [her] way” (NC 179).
Tambudzai, unaware as yet that the anglicized colonial education would
alienate her from her family and culture, sees the fortuitous opportunity
afforded by the Convent, not only as a chance to emancipate her family, but
to acquire Nyasha’s learning, sophistication, intellectual acumen and zeal, to
become more like Nyasha whom she sees almost as an alter ego. At the same
time, Tambudzai has a vague sense that what she feels emanating from Nyasha
is that perhaps there are “other struggles to engage in besides the consuming
desire to emancipate herself and her family” (NC 152). Notwithstanding the
ambiguity and ambivalence surrounding the outcome of the success her
convent education would bring, an unaware Tambudzai finds seductive the
idea that in going to the convent she would become more like her
sophisticated cousin. Earlier, when already at the mission, Tambudzai
“strutted along beside [her] thoroughbred cousin, imitating her walk … so that
everyone would see that [they] were a unit” (NC 92). “Vague as [she] was about
the nature of [Nyasha’s] destination, [she] wanted to go with her … did not
want to be left behind” (NC 152). The convent promises all kinds of freedom
to Tambudzai, “away from the flies, the smells, the fields and the rags; from
stomachs which were seldom full, from dirt and disease, from my father’s
abject obeisance to Babamukuru and my mother’s chronic lethargy. … The
cost would balance. It would be worth it to dress my sisters in pretty clothes,
feed my mother until she was plump and energetic again, stop my father
making a fool of himself every time he came into Babamukuru’s presence.
Money would do all this for me. With the ticket I would acquire attending the
convent, I would earn lots of it. … I saw myself smart and clean in a white
blouse and dark-red pleated terylene skirt, with blazer and gloves and a hat”
(NC 183). Tambudzai’s constant awareness that her economic situation differs
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from that of her cousin’s bourgeois existence underscores Tambudzai’s
anticipation and excitement at going to Sacred Heart, so that she submerges
quickly any doubts that it might be anything but the best thing for her.
When Tambudzai goes off to the Convent, Nyasha is left without her only
ally as she rebels against her father whom she sees bound by traditional
patriarchal norms and an internalized sense of Christian ethics. She tells
Tambudzai about her rebellious relationship with her father who orders her to
finish her food, little realizing that she is bulimic: “Imagine all that fuss over a
plateful of food. But it’s more than that … it’s all the things about boys and
men and being decent and indecent and good and bad” (NC 190). She tries
to see things from his point of view of “tradition and expectations and
authority” (NC 190) but thinks he should see her viewpoint too. The
magnitude of Nyasha’s “nervous condition” becomes apparent when in
rebelling against both colonial and traditional oppressions she is unable to
withstand the combined pressures. Other factors also contribute to Nyasha’
breakdown as described by Moyana: “Nyasha finds it difficult to cope with the
demands of a patriarchal world complicated by alienation caused by western
education acquired abroad and lack of good parental guidance. The outlet for
her is, sadly, a nervous breakdown” (30).
Propelled by her bulimia, Nyasha suffers a nervous breakdown, the
psychiatrist’s incredulous response to which is that to be African was to be
incapable of such eating disorders because it was a disease that only whites
suffer. The psychiatrist “said that Nyasha could not be ill, that Africans did
not suffer in the way we had described. She was making a scene” (NC 201).
Nyasha’s sense of self, identity, roots, weakened by her five years in England
make it difficult for her to straddle both the English and Zimbabwean
cultures. Failing to gain security in the knowledge that she is equally at home
in neither cultural terrains, she cannot and does not see herself operating
from any position of strength. Mistaking her insecurity for snobbery, her
classmates don’t accept her. As she writes to Tambudzai at the Convent, the
girls at her school “do not like [her] language, [her] English, because it is
authentic and [her] Shona, because it is not! They think [her] a snob …
[because she does not] feel inferior to men” (NC 196). Nyasha tells Tambudzai
that she would very much like to belong but finds she does not, one of the
compelling factors that compound her self-destructive bulimia.
The bulimia into which Nyasha’s crisis of identity, a crisis generated by
her acculturation into the hegemonic yet degrading colonizer’s culture, and
alienation from her own, plunges her ultimately leads towards her frenetic
hysteria and nervous breakdown. When she learns of her father’s decision that
Tambudzai’s parents need a church wedding because they were “still living in
sin … [because they were not] married in church before God she lecture[s]
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[Tambudzai] on the dangers of assuming that Christian ways were progressive
ways. ‘It’s bad enough,’ she said severely, ‘when a country gets colonised, but
when the people do as well! That’s the end, really, that’s the end’” (NC, 147).
Her cognitive awareness that all of her family are overtaken by colonial culture
leads her further into depths of depression.
Just as Tambudzai cannot fully comprehend Nyasha’s breakdown, she
cannot completely appreciate Maiguru’s predicament as one highly educated
woman, with a job, who is subservient to her husband, stays in his shadow,
subscribing to the patriarchal agenda. Tambudzai is unable to see that
Maiguru, operating under pressures of her own, in some ways, has failed to
emotionally support Nyasha and has not coped with her daughter’s illness.
Maiguru’s role-playing sublimates, to some extent, her frustration and
resentment at her self-effacement so that her husband can enjoy the full
limelight. Because she defines her identity through her husband’s social
success the text seems to suggest that Maiguru’s education does not
automatically empower her to resist internalized cultural codes that prevent
her from asserting her self. Notwithstanding Maiguru’s submissive attitude
and her inability to stand up to her husband the text establishes that
education is imperative for woman’s economic strength. Embedded in
Maiguru’s submissive attitude is a warning against the internalization of a
colonial value-system. Education is certainly one means whereby a woman can
empower herself and effect social change, although acquiring an education
does not necessarily guarantee these gains.
From another perspective, it is possible to see Maiguru as an educated
woman who exercises a choice in submerging her identity by staying with her
husband and basking in his glory. But more realistically, what options does
Maiguru have available to her? We can read into the fact that when she does
leave her husband for a few days and goes to her brother’s, that the option of
living alone is not presented to her. In admitting to Tambudzai that she chose
the security of marrying Babamukuru over the opportunity to develop her
professional self, she reveals that an education and an earning job have not
empowered her enough to resist societal norms. Maiguru laments that she has
had to choose “between self and security. When [she] was in England [she]
glimpsed for a little while the things [she] could have been, the things [she]
could have done if … things were--different … But that’s how it goes, Sisi
Tambu! And when you have a good man and lovely children it makes it all
worth while” (NC 101-2). The novel shows the extent to which Maiguru is
implicated by her bourgeois desire that persuades her to seek the “security”
and status she enjoys as the wife of the mission school’s headmaster rather
than forge a new direction for herself.
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Unlike Esi in Changes, Maiguru, in Nervous Conditions, cannot opt out of
her marriage and indeed, does not seem to want to, despite her awareness that
her marriage has forced her to stay in her husband’s shadow. Though Maiguru
does express her frustration, she only hints at the “things [she] could have
been [and] could have done” (101). That she sees her self-effacement as the
choice between “self and security,” that she sees her marriage as her choice of
security and social status over self-assertion and self-realization seem to suggest
that Maiguru is trying to convince herself that she had no alternative (101).
While it is possible to believe that Maiguru is exercising a choice in staying in
an oppressive marriage, we see no viable options open to her in her historical,
social and cultural context. Maiguru’s choice to remain in her marriage and
accept her motherhood role is attributable, in some measure, to the fact that
in Zimbabwe, as stated by Nancy Folbre “women [had] no legal guarantees of
joint ownership, inheritance from husbands, or even control over earnings.”37
Maiguru earns but “never receive[s] her salary” as a teacher in the mission
school where her husband is headmaster because, as we learn, he takes her
money (101, 172). Her marriage to Babamukuru involves her self-effacement
because Maiguru’s social status as the headmaster’s wife has meant sacrificing
her “self” in subservience to her husband, choosing “between self and
security” (101).
While her position as Babamukuru’s wife certainly bestows security and
social status on Maiguru, she exists to be a wife to her husband and we do not
see her except on a few occasions speaking up her mind. Two examples, for
instance, reveal how Maiguru takes a stand in defiance of her husband: she
supports Tambudzai’s admission to the Sacred Heart; and protests the
injustice of not being allowed a say in matters pertaining to his side of the
family while her husband feels free to draw on her salary and services to feed
them on festive occasions like Christmas. When Babamukuru mentions his
right to punish Tambudzai, Maiguru protests, “Yes, she is your brother’s child.
… But when it comes to taking my money so that you can feed her and her
father and your whole family and waste it on ridiculous weddings, that’s when
they are my relatives too. … I am tired of my house being a hotel for your
family. I am tired of being a housekeeper for them. I am tired of being nothing
in a home I am working myself sick to support” (NC 172).
The text further suggests how colonial education, in a sense, entraps a
woman further by imposing bourgeois standards of social success, as in
Maiguru’s case, which become difficult to shrug off. Tambudzai’s mother, on
the other hand, recognizes the injustice of her marriage and accepts the
hardship it brings because, as she says, she had no choice but to marry her
husband because of poverty. It is significant that the unmarried Lucia,
juxtaposed against her unhappily married sister and against Maiguru is
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portrayed as the happiest of all the female characters. Tambudzai attributes
her aunt Lucia’s spirited nature and happiness to the fact that she is not
married, “Although she [Lucia] had been brought up in abject poverty, she
had not, like my mother, been married to it at fifteen. Her spirit, unfettered in
this respect, had experimented with living and drawn its own conclusions.
Consequently, she was a much bolder woman than my mother” (NC 127).
Similarly, in Maiguru’s character, positioned between colonial and
traditional cultures, Dangarembga demonstrates Maiguru’s entrapment, with
no visible viable alternative. The novel, rather ironically, tells us that Maiguru
was “a good wife and took pride in this identity” (135). Caught, in effect,
between the traditional mother/wife role and the one imbibed from
colonial/bourgeois values, Maiguru is in a double-bind, role-playing rather
mechanically a “good” westernized wife, without much visible feeling. Why
doesn’t Maiguru, educated and employed, like Esi, opt out of her marriage?
Though Maiguru does protest her unequal marriage by leaving her husband,
for a few days, she is unable to free herself of her internalized patriarchal
ideology in her self-image of the “good” wife. Her sense of disempowerment
prevents her from intervening in her husband’s physical and verbal abuse of
their daughter Nyasha.
Set in colonial Rhodesia, Nervous Conditions highlights the connection
between decolonization and feminism, given the debilitating effects of
colonialism in general and on women’s oppression, in particular.
Dangarembga’s depiction of Maiguru’s inferior status to her husband reflects
the position of women in Rhodesia which, according to Olivia N. Muchena
“resulting from cultural and historical factors, [was] largely subordinate and . .
. subservient to men at home, at work, and in society.”38 Maiguru also reflects
how for women in Zimbabwe, according to Muchena, the “worst obstacles [to
their progress] seem to be women’s own internalized negative self-image and
men’s negative attitudes toward women’s emancipation--usually couched in
defense of ‘culture.’”39
Maiguru, positioned between traditional cultural practices and
Westernized attitudes, negotiating the two without any deep sense of
conviction in either, is caught up in conforming to the role of wife. Adopting
from both what basically suits her, from traditional norms of wife-behavior
and those prescribed by colonial, Christian, Westernized values, it seems that
she does whatever will enhance her in her own eyes as the “good wife.” This is
the identity Maiguru adopts, aware of the social position her husband’s job as
headmaster of the missionary school bestows on her.
Dangarembga’s text explicates feminist concerns in Maiguru’s inability,
broadly speaking, to basically assert herself and voice her opinion though at
times she does speak up, in her marriage. Maiguru is so mired in the social
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system that enslaves her to her husband, that the daily struggle to negotiate a
superficial existence allows Maiguru little self-examination. The extent to
which Maiguru has submerged her own self to obey her husband is evident in
her interactions with all the members of her family. That Dangarembga allows
Maiguru and the other women, Tambudzai, Nyasha, Lucia and Tambudzai’s
mother only limited options within their social and economic framework
needs to be examined in its historical and political context. In preindependent Zimbabwe women were economically and socially oppressed and
had few rights. This is reflected, for example, in the fact that Maiguru is not
presented with the choice of divorcing her husband, unlike Esi who divorces
her husband in Ghanaian Ama Ata Aidoo’s novel, Changes.40
What avenues are made available for women to break out of the confines
of domestic arenas in Nervous Conditions? How does Dangarembga negotiate
her women characters’ self-affirmation and enablement within the
circumscribed social and political parameters, and given that patriarchal
attitudes had the support of values fostered by colonial culture? The women
characters, though they voice their dissatisfaction with their socially prescribed
gender roles, have limited options available that would enable them to break
out of domestic oppression. Maiguru, however, does leave her husband, if only
for a few days as it turns out, and though her daughter is disappointed that
her mother goes to her brother’s because she goes to “a man” the point is that
she takes a stand, asserts her position as wife, and gains her husband’s respect.
Maiguru leaves to protest not having a say in decision-making in her own
home especially when her husband relies on her salary to feast and support his
side of the family. That she returns, another disappointment for her feministconscious daughter, suggests that Maiguru exercises a choice in returning to
her husband, but given Maiguru’s class consciousness and the extent to which
she has internalized her gendered role of wife and mother she does not seem
to have a viable alternative other than to return to her husband.
That Maiguru is role-playing her gendered role as both the traditional wife
who should regard the husband as ‘god’ and as the educated, anglicized wife
always sweet-talking her husband is apparent in Tambudzai’s observation of
her aunt, “Maiguru, always smiling, always happy, was another puzzle. True,
she had good reason to be content. She was Babamukuru’s wife. She lived in a
comfortable home and was a teacher. Unlike her daughter, she was grateful for
all these blessings, but I thought even the saints in heaven must grow
disgruntled sometimes and let the lesser angels know” (NC 97). Tambudzai,
later in the narrative, is shocked to discover that her aunt has a Master’s
Degree, like her uncle, because she had assumed that her aunt had gone to
England to “look after Babamukuru.” In her statements to Tambudzai that her
“uncle wouldn’t be able to do half the things he does if [she] didn’t work as
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well” and that she “never received her salary” she hints at her husband’s
appropriation of her salary (NC 101). The narrator offers insight into
Maiguru’s domination and exploitation as a wife by describing the cultural
and moral universe that impels, and impinges on, Maiguru’s actions and
decisions. Tambudzai, reflecting on her aunt’s ideological world shares
particularly significant culturally dominant processes in a colonial Zimbabwe
that shape her aunt’s lack of resistance to her subordination and explain
Maiguru’s position.
Tambudzai enlightens the reader that Maiguru’s view
of herself as the wife who does not have a right to use the money she earns as a
teacher at the mission school and prevented by marriage from doing what she
aspires to, needs to be examined in light of the fact that as Babmukuru’s wife
she enjoys social status. “But it was not so simple, because she had been
married by my Babamukuru, which defined her situation as good. If it was
necessary to efface yourself, as Maiguru did so well that you couldn’t be sure
that she didn’t enjoy it, if it was necessary to efface yourself in order to
preserve his sense of identity and value, then, I was sure, Maiguru had taken
the correct decisions” (NC 102). Tambudzai’s observations here show a
Tambu still in thrall of her uncle and his god-like status in their family.
Tambudzai’s mother also voices her dissatisfaction at being married to
Jeremiah who is lazy and irresponsible as father and husband. Tambudzai
observes that “since most of her life [her] mother’s mind, belonging first to her
father and then to her husband, had not been hers to make up, she was
finding it difficult” (NC 153) to decide whether to leave her husband or not.
But her indecision does not prevent her from expressing her anger and
resentment at the miserable condition of her married life. She says to her
sister, Lucia, “Do you think I wanted to be impregnated by that old dog? Do
you think I wanted to travel all this way across this country of our forefathers
only to live in dirt and poverty? … So what difference does it make whether I
have a wedding or whether I go” (NC 153)? Lucia, earlier in the narrative,
describes her sister’s husband, Jeremiah, as one who has given her “nothing
but misery since the age of fifteen” (NC 145). Seeing her sister’s health
deteriorate, Lucia threatens to take her away with her though the burdens of
motherhood and poverty allow Tambudzai’s mother to see no option but to
stay. That Lucia is better positioned to both speak her mind and act on it
fearlessly, the novel acknowledges, is due to the fact that, as her rhetorical
power demonstrates, her spirit has not been crushed by the institution of
marriage. She informs Babamukuru, “… maybe when you marry a woman, she
is obliged to obey you. But some of us aren’t married, so we don’t know how
to do it. That is why I have been able to tell you frankly what is in my heart,”
eliciting praise from Babamukuru. Lucia is “like a man herself,” says
Babamukuru to his wife (NC 171). Mirroring Dangarembga’s feminist
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consciousness, the text’s resistance and categorical challenge to patriarchal
discourse underlie the unconscious irony in Babamukuru’s comment, which
invests assertiveness with masculinity.41
As the patriarch of the family, Babamukuru decides that the solution to all
their family problems is to have a church wedding for his brother and sister-inlaw since they had been “living in sin.” His behavior toward the women of his
family reflects the influence of colonialism because native tradition alone does
not explain his physical abuse of his daughter or his insistence on his brother’s
church wedding after twenty years of marriage. Babamukuru’s Christian ethics
stem from his indoctrination by colonial ideology which in its own way
supports his patriarchal attitude.
Thus embedded in Dangarembga’s critiques of colonialism and
indigenous tradition we find the text’s concern with the nation and the
national. Demonstrating how not only Babamukuru but all the characters,
Tambudzai, Nyasha, Maiguru, Lucia, Tambudzai’s mother, Jeremiah,
Takesure, in different ways, are victims of the colonizer, beset by nervous
conditions, the text underscores the debilitating effects of colonial
domination, as for example, seen in the poverty and lack of economic options
that reflect in some measure Jeremiah’s and Takesure’s attitudes. How, then,
are we to comprehend what it would take to form and shape men such as
Jeremiah and Takesure, or, indeed, Babamukuru himself. Sugnet suggests that
notwithstanding the categorical rejection of misogyny targeted at women by
native African men, the novel clearly ascribes to the colonial structure the
forming and shaping of men as disempowered victims. From her
grandmother’s history lessons Tambudzai learns of the avaricious “wizards,” as
the grandmother refers to the white men, who usurped their lands and tricked
them into slavery. Sugnet points out the ways in which Dangarembga draws
on Fanon’s insight to show that the concept of the “native” was a colonial
construct. Hence, Sugnet explains, in Jeremiah we see the creation of the
colonial stereotype of the “shiftless ‘native,’” perpetuated by colonial ideology
to legitimize a pervasive racism and exploitation of the African.
Dangarembga indicates a sense of rootlessness to which the colonial
system has sentenced Jeremiah, reflected in his abject cringing in the presence
of his brother, Babamukuru, his callousness in wanting his daughter’s hardearned school fees for his beer, his utter incapability to ever lift a finger to
repair their home. Babamukuru, too, is a victim of the colonizer, in whom we
find the collusion and conflating presence of patriarchal ideology as
propounded by both the colonizer and the native.
My reading a national consciousness into the text’s counter-hegemonic
discourse acknowledges the text’s plurality and derives from the fact that even
though Dangarembga, like Markandaya, grounds her novel in the local culture
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and tradition and in issues of national import, the nation as a nation-state,
finally, is not as primary a concern as woman is. The text unfolds the subaltern
and alterity in a gender envelope, stamped with a postcolonial third world
postmark, thus telescoping the colonial and patriarchal/traditional trajectories
under a postcolonial lens. The difficulties that a woman faces in defying
socially and culturally prescribed codes of behavior are among the text’s
overwhelming issues as it highlights how patriarchy holds the social system in
place whereby Maiguru, Tambudzai’s mother, Tambudzai, Lucia, and Nyasha,
all are in their own ways oppressed, the oppression compounded by colonial
culture and a colonial educational and economic system that prevents the
native people from progressing in any substantive way.
Obversely, it is possible to argue that though the overwhelming concern of
the novel is feminist in that it confronts, questions, and subverts patriarchal
agendas, its national concern surfaces in its condemnation of the colonial
regime, particularly in the way colonialism and colonial ideology empower,
support, and strengthen Babamukuru’s patriarchal attitude. That the text does
not engage with the liberation struggle despite it’s pre-independence setting
does not invalidate its concern with the task of nation building and does not
quite make it fit the pronouncement that, as Flora Veit-Wild states, the
“concept of a close link between literature and resistance, valid for other
African countries, has been shown to be invalid in the case of Zimbabwe.”42
The link between literature and resistance is visible in Nervous Conditions,
especially in its resistance to indigenous cultural agendas that are complicit
with patriarchal agendas.
By situating the relationship between woman and culture and between
woman and nation in Nervous Conditions in the Zimbabwean historical and
political contexts, we see the ways in which it departs from its literary
antecedents in Zimbabwe. Rudo B. Gaidzanwa, acknowledging that “Tsitsi
Dangarembga encouraged [her] in many ways,” observes, “Before the
independence of Zimbabwe, the issue of black women in society was
overshadowed by other issues such as liberation of the whole nation from
colonialism. … [We need to examine how] black writers … as formerly
colonised people … [have] internalised and interpreted the experience of
colonisation as reflected by the way they form images of women”43 Gaidzanwa
underlines the connection between women writers’ experiences of social
reality in the colonial context and their creation of women’s images in
literature because she recognizes that the ways in which their “internalis[ation]
and interpret[ation of] the experience of colonisation [is] reflected [in their]
images of women” is significant for effecting social change. In determining
whether women’s images, as depicted in literature written mostly in the
seventies, reflect social reality Gaidzanwa observes that the “struggles of
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women in Zimbabwe predate colonialism, [have] continued throughout the
colonial era and after independence. The emergence of the women’s
movement in the West … has helped to highlight the struggles of women in
the Third World. … [T]he rights of women in the world have become focal
issues because of the particular experiences of women” (8-9).
Dangarembga’s women characters, it should be noted, are radically
different in terms of a feminist consciousness from those of earlier
Zimbabwean writers, such as Makhalisa, as apparent from Gaidzanwa’s
observation that women characters in seventies’ Zimbabwean literature were
depicted as “ideal” wives and mother. She bemoans the fact that “This ‘ideal’
state of these women tends to be cheapened and diminished by the fact that
they do not choose. It is socially difficult for them to be otherwise and this
calls into question whatever virtue one may have seen in their behaviour. In
fact, it is a matter of making a virtue out of necessity since they had no other
real choices” (32). What is significant about this observation for our purposes
here is that unlike the women characters described by Gaidzanwa above, the
women characters in Nervous Conditions are not presented as ideal women role
models nor as idealized victims in their role of silent suffering wives. Rather,
their comparatively radical presentation embodies elements that fulfill criteria
that Flora Veit-Wild regards as defining the new Zimbabwean literature:
After Independence, Zimbabwean … writers … raise questions about the new socioeconomic and political conditions …Thus Zimbabwean literature consists of a
multitutde of fragmented voices rather than of a homogeneous collective voice.
Hence one has to question the endeavour of literary critics or cultural politicians who
are still in search of a national literature. Has this term not become obsolete? Have
writers and critics in the Africa of the 1990s not to find new ways and new terms in
which to describe the multi-faceted nature of post-colonial experience and of postcolonial writing? (“The Elusive Truth” 120)
The ways in which Dangarembga’s text is different from earlier ones and the
ways in which it raises questions about the “socio-economic conditions rather
than give any definitive answers” reflects “new ways and new terms” in which
to describe the “multi-faceted nature of post-colonial experience and of postcolonial writing” (120).
Dangarembga’s third world feminism that refutes both colonial
assumptions and traditional patriarchy, compares subalternity and bourgeois
class consciousness, and examines alterity’s double consciousness is, in one
sense, rooted in national concerns at the same time that it opposes the
national as the cultural symbolic. In challenging those aspects of the nation
and national that are complicit with the patriarchal tradition, the text in a
sense moves and takes its feminist concerns beyond the national into a
postnational identity for women. While patriarchal ideology insists that
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women uphold decency and honor, as Babamukuru expects of Nyasha and
Tambudzai, they, along with Maiguru, Tambudzai’s mother, and Lucia, resent
the restrictions that are enforced in the name of tradition. Often tradition is
evoked in the name of nationalism and hence attempts to resist tradition
evoke a postnationalism.
While Tambudzai’s mother resents her poverty much more than her
duties as mother and wife, Maiguru, for whom poverty is not an issue since
she enjoys material comforts and the help of a maid, resents the fact that she
has to be submissive to her husband. This is revealed when she shares with
Tambudzai the fact that her career took second place to her husband’s, and
when she protests having to cater to her husband’s extended family as
expected by tradition. Hence, despite her socially privileged class, despite her
higher education, she is as shackled in her marriage as Tambudzai’s mother.
Though her education and job do not empower and enable Maiguru to
“unlearn the dominative mode”44 the text argues for a woman’s economic
viability for self-empowerment, emphasizing equally the importance of
education and a job as well as the necessity of unlearning culturally
constructed notions of womanhood. The text seems to suggest that a woman’s
social behavior should be a personal choice but not at the cost of suicidal
repercussions, as in the case of Nyasha, that a judicious manipulation of power
and authority is sometimes necessary to survive, as in the case of Lucia.
Tambudzai’s narrative warns against the the inherent dangers of subscribing
indiscriminately to and internalizing bourgeois culture and values, imbibed by
way of a colonial education, because it can prevent the empowerment of self
and agency and subject-positionality, as mirrored differently in Tambudzai,
Nyasha and Maiguru.
The novel’s overwhelming concern with woman’s oppression by both
colonial and traditional cultures is underlined in the portrayal of the male
characters, Jeremiah and Takesure, whose lack of a sense of duty and
responsibility toward their families seems to be, in a way, endorsed by the
patriarchal culture. Notwithstanding his own enormous sense of responsibility
toward both his immediate and extended family, Babamukuru’s objection to
his brother’s lax morality arises only with Lucia’s threat of taking her sister
away. We don’t see Babamukuru objecting to his brother’s behavior because
of unjust or unfair treatment of the wife. He objects to his brother’s behavior
only because it offends his internalized Christian ethics and this concern too
arises only when Lucia threatens to disrupt his brother’s home by taking her
sister with her, leaving the care of the home and children to her sister’s
husband, Babamukuru’s brother.
Conflated thus in the character of Babamukuru is the collusion of
patriarchal values defined by both colonial culture and native tradition. In his
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patriarchal attitude toward his wife, daughter, niece, sister-in-law, and Lucia,
Babamukuru can be seen as having benefitted from colonialism with all its
attendant paradoxes inherent in cultural values defined by racial superiority.
Hence, his character reflects the text’s concern with the ways in which the
national as represented by those in positions of authority is complicit with the
patriarchal. Reiterating what I say in the beginning of this chapter, the text
allows us to see why, if the patriarchal culture underlying the social system
licenses woman’s oppression, then that patriarchal culture acts as an
instrument of the nation. Thus the national becomes complicit with
patriarchy and makes it imperative for women to go beyond the national,
evoking the postnational because their need to be liberated transcends
traditional patriarchy that sanctions such treatment of women either through
complicity or by remaining silent.
In challenging colonial assumptions and cultural colonialism,
Dangarembga emphasizes the systematic colonial dehumanization of the
native at the same time protesting against the confines imposed on women by
the social system that enforces cultural practices. In her anticolonial and
antipatriarchal stand I see Dangarembga not advocating nationalism but
rather seeming to argue for a postnational identity for women. In showing
how patriarchal tradition, lack of education, and economic dependence, all
contribute to women’s subjugation, the novel underscores how various factors,
namely, the patriarchally constituted values and norms, the institution of
marriage, colonial westernized education, bourgeois values, colonial culture,
individually or collectively, deny women any viable choices, as for instance,
demonstrated by the fact that Maiguru leaves and returns to her husband.
While the novel’s one message, among others, clearly is to emphasize the
importance of education for women as a first step toward gaining economic
viability, it highlights the conflicts that education foregrounds between
traditional expectations of women’s subordination and between women’s
To conclude, Dangarembga’s engagement with the nation and the
national in Nervous Conditions is to be seen in the sense that it is concerned
with Zimbabwean patriarchal culture, poverty, education, and its colonial
encounter, and in the sense, as I have stated earlier, that all these in different
ways define the nation and the national. That a culture cannot exist without
the nation’s support informs my reading of this text implicit in which is the
nation’s sanctioning of a social system and endorsing of a culture that
legitimates woman’s oppression. This feminist text’s focus on women
characters trapped in the social and cultural problematic voicing their
frustration underlines this feminist text’s exploration of social change. Given
that the nation and its culture and society perpetuate woman’s oppression, it
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is possible for us to view this text as taking woman’s concerns beyond the
national register onto a postnational plane where different categories of
women, as demonstrated in Nervous Conditions, are on a common platform.
Women, along with subaltern groups, are part of the disenfranchised
constituency who are not first class national citizens of their country. Hence,
we can read into this text how woman’s identity is postnational in some
respects, acknowledging that necessary qualifications must be made on the
basis of class and privilege and other cultural and social differences among
The critical consciousness of this text derives from its implicit conviction
that a woman’s identity, rooted in, yet fractured from the nation and the
national, goes beyond the national. Embedded in the text’s portrayal of
women’s entrapment and in its exploration of their options is, I contend, a
postnational identity for woman for whom escaping her entrapment takes
precedence over the nation’s patriarchal culture. Confronting how a national
culture legitimizes woman’s oppression, the text shows how the culture,
endorsing patriarchal agendas, is complicit with and cannot exist without the
nation’s support. My analysis of the text has been to show how it suggests a
connection between the patriarchal culture underlying the social system and
its complicity with the national which endorses what the society sanctions. In
other words, Nervous Conditions suggests that the whole cultural ethos must
change, that the nation can progress only if women have freedom and equality
of opportunity. This text thus underlines that national liberation cannot be a
guarantor of a nation’s progress without woman’s independence and
liberation from oppression.
The next chapter explores the connections between third world feminism
and the nation undergirding Anita Desai’s opposition to both colonial legacy
and indigenous tradition in Clear Light of Day (1980), situated in colonial and
post-independent India.
For detailed studies of patriarchal cultures in India and Zimbabwe see, for example, Amrita
Basu, ed., The Challenge of Local Feminisms: Women’s Movements in Global Perspective, With
the assistance of C. Elizabeth McGrory, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995); Patricia Jeffery
and Amrita Basu, eds., Appropriating Gender: Women’s Activism and Politicized Religion in
South Asia, (New York: Routledge, 1998); Maria Mies, Indian Women and Patriarchy:
Conflicts and Dilemmas of Students and Working Women, (New Delhi: Concept Publishing
Company, 1980, c1979); Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the
International Division of Labour, (London: Zed Books Ltd., 1986); Nzongola-Ntalaja, et al.,
Africa’s Crisis, (London: Institute for African Alternatives, 1987); Robin Morgan, ed.,
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Sisterhood is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology, (New York: The Feminist
Press at CUNY, 1996, 1984); Elizabeth Schmidt, Peasants, Traders, and Wives: Shona Women
in the History of Zimbabwe, 1870-1939, (Portsmouth, N. H.: Heinemann, 1992); Kathleen
Sheldon, ed., Courtyards, Markets, City Streets: Urban Women in Africa, Boulder,
Colorado: Westview Press, 1996).
Tsitsi Dangarembga, “This Year, Next Year,” (The Women’s Review of Books Vol. VIII, Nos.
10-11 July 1991) 43.
Dickson A. Mungazi, “A Strategy for Power: Commissions of Inquiry into Education and
Government Control in Colonial Zimbabwe,” The International Journal of African Historical
Studies 22, 2, 1989, 267.
Anne McClintock, “‘No Longer in a Future Heaven?’: Women and Nationalism in South
Africa,” Transition no. 51 (1991): 92-99, Cited by Amina Mama in Alexander and
Mohanty, 53-54.
Amina Mama, 47.
Rudo B. Gaidzanwa, Images of Women in Zimbabwean Literature (Harare: The College Press,
1985) 8.
Rosemary Moyana, “Men & Women: Gender Issues in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous
Conditions & She No Longer Weeps,” New Trends & Generations in African Literature, ed.,
Eldred Durosimi Jones, (London: James Currey, 1996) 30.
Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, (London: Penguin, 1961) 17.
Charles Sugnet, “Nervous Conditions: Dangarembga’s Feminist Reinvention of Fanon,”
The Politics of (M)Othering: Womanhood, Identity, and Resistance in African Literature, ed.,
Obioma Nnaemeka, (London: Routledge,1997) 47.
R. Radhakrishnan, “Nationalism, Gender, and the Narrative of Identity,” Diasporic
Mediations: Between Home and Location, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996)
Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World, (New Delhi: Oxford
University Press, 1999), 18.
Ama Ata Aidoo illustrates how national independence from colonial rule did not bring
any material benefit to the disenfranchised in “For Whom Things Did Not Change” in her
collection of short stories, No Sweetness Here.
D. Caute, Frantz Fanon, (New York: Viking Press, 1970) 32, 64-65; Frantz Fanon, Toward
the African Revolution, (New York: Grove Press,1967) 21; Both cited in Horace B. Davis,
Toward a Marxist Theory of Nationalism, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978) 217-218.
Michael Chapman, Southern African Literatures, (London: Longman, 1996) 307.
Paul Bohannan and Philip Curtin, Africa and Africans, 3rd ed., (Prospect Heights, Illinois:
Waveland Press, Inc., 1988) 31.
Tsitsi Dangarembga, The Book of Not, (Oxfordshire: Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited,
Tsitsi Dangarembga, Interview, New Nation, 2-8 November 1990, 9. Cited in Michael
Chapman, Southern African Literatures, (London: Longman, 1996) 307.
Sally McWilliams, “Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions: At the Crossroads of
Feminism and Post-Colonialism,” World Literature Written in English (31.1 1991) 111.
Ahmad, Hena. Postnational Feminisms, edited by Hena Ahmad, Peter Lang Publishing, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Created from unomaha on 2017-04-02 15:37:48.
Copyright © 2009. Peter Lang Publishing. All rights reserved.
Flora Veit-Wild, “The Elusive Truth. Literary Development in Zimbabwe since 1980,” African
Literatures in the Eighties, ed., Dieter Riemenschneider and Frank Schulze-Engler,
(Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993) 120.
Elizabeth Willey, “National Identities, Tradition, and Feminism,” Interventions: Feminist
Dialogues on Third World Women’s Literature and Film, ed., Bishnupriya Ghosh and Brinda
Bose, (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997) 5.
McWilliams 103, (Also cited in Ghosh and Bose).
Willey 5.
Charles Sugnet, “Nervous Conditions: Dangarembga’s Feminist Reinvention of Fanon,”
The Politics of (M)Othering: Womanhood, Identity, and Resistance in African Literature, ed.,
Obioma Nnaemeka, (London: Routledge, 1997) 33.
Sugnet 46.
All subsequent references to this novel, abbreviated NC will be in the main body of the
chapter within parentheses, e.g. (NC 152).
Carole Boyce Davies, “Introduction: Feminist Consciousness and African Literary
Criticism,” Ngambika: Studies of Women in African Literature, ed., Carole Boyce Davies and
Anne Adams Graves, (Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, Inc., 1986) 9.
See “Tsitsi Dangarembga: Nervous Conditions” in Flora Veit-Wild, Teachers, Preachers, NonBelievers: A Social History of Zimbabwean Literature, (London: Hans Zell Publishers, 1992)
Flora Veit-Wild, Teachers, Preachers, Non-Believers, 331-8.
See Dangarembga Interview in Jane Wilkinson, Talking with African Writers: Interviews with
African Poets Playwrights & Novelists, (London: James Currey, 1990 and 1992) 196.
I am indebted to Rhonda Cobham’s Presentation at an English Department Colloquium
at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1992 for the ideas in this paragraph and
in the following one.
Rhonda Cobham, Colloquium Presentation.
“Mainini, Maiguru, and Babamukuru are the Shona words for, respectively, mother, aunt,
and uncle. Tambudzai refers to these three figures by their titular names throughout her
narrative.” Derek Wright, “Regurgitating Colonialism: The Feminist Voice in Tsitsi
Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions,” New Directions in African Fiction, (New York: Twayne
Publishers, 1997) Footnote no. 7, 187.
Rhonda Cobham, Colloquium Presentation.
M. Keith Booker, The African Novel in English: An Introduction, (Portsmouth, NH:
Heinemann, 1998) 197.
Olivia N. Muchena, “Zimbabwe: It Can Only Be Handled by Women,” Sisterhood is Global:
The International Women’s Movement Anthology, ed., Robin Morgan, (New York: Anchor
Doubleday, 1984; The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 1996,) 752-5.
Muchena, 752.
Nancy Folbre, “Patriarchal Social Formations in Zimbabwe,” Patriarchy and Class: African
Women in the Home and the Workforce, Eds. Sharon B. Stichter and Jane L. Parpart, (Boulder
& London: Westview Press, 1988), 75.
Muchena, 753.
Muchena, 753.
Ahmad, Hena. Postnational Feminisms, edited by Hena Ahmad, Peter Lang Publishing, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Created from unomaha on 2017-04-02 15:37:48.
Ama Ata Aidoo, Changes, (New York: The Feminist Press at The City University of New
York, 1991, 1993).
This reminds me of Ama Ata Aidoo in “To Be A Woman” recounting praise for a lecture
she delivered. She is told “[her] English was absolutely masculine.” “They had always told
me I wrote like a man. They had always told me I drove like a man. Now I speak English
like a man.?”
Flora Veit-Wild, Teachers, Preachers, Non-Believers, 341.
Rudo B. Gaidzanwa, 8.
Raymond Williams, Culture and Society
Copyright © 2009. Peter Lang Publishing. All rights reserved.
Ahmad, Hena. Postnational Feminisms, edited by Hena Ahmad, Peter Lang Publishing, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Created from unomaha on 2017-04-02 15:37:48.