Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga: Short Review


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Dangarembga’s novel “Nervous Conditions” subscribes to the common tropes of the “coming of age” story in her book that takes place in Rhodesia. This book also challenges the ideas of the normality of patriarchal tendencies. Simon Hay and Elizabeth Jackson both cover these tendencies both in today’s society and in Dangarembga’s novel. Not surprisingly, we can see a lot of similarities – and unfortunately, they are not good similarities. It is interesting to see this kind of literature shedding light on issues that are still present today all over the world.

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Set in a post-colonial setting, the characters of the novel are shown as models of European and general white oppression. After going to school in England, Tambu forgets her once beloved culture and the other characters in the novel feel strange about her. After going to England, her physical prescence of being there for so long and accepting and adadpting to that culture is a form of challenging her own. By staying somewhere for so long and studying under English professors, she became, in some way, shape, or form, English. There is no denying that, while this helped her grow intellectually, it also made her grow farther apart from her home and her culture. Hay even comments on her attitude towards school and schooling in a different culture, and she says that she was not upset about her decision, but also does not deny the fact that it changed her, and that it did in fact, challenge her old way. Hay writes about the “successful matriculation to adulthood” (326) and how this evolution for Tambu points “out the limitations of the fourteen-year-old Tambu’s fantasies of self-realization, limitations that she has since overcome” (326).

For Elizabeth Jackson, the author of the article, Like Cattle for Slaughter? Reading Nervous Conditions’ Pedagogical Interventions, she discusses the “feminist agenda” that Dangarembga attempts to accomplish with writing a book such as Nervous Conditions. In terms of education, Jackson explains that education, to many of the characters, is only necessary to gain material wealth – in other words, to gain money to gain things that are needed to survive. And to Jackson, everything else past that, educationally, is unnecessary. While we see plenty of cultural appropriation in this novel, I think it is most obvious through education, and the deliberate disapproval of former culture. Jackson explains her views of education as a “social obligation” and how an African person might feel this “obligation” because they are pressed to make ends meet. When the need for material objects calls, it is difficult to ignore the pressures of this educational appropriation.

Taking Dangarembga’s novel and splicing it with the views of these authors breeds several interesting and worthwhile thoughts for me, as a reader. What about these different cultures allow these pressures to be present, and why does it seem appropriate to those pressuring the other cultures? I like Hay’s approach, and I think it goes well in conjunction with Dangarembga’s overall message.

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