Protagonist Character in Nervous Conditions

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“In the novel Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangarembga, the protagonist Tambudzai—Tambu—reflects on her life and the position of women inflicted by the colonial power of Rhodesia. Given that the story takes place in two male-centered cultures, this book gives many examples of how women are treated unequally and oppressed. This book also shows how the women in this society deal with this oppression. Each female character in this novel struggles to keep the peace or reject the cultural norms. While this theme is certainly prevalent throughout the novel, this feminist push for change may be upstaged—in certain parts of the story—by overarching issues like colonization during this time period.

Unequal education is one of the biggest issues that women face in this novel. Many characters experience the prejudice of the education system against black females during this time period. In the beginning of the novel, the main character, Tambu, is prevented from going to school because of her brother Nhamo. Since Nhamo is a male, his education is put before hers and she is taken out of school at a young age. Tambu “understood why [she] could not go back to school” but also “loved going to school” (15). Although Tambu enjoys going to school, her family is not willing to put any extra money in to her education because she is a girl. According to Tambu’s father, she needs to “stay at home” and “learn to cook” with her mother (15). Her father believed that books would fill her mind with “impractical ideas,” making her “useless for the real tasks of feminine living” (34). In fact, many of the people on her homestead—both men and women—do not belive that it is necessary for women to get an education. Nhamo tells Tambu that “wanting won’t help” her get into school because she is “a girl” (21). Not only is Tambu experiencing prejudice against women, but the decision about who is allowed the opportunity to go to school is made by a man. The person who makes these decisions is Babamukuru, the head of the family and most educated male. All the people on the homestead follow Babamukuru and his colonial ways of thinking because he has “a lot of education” and “plenty of power” (50).

The living standards at both the mission and homestead keep women separated and quiet when in the company of men. At the homestead, “women had their own spot for bathing” in the shallow water. As a young girl, Tambu worried “about growing so big” that she was “no longer able to swim in the deeper, cooler, more interesting pools” (3). Women were also given the last wash at dinner time on the homestead. Tambu “knelt and rose” with the “water-dish” in front of all the “male relatives in descending order of seniority,” and then her “grandmothers and aunts” (40). This separation of male and female roles is also prevalent at the Misson. During dinner Babamukuru is seated at “the head of the table” (81). His wife, Maiguru, lifts each plate for him as he “spoon[s] food on to his plate” (81). His daughter, Nyasha jumps up to make gravy when it is missing from the table, and Maiguru takes Babamukuru’s plate when it gets cold. Although life on the mission is supposedly more modern, colonization still enforces the male dominant culture. Maiguru’s character, unlike most, does not suffer from being “poor and uneducated and black” (91). Yet, she still suffers from being female. Even though Maiguru has a “Master of Philosophy” she is still treated as lesser than by men like Babamukuru, and her degree is not celebrated routinely like her husbands education (99).

Employment is another difficult task for women of this time period. The character Lucia must beg Babamukuru to get her a job because she cannot get one on her own. Tambu must create her own job of growing and selling maize in order to go back to school. The book also does not speak about Maiguru having a job outside of the home, even though she lives in colonized England. Throughout the story, women’s jobs are restricted to their household. When women like Maiguru try to obtain higher levels of western education, they are looked down upon by other men and women. Tambu explains this when she talks about how Maiguru does have “many people to talk to” when she returns to the homestead as a “consequence of being so educated” (99).

This book talks a lot about how the “needs and sensibilities of women” are not considered “priority or even legitimate” in the household (12). Therefore, women have no power over male dominance and instead are told to “endure and obey” (19). There is a common theme that brings up the women’s perspectives and experiences with sexism, relationships, education and employment.

During Tambu’s fight back against colonial pressure and male dominance, she finds that “the victimization” of women is “universal” and that it does not “depend on poverty… lack of education or… tradition” (118). Tambu finds that the “heavy burden” of “womanhood” is carried by men (16). This revelation suggests that the women are only undermine and seen as inferior because they are given minimal chances for advancement. With this knowledge, Tambu takes every opportunity she can to learn more, even if it goes against the wishes of the male figures in her life. This story motivates the reader to side with resistance against gender oppression and cultural traditions that take away human rights. This suggests that both the Shona and English cultural norms of marriage and motherhood are not the only ways for women to be content.”

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Protagonist Character in Nervous Conditions. (2021, May 27). Retrieved from

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