Nervous Conditions is a novel that was written by a Zimbabwean, Tsitsi Dangarembga. The plot of the story is based on the social and psychosomatic conditions human beings get subjected to especially during and after the colonial period. Post colonial experiences are pretty brought out in this novel; major themes include: race, gender, social classification, cultural change, poverty and education. This paper seeks to examine the various themes as brought out in the novel and how people suffered the consequences of the colonial period.
Gender discrimination is clearly displayed in the novel as seen from the way Nhamo treated his female counterparts. It is so unfortunate that the young children in the society had already been poisoned with the fact that women are the weaker sex (O’Neil 272). Nhamo enslaved his relatives especially the girls by making them carry his school properties while heading back home. Tambu knew that they were being undermined since Nhamo needed no help. Additionally, she thought that Nhamo just wanted to portray how authoritative and commanding he was by forcing them do unnecessary things for him. Further, Tambu had observed her family and realized that women were not given a place to express themselves freely. From the novel, Tambu plays the role of a server during dinner with her relatives (Jagne & Parekh 127). She is expected to carry water for people to wash their hands, but due to the belief of cleansing the water, the men become the first ones to start. The cultural practice depicts how women are undermined in the society of a daily basis. Again, after serving the men, women ate their meals in the kitchen. It was not allowed for them to eat before the men. Some of them ended up missing food because they depended on what remained after serving their male relatives.
Menstruation is used in the story as a sign of dirt. Tambu disregarded women when they were on their periods; although this is a natural cycle, it reveals the rigidness of the Shona culture. Moreover, women were not allowed to stay late outside and especially when they are with men. For instance, Babamukuru shouts at his daughter Nyasha for talking with Andy until late. He instantly assumes that her daughter has turned into a prostitute hence keeps on yelling harsh words at her and his son, Chido. However, some women, especially those educated fought for their rights to be regarded with respect in the society (O’Neil 271). Maiguru who has a Master’s degree was inspired by Lucia’ she went against Babamukuru. Maiguru was felt pity for Tambu who was being treated with contempt especially because she could not attend her parent’s wedding. Maiguru disagrees with her husband who could not listen to her, she decided to go to a place she could find joy and happiness (Jagne & Parekh 125). Her example was a sign of independence among women like her and Lucia.to further challenge Babamukuru, she advocated for Tambu to be taken to convent school given the scholarship. Nhamo being a male chauvinist could not stand the fact that Tambo would be taken to convent school and tells her to go to a mission school. Nhamo further asks Tambu whether she had heard of a girl being taken away to school.
Racial discrimination is widely highlighted in the novel (O’Neil 191). At the convent school, Tambu only finds African students at her place of residence. When she had eating disorders, she was surprised to find that the medics were all whites. The psychiatrist who attends to her only dismisses her saying that Africans are not prone to such ailments. The psychiatrist’s approach to Tambu’s condition is a clear sign of racial discrimination. They believe that Africans and whites cannot suffer the same diseases and disorders (Jagne & Parekh 119). They only perceived that Africans pretended because they wanted to be treated like the whites. He further claimed that the Africans should be punished for the way they were behaving. Nyasha is also not spared. At the mission school, her classmates, the blacks dislike her because they perceive she is white. The disparity among students is a clear rivalry within their territory that has emerged from their homes; they pick everything from their parents and relatives.
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Poverty level was high especially among the black hence the thought that poverty is directly proportional to racism. Nhamo gets exposed to the massive amount of poverty his family is languishing in especially after his education at the mission school. However, Babamukuru broke the norm by working extra hard hence earning himself respect. When Tambu moves to the mission, it was clear in her mind that she was slowly pulling out of poverty. But her physical expression would expose her as a daughter of a peasant: her feet were broad because she was exposed to direct contact with the ground hence growing thick (O’Neil 202). Her knees and legs had grown scales and would be dry for the better part of the day because she was not used to oiling. Such conditions she had been living with were soon to be left behind. Nonetheless, when Tambu goes back home after spending a lot of time in the mission while accessing better services, she sees the many challenges facing her family. Their house roof was in a poor condition, their latrine is nothing but shame; she took it up on herself be cleaning it with the assistance of Nyasha (Jagne & Parekh 120).
Despite the fact that men did not give priority to educate women, Babamukuru suggested that education was a major solution to lifting their families to a better level. Tambu appreciated the idea of her uncle to sponsor Nhamo’s school fees because she thought it would leverage their financial situation. Maiguru had achieved the highest level of education among all the women and was in the same level with her husband. Her hard work and determination has earned her a lot of respect in the society. Her financial situation is considered stable; she is rich. This has given her the advantage over men because at least she can talk for herself against the men. However, she cannot receive criticism from her fellow women because they fear what should say (Jagne & Parekh 121). Nonetheless, all women are victims of men’s superiority complex.
Cultural change was being witnessed when women went to school. Maiguru is a tool of Cultural Revolution; she fought hard through the ladder of education. She has broken all the norms by studying to a Master’s degree level where a few men have reached while many women have little or no education (O’Neil 205). Her resilience is brought out when she tells her husband that she needed to be happy; she opted to go seek for happiness elsewhere. Further, Maiguru was very determined to see that Tambu was not treated harshly. She faced Babamukuru and stated all the reasons why Tambu must go to the convent school given the scholarship. Additionally, social classification was evident in the story because the whites placed themselves higher than the blacks. At the hospital, Tambu could not be treated of her eating disorder basically because she is African; they believed blacks are hardened hence needed no treatment (Jagne & Parekh 123).
From the novel, it is evident that post colonial period was nothing but an era of survival. Women were disregarded in the society and faced a lot of male chauvinism. Most women did not receive education because most families invested in their boys. Blacks were discriminated up on by the blacks who would not even believe that black students would fall sick of an eating disorder.