Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

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In Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, her protagonist, Tambu, struggles to overcome the obstacles of race and patriarchal expectations in pursuit of an education that she hopes will allow for her a better life. Upon receiving the opportunity that she so valiantly fights for, she is forced to examine whether her dream is realistically achievable or if a recalculation is in order.
Tambu’s oppression is made evident early on as we see the dichotomy between the manner in which she is treated in comparison to her brother Nhamo. Tambu’s calls for education fall upon deaf ears, as mother Mainini advises her to carry “the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other.” Tambu rejects this and looks to her aunt Maiguru as an influence; someone who has overcome the obstacles of race and gender to achieve her wealth and apparent privilege, but what Tambu fails to see or realize is the realities of her aunt’s marriage and her subordinate place within it. Nhamo needs not to concern himself with at least part of the battle his sister is forced to wage as, being a male, their father Jeremiah encourages his educational endeavors, even going so far as to permit their uncle, Babamukuru, to accompany him to the mission, where the superior schools are held. Jeremiah’s preference of Nhamo is evident when he says, “I was blessed when I was given that son.” Babamukuru anoints Nhamo the future head of the family and identifies him as a leader who can control the family’s resouces (something Tambu would be incapable of, if not because of ability, then simply because as a female, she is expected to submit and be obedient to whomever is to be her future husband). For his part, Jeremiah’s concern as it pert...

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...l to her brother’s, in spite of herself, she begins, at least on a base level, to see her education as a means to an end; a means to achieve and acquire an advancement in social-economic class and rank. Subsequently, she not only is in pursuit of education, but now begins a quest to regain her sense of self. Tambu sees this education as a way of juxtaposing the self she was, as identified and realized through the class of the lifestyle from whence she came, as well as the identification of the whatever class it is that she finds herself in upon acquiring her education. While she will perhaps be able, as a result of her education, to overcome the economic insistence of her previous lifestyle, her gender remains the same, and this will present the greater obstacle to her desired transformation, an obstacle that will require far more than merely an education to upend.
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