“But what I didn’t like was the way all conflicts came back to this question of femaleness.Femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness…” (p. 118).This sentence shows the gender inequality in patriarchal society reflected in the novel.
“Nervous Conditions,” as one of the first African feminist novels focuses on gender inequality and sexual discrimination. The novel shows that being a woman in patriarchal African society is synonymous to loss of identity, social incompetency, moral degradation, lack of possibilities and individual progress, and other disadvantages. While the consequences of patriarchal structure and oppression associated with it have morally negative impact on female characters, Tambudzai, being a strong Rhodesian woman born in a traditional patriarchal African reality, does not live up to expectations of misogynistic society to be obedient and inferior to men.
In a misogynistic society even educationis not equal for all. Education, being another primary theme of the novel, is defined as the key to freedom. “Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables”(p. 15).
Dangarembga stresses the significance of education that will make the possibilities of contemporary civilization visible in postcolonial Rhodesia and enrich the existing values with healthy ambitions of self-improvement. While Ma’Shingayi does not approve Tambudzai’s educational goals, the protagonist is determined to,achieve academic enlightenment that will contribute to her individual development and save her family from poverty. According to the author, education is the most powerful weapon that teaches to think intensively and critically and can drastically change the black individual’sconsciousness and African society. “It’s bad enough . . . when a country gets colonized, but when the people do as well! That’s the end, really, that’s the end” (p. 150).By developing passion for learning and quenching incessant curiosity, characters of the novel find the key to unlock the gates of freedom of mind and body. Nyasha, having explored a foreign culture, begins to question the existing values, the ethical nature of colonialism. Tambudzaishares the same immense battle leading to rebellion and freedom.
Besides gender inequality and lack of proper education,characters are forced to carry the burdens of racial segregation. “And these days it is worse, with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other…What will help you, my child, is to learn to carry your burdens with strength…” (p.16)
Racial discrimination is central to “Nervous Conditions.” The author shows that “them” and “us” patterns deeply enrooted in large municipalities,in small African villages, and in African psyche force to surrender to establish racial norms. Stereotyped racial indoctrination seems so natural that characters of the novel suffering from its destructive consequences do not even question and struggle for their rights. Tambudzai, however, consciously refuses to be a victim of racial reality, and takes an agonizing path to challenge, transform and revolutionizeAfrican mindset. Opposing to the battle between the colors of the man’s skin, Dangarembgauses the colors ofTambudzai’swill and courage to create a rainbow that radiates racial justice throughout the novel.
Racial segregation is parallel to class-based deprivation not mere in geographical areas, but in literature as well. “You can’t go on all the time being whatever’s necessary. You’ve got to have some conviction, and I’m convinced I don’t want to be anyone’s underdog.”(p. 119).The novelprovides a canvas of different classes in a changing African society, that range from the rural to urban, wealth to poverty, members of society having special rights, advantages, or immunities to the unprivileged who cannot even voice their opinion. Characters in “Nervous Conditions” attempt to resist and molddifferent social aspects. Tambudzai, for example, develops tactics and plants maize on the plot of her grandmother’s land, so that she can sell the crop and pay for her education. Thus, the issues of class, gender inequality in patriarchal society, deprivation of education, and racial segregation are the central themes in”Nervous Conditions.”
Dangarembga, T. (1988).Nervous conditions.London : Women’s Press.
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