nervous condition

Topics: Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions, The Book of Not Pages: 5 (1433 words) Published: October 8, 2013
The nervous condition

In the novel Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, the character Nyasha aptly describes the quandary that is postcolonial identity.

"It would be a marvelous opportunity, she said sarcastically, to forget. To forget who you were, what you were and why you were that. The process, she said, was called assimilation, and that was what was intended for the precocious few who might prove a nuisance if left to themselves".For many, assimilation has been the easiest answer. Under pressure to develop and support families, it can easily seem like the only answer. It is a regrettable mistake to underestimate the importance of economics in a Third World nation such as Zimbabwe. We would be presumptuous and idealistic to assume everyone has the leisure to contemplate a sense of identity and subsequently arrive at a conclusion perfectly balanced between the innumerable political and moral demands. What about carving out a living in a community still controlled by white land bosses? Sustaining a family on food from fields too often harvested and devoid of nutrients because the best land was long ago appropriated for colonial plantations?

‘’We can see an example of this dilemma in the novel Nehanda by Yvonne Vera’’ (on chapter 2). This story takes place further in the past, and is therefore somewhat more remote than some of the other pieces that will be mentioned in this essay. However, the example I will cite clearly illustrates the roots of the above problem of resisting "civilizing" and assimilation while also being forced to cope with immediate economic pressures.In Nehanda, Vera tells of an Englishman named Mr. Browning who is causing much local controversy with his plan to build a missionary school for the Africans. He hires a native man called Mashoko as a servant. But Mr. Browning has re-dubbed him Moses, for the reason that

the new name is easier to remember, and more importantly,’’ it is a step toward the goal of civilizing the country’’... (chapter3)Moses does not yet seem to understand much of what represents progress, but Mr. Browning is confident that his efforts will bear fruit. So, as he makes plans for his school project, Mr. Browning plots for even Mashoko's civilization -- essentially the transition from a "heathen" to a docile imitation of a white man.And yet as we read on we hear Mashoko speak for himself. He despises his job and the foolish Mr. Browning. He has only taken the position of servant because of new taxes he cannot afford to pay otherwise. "Mashoko does not find his work interesting; in fact when he is in the village he feels ashamed of it. If it were not for the hut taxes that he is being made to pay, he would not accept the work. His cattle will be confiscated if he fails to pay the money asked of him".

Such concerns are real and legitimate for many Zimbabwean people. But neither should we assume that these citizens are ignorant of their position and do not query the nature of their identity. On the contrary this question of identity is at the center of most post-colonial thought and debate. How is it possible to achieve material success as is defined and required by our rapidly industrializing world community while still remaining faithful and proud of ancient traditions? How is it possible to advocate nationalism when for the sake of competition and economic independence, certain concessions to western tradition must be made?

‘Returning again to the work of Dangarembga’ (chapter1), I believe Nervous Conditions to be a remarkable illustration of these all too real dilemmas. The novel centers upon the girl Tambu who is born into a rural farming family. She has an uncle, Babamukuru, who was educated first by white missionaries and then at universities in South Africa and England. He is the patriarch and pride of the entire family. He achieved "success" and now works as the headmaster of the mission school. He and his family enjoy material privileges, such as...

Harvard reference list
Dangarembga.T, 1988. Nervous Conditions.UK: Women’s press.
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