Men In Nervous Conditions: An Ignored Matter
The men of Zimbabwe struggled to assert the independence of their people against political, cultural and religious colonial pressure (Vembe), but reduced women to silent supporters (Stone 113). This dynamic still holds true on the literary front, where male writers of Zimbabwe, and Africa in general, present to the west male-centered, idealized pictures of traditional women and culture. Women, however, uncertain that men will revalue them, concern themselves with the pressures within the culture (McLeod). For this reason, the men of Africa generally discourage female authors from revealing their gritty perspectives. Further, E. Kim Stone writes, “Under colonialism, female storytellers were excluded from the few powerful positions the British system of colonization allowed in Rhodesia,” suggesting the traditional place of women as storytellers, somewhat ironically, was also suppressed by the colonizers. Only women are interested in revealing the internal pressures of postcolonial Zimbabwe. But these hidden pressures are just the ones that cause the “nervous conditions” in the book titled as such. A female character narrates this text about women, bearing to light women's struggles to be themselves within a constraining environment. But even as critics revel in this rare, realistic portrayal of Zimbabwean women, they seldom explore the significance of Tsitsi Dangarembga's representation of men, too often passing them off as flat characters.
male-authored African texts hide domestic turmoil and mixing of cultures, they not only hide the realities of women, they also hide the reality of their own selves. Thus, Nervous Conditions is an important text, not just for what it reveals about women, but also for what it reveals about men, the value of which is under-explored.
Indeed, the male characters do appear relatively flat upon first glance. For example, when Tambu asserts her desire to continue school even when there are only fees for one child, the pressure that Jeremiah and Nhamo heap upon Tambu appears all but totally senseless. Tambu points this quality out herself when she says, “my father was not sensible” (16). Nhamo tells her she can't go to school, “Because she is a girl” (21). Jeremiah takes a similar attitude about women and education, and
even after Tambu earns money to pay her own fees, her father audaciously attempts to claim the money back from the school for himself (30). Babamakuru also presents walls to the women around him, especially Nyasha and Maiguru, but the reasons for the behavior of this significant character are not readily clear. Even the explanation for why he is so insistent that Tambu's parents marry (to remove an evil spirit) is largely incomplete (146). Again, the author presents hints as to why the men behave and believe the way they do, as explained later in this essay, but she does not fully or openly shape the male characters and their opposition to female aspiration.
As for the female characters, especially Tambu and Nayasha, however, Dangarembga employs several techniques to present their complexities to the reader. Firstly, the narrator provides detailed accounts of the dialogue and actions of the females, even including letters, like Nyasha's, in which she explains how the males see her as having a superior attitude because she does not believe she is inferior to men (196). In this way, the author provides room in the text for Nyasha to explain the depth of the dilemma: she does not feel that she belongs, she does not want to complain or antagonize and, ultimately, she expresses that being herself is a battle. Further, the thoughts of Tambu (both those representative of who she was at the time of the narration and those that appear as narrator retrospect) delve deeply into the lives and perspectives of the women, the men being reduced to topic points in the lives of females. Comments like, “The self I expected to find...
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