Brianna Janz Dr. Nd?g?r?g? AFST 335 February 25, 2010 Nervous Conditions Reaction Paper Nervous Conditions is Tsitsi Dangarembrga's novel about a young girl named Tambudzai and her struggle to gain an education despite the barriers of her family and culture. She grows up in a traditional black Rhodesian family whose beliefs center around the importance of raising male children so that they can grow up to support the family. Because of this, Tambudzai's desire to receive an education are laughed at and dismissed because the efforts of sending a child to school will benefit her brother Nhamo instead of her. Instead of being defeated, however, Tambu works against cultural norms of female subordinance and black poverty to ensure her passage to school, even if it results in alienation from the culture she has always known. Traditional Rhodesian culture favors the educational advancement of young men, as girls are expected to be married off to their husband's family and therefore would not benefit their own family by getting an education. Tambu does not realize this at first, and when she tells her brother Nhamo that she wants to go to school he tells her that ?wanting won't help? because ?it's the same everywhere, because you are a girl? (21). She is outraged and sets about to raise her school fees herself, only to be sabotaged by Nhamo. Through his death however, Tambu was given the opportunity to go to school, despite her mother's pleas against her father's and uncle's wishes that she go (56). The gender disparity of the culture is exemplified through the educational process, as is shown in Babamakuru and his wife, Maiguru. They both have their Master's degrees from England, and yet Maiguru is expected to cater to all of the needs of the family while her husband is seen as the provider, even though he uses his wife's salary to do so (174). When Maiguru finally gets so fed up that she leaves her husband, Tambu and her cousin Nyasha consider the possibilities of her becoming a doctor or businesswoman since she no longer has a man holding her back. Nyasha comments that she too feels ?trapped by that man, just like she is? (176) which shows that men hold the power in every relationship in their society. Everything comes back to the idea of ?femaleness, femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness? (118). In addition to overcoming the challenge of being female and trying to get an education, Tambu must also face her changing perceptions of her culture that have come with her education. When she is first reunited with her cousins after they return from England, she is surprised to find that she no longer approves of them (38). She sees their Anglicization as a rejection of their heritage and culture and fears becoming close to Nyasha, as ?everything about her spoke of alternative and possibilities that...would wreak havoc with the plan I had laid out for my life? (76). She sees parts of herself in Nyasha and vice versa, and is worried that she'll fall prey to a white-washed life as she has seen her cousins do. Despite her cautions, Tambu does experience change while at the mission, and in fact sees it as her ?reincarnation? (94). Her education opens up possibilities that she was previously unaware of, and she begins to think that ?the further we left the old ways behind the closer we came to progress? (150). She accepts a place at the Catholic convent school, despite the fact that they clearly treat Africans as inferior, and says that she learns that whites were more beautiful than she. It seems that along with learning about matters of the world, she learns to feel inferior to the whites that have colonized her country. This, perhaps, is what Nyasha means when she tells Tambu that ?it's bad enough...when a country gets colonized, but when the people do as well! That's the end? (150). This is echoed in her mother's warning that she will come home ?a stranger full of white ways and ideas? and that ?the Englishness? will ?kill them all if they aren't careful? (187, 207). In the respect that a person's culture creates their identity, losing connections to that culture certainly would be a type of death. Tambu acknowledges this, saying ?if I forgot them, I might as well forget myself? (191). But if she refused the education she had worked so hard for, she would be forced to live a life of poverty, just as her mother had. In the end, Tambu witnesses the destruction that becoming distanced from one's culture can bring through the demise of her cousin Nyasha. She does not wish to end up as someone who can not fit into either their home culture or the one of the group they wish to emulate, but perhaps there is no alternative. Rejected by one because of her ethnic background and the other because of her desires to live outside of traditional norms, she becomes painfully aware that she could face the same fate. The novel concludes with her realizing this possibility and her vowing that it would not happen. Because of the time lapsed between then and the time that she says she has set down the story, it can be assumed that she was able to avoid the brainwashing of white culture.
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