Character Journey and Development of Tsitsi from the Novel Nervous Conditions

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“The victimisation I saw was universal.” The bildungsroman Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga functions as a feminist novel which aims to unravel the nuances and incongruencies of the traditional Shona culture and the Western colonial modernity in alignment with Tambudzai’s progressive character development. This essay will further unfold Tambu’s physical and mental entrapment and victimisation within her body.

In this extract Tambu refuses to attend the wedding Babamukuru and Maiguru have organised for her parents since she believes they will be the homestead’s renowned laughing stock. Tambu in her role as a docile woman is meant to be subservient to Babamukuru’s patriarchal reign and immediately responsive to his glorified presence but now Tambu’s “body on the bed didn’t even twitch”.

The out-of-body experience allows Tambu to coherently analyse and realise her victimised and entrapped nature as an African woman by Babamukuru who represents the oppressive patriarchy as a whole. Tambu who once praised the God-like figure of Babamukuru who was placed on a pedestal because of his economic power and Anglican virtue, conclusively discerns his veritable patriarchal character embodied by traditional Shona culture and the Western colonial modernity. This apprehension in comparison to the past Tambu indicates a progressive nature in her character development.

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Tambu perceived this out-of-body experience as an escape from her entrapped reality and more specifically Babamukuru. Tambu yearns to escape the oppressive and superior hold that Babamukuru has on her as she states that “he could not reach [her]” in this state of “out-of-body” or mental detachment (where in fact she was still acutely aware of her surroundings). The diction of “she smiled smugly” further indicates her satisfaction in escaping Babamukuru and his authority, even if it for merely a few minutes.

This aggravates Babamukuru to the point where he even labels her as a “bad child” because she has ignored his presence and authority by not acknowledging it; Babamukuru views this as a gross violation and blatant disrespect to his culturally induced authority. Babamukuru is convinced that Tambu is taking advantage of his “generosity” by not observing his so-called acclaimed authority.

An emblematic turning point occurs in the novel when Tambu for the first time verbally rejects Babamukuru’s authority and patriarchal status by blatantly stating that she is “sorry” and that “[she] [does] not want to go to the wedding”; this affirms her dissatisfaction with the wedding and mostly with Babamukuru’s incessant portrayal of cultural masculinity. Babamukuru does not take this act of disobedience lightly and resonates his traditional role by affirming that “[He is] the head of the house.” But, even after his countless and pointless threats they essentially fall on deaf ears, as to Tambu “it did not matter anymore.”

Further, in this extract Tambu undergoes an out-of-body experience where she “[slips] further and further away” from Nyasha and reality. This out-of-body experience symbolises Tambu viewing her veridical world from an external or ‘outside’ perspective. The unmoving or unresponsive nature of her body to Babamukuru’s domineering instructions indicates a sense of escape from her entrapped and victimised body by refusing to respond to the superior authority of Babamukuru. Her body expresses a mental and physical perpetual tiredness, as her “body on the bed did not even twitch”, in relation to the existence of Babamukuru’s irrational power and authority. Eventually “[she] slipped back into [her] body” and a new found assertiveness surged within her, leading her to exercise her own discretion and openly reject Babamukuru’s command with sheer dissatisfaction. As a result she resisted falling in line to the subordination that Babamukuru fosters in his home. This realisation allows Tambu to become prolific in her thinking and comfortable in her body that she previously viewed as foreign space which she inhabited for the sole purpose to play her normative subservient role within the traditional domain of the Shona culture.

Tambu’s realisation lead to her abandoning the ideological incarceration which she for long battled with, for now “she learned to question things and refused to be brainwashed”. She no longer felt powerless and voiceless in the face of the patriarchal system of her culture and the Western colonial modernity of the “English” society and school. Tambu’s body henceforward does not belong to Babamukuru or any other male patriarchal figure, she has freed herself and her state of mind is devoid of falling prey to the patriarchal and colonial forces of the past.

Therefore, Tambu’s progressive character development enables her to realise her existence is not centred around the masculinities inherent in her culture and the `Western colonial system and society. Tambu has blossomed into a young woman whose path in life remains inscribed in her own accord.

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