Limitations on a Female African in Nervous Conditions

May 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Nervous Conditions, the main character, Tambudzai, feels restricted within her family and culture because she is female. The people of Rhodesia assert very traditional roles for men and women; the women cook and clean, while the men go to school and earn money. In this culture, females are not supposed to desire an education or a career, they are to get married and be a good homemaker. Tambu decides not to abide by this way of life, the life her mother and father expect of her. She is eager to leave the homestead and live a British life. What she doesn’t realize is that she is at the lower end of the spectrum because she is a female and an African. She is treated unequally within her own society because she is female, and she will be treated unequally in a British society because she is African. Even if her family permits her to attend school, what will she be able to achieve with her education? Tsitsi Dangarembga, in Nervous Conditions, conveys the idea that the society that introduces opportunities for a better education for African women, is the same society that limits these women’s potential. She does this through the British education system in Rhodesia, the patriarchal role of women in the Rhodesian culture, the idealization of the British lifestyle, the expendable position of Babamukuru at the mission, the profound education of Maiguru as well as her limited use of this education in Rhodesia, and Nyasha’s epiphany.Tambu is very young, but she has very mature ambitions for herself. She feels strongly that she does not want to be solely educated in the wifely duties, especially when a formal education is a fairly realistic option for her. The education that exists is an English education, run by Catholic missionaries. The schools are expensive and considered prestigious, but the best education can be obtained by studying in England. For a common Rhodesian family such as Tambu’s, the only priority is to educate their sons. Although females are accepted into the schools, it not typical for a family to send their daughters to school, unless they have the money to do so. In Tambu’s case, the resources are not there. Her family is in poverty, making tuition for school almost impossible. However, when it comes to their son, education is a necessity. Tambu has resentment towards her brother because of this fact. Her brother also belittles her and her younger sister, knowing that girls have this predestined place in society. He made his opinion clear in saying to Tambu, “Did you ever hear of a girl being taken away to school? With me it’s different. I was meant to be educated” (Dangarembga 49). Tambu did not want to accept such a life, taking care of a man, as her fate.Tambu’s brother is not her biggest obstacle. Her father is not on board with her request to go to school. He expresses his stance by saying, “Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables” (Dangarembga 15). In the Rhodesian culture, a son is more valuable to a family because he will remain as a member of the family for all of his days. The son will be the one responsible for caring for his parents in their old age. A daughter, on the other hand, is not as valuable. She will marry into another man’s family, consequently leaving hers, and only be beneficial to her husband. In Tambu’s father’s point of view, there is no purpose to education his daughter because she will be of no use to him in the future. This is an unfair and sexist presumption. Does her father not care of the success and happiness of his daughters as well as his sons? Though he is unable, financially, to provide an education for Tambu, he does not have to be so condescending at the thought of his daughter wanting to better herself. With no other option, Tambu is determined to raise the money for her tuition without the support of her family. She is successful.Tambu is receiving the education she wanted so badly. She is living with her uncle, Babamukuru, the man who is most admired in her family. He is well educated and successful. Tambu sees how his family is so prosperous, and connects this with the fact that they live a predominantly British lifestyle. Babamukuru, and his whole family, spend a great deal of time in England, and return very different. Her cousins do not act in their old African ways anymore, nor do they speak the language. Almost every aspect of their life is British, which to Tambu, seems almost God-like. She illustrates, “Babamukuru was God, therefore I had arrived in Heaven. I was in danger of becoming an angel, or at the very least a saint, and forgetting how ordinary humans existed” (Dangarembga 70). She desired this lifestyle and all that it can offer to her. Because of this, she strongly believes that in order to make progress, she must leave old ways behind. Little does she know that, among the whites at the mission, Babamukuru is considered replaceable. By changing his culture, he is unable to change his skin color, which will hold him back as long as he works at a job within the English society. Even with all of his education, he is unable to achieve equality with them.Tambu is unaware of the fact that although she may be equally entitled to a British education as a female, she may not be as equally entitled to a respectful career as an African among whites. At the same time, an educated female in Africa will never reach her full potential. No matter where Tambu decides to be, she will be prohibited by at least one aspect of her identity. This truth reveals itself to her after talking with her aunt Maiguru.Maiguru earns a Master’s degree while in England, despite her family and husband’s disapproval. She has great dreams for herself, as does Tambu, but has to put them away for the sake of her family. She explains her situation to Tambu, “What it is, is to have to choose between self and security. When I was in England I glimpsed for a little while the things I could have been, the things I could have done if- if- if things were- different. But there was Babawa Chido and he children and the family. And does anyone realize, does anyone appreciate, what sacrifices were made? As for me, no one even thinks about the things I gave up!” (Dangarembga 101-102). After hearing this and perhaps relating it to her own possible future, Tambu feels mournful for Maiguru’s losses. The loss of her dreams, her goals, her ambitions, her independence, her self respect. Tambu can’t believe how Maiguru is deprived of the opportunity to make the most of herself. At this point, Maiguru has accepted her decisions and all that she sacrificed, which makes it even worse. Tambu knows what she wants and won’t let anyone get in the way of it. Maiguru knows what she wants, could have had what she wants, and knowingly walks away from it because she knows she can’t have the best of both worlds. At least Maiguru still works and earns money, which wouldn’t have been an option had she not been educated. But that money doesn’t belong to her, it belongs to her husband to provide for himself and their family. Maybe it will feel more worthwhile if her sacrifices are at least acknowledged and appreciated.Babamukuru doesn’t realize that he has put his wife in the same position that he is put in by his family. They depend on him, as the most successful member of the family, but do they understand all of the hard work he put into his schooling to get to life of luxury of which he has achieved? Sure, he has the resources to help the struggling members of his family, but they mustn’t take it for granted, or work any less hard to provide for themselves.Living in England will have disadvantages as well. Tambu can never reach her full potential in England because she is not considered equal to the whites. At least in Rhodesia she is considered an equal as an African. Tambu also learns of the bad that can come from the English culture as she watches her cousin, Nyasha, turn into a stick-figure. The culture that Tambu once longed to be a part of, has taken its toll on her cousin and her perception of beauty. She is beginning to realize that the influence of the English culture is not what she thought. Perhaps this new culture is worse than she once thought her own culture to be. Her eyes open to the truth when Nyasha awakes in the night and speaks of the how the colonizers have ruined her exclaiming, “They [the colonizers] did it to me… Why do they do it, Tambu, to me and to you? Do you see what they’ve done? They’ve taken us away. They’ve deprived you of you, him of him, ourselves of each other. We’re groveling. Daddy grovels to them. We grovel to him. I won’t grovel… Their history… Their bloody lies… They’ve trapped us. I won’t be trapped” (Dangarembga 200- 201). This powerful epiphany is not overlooked by Tambu. After seeing her own cousin fall, the girl she grows so close with, the girl who is so willful and headstrong, she ponders how she will ever survive. She decides that she should begin to question her surrounding and every aspect of the society that she was so quick to surrender to. She’s not going to be brainwashed any longer. Nyasha warns Tambu earlier in the novel, “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” (Dangarembga 147). This is the truth. Tambu realizes that maybe she was too eager to leave the homestead. Had she not had a complete flip in her perception, she would not have been able to retell her story with such transparency. It is a more neutral insight that she offers the reader about her struggle between African and English traditions. But as it comes to be known, sometimes it’s the unknown lifestyle that you desire, that will destroy you. The Africans are victims of Englishness, not blessed by it.The colonizers expect to barge in, educate these people to “better” their country, yet not accept them as an imperative asset within the country that they are educated to be like. It is such an unfair position that these African females are put it, especially when they know that can achieve so much more than a degree in chores and gardening. It is amazing how Tambu refuses to let poverty or her father stand in the way of her goals, but can she succeed beyond the traditional role of a woman in her society? Even if she can, she can’t get past the fact the she is the minority in the lifestyle she desires. At the same time, home is where these girls are safe. They may not have a career, but at least they are raised with decent morals and values, and many women do enjoy their job as mother, as long as they are loved and appreciated. Isn’t there a better solution for colonized girls who want the best of both worlds?Works CitedDangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. Seattle: Seal Press, 1988.

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