Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga's first novel Nervous Condition pitched both traditional and Western beliefs against each other and raised very critical questions about the price of an African's soul at the flea market of Western culture. Written without a compromise of Shona's rich literary anaesthetic it once and for all exposed the invisible prison that many Africans find themselves arrested wtihin by merely over-observing and modeling themselves after everything English. Many years after its publication, and with the issues it raised pertinent in post-apartheid South Afrika and many post-cononial Afrikan democracies author/artist Portia Mahlodi Phalafala (Uhuru by reputation) revisits Dangarembga's wisdom and critics it in the context of a traditional African communal set-up, where patriarchy dictates the weather forecast.


The war that Nyasha finds herself fighting is a complex one. She has been exposed to the western way of life at a young age, so her coming of age was informed by a western tradition. The double oppression that she faces is that of living in a household that is ran by a patriarchal rule, following traditional ways of living; and one that lives in a colonial society with the influence of western education and middle class lifestyle. Unlike Maiguru, Nyasha has no memory of tradition and customs and therefore finds herself in a cultural dilemma. She is clever and independent but her downfall is brought on by her “Englishness”. She tries to rebel against patriarchy and uses the language of war when articulating this to Tambudzai. In her rebellion, she finds that her war is a useless one because “it’s everything, it’s everywhere. So where do you break out to?” (page 176). In the end she is so trapped by these forces that she has a psychological breakdown cause by the nervous conditions around her. She is nervous throughout the story to be able to pass and obtain her O-levels, which one way she can escape her condition by furthering her studies overseas. She also undergoes some cultural alienation because her way of life is influenced by the west. When she suffers from an eating disorder, it is then that we see that her entrapment has caused her a psychological state of crisis. In her letter to Tambudzai, she writes that she will find a “svelte, sensuous” her; which is influenced by the consumerism tradition, but is also a way for her to rebel aginst male dominance and a way to escape her body. Her rebellion in the end is not successful because she is too young to find herself fighting such a complicated war. But her rebellion was not totally useless in the end because it managed to give Tambudzai growing awareness and a voice.


Tambudzai, the character, shares almost the same experience as Nyasha. They were in the same ‘united youth front’. They are young and the older women around them have internalized patriarchy so much that there is a risk of that rubbing off them. She nearly lost an opportunity to study because her brother was given the privilege because he would further the well being of his family. It is only when he dies that they seriously consider taking her to school so she can “do what she can for the family before she goes into her husband’s home” (page 56). Living in such a patriarchal structure has been a constant war for her that at an earlier age she had to cultivate the maize field to fund her education. Later when Babamukuru takes her in his house to further her studies, she finds herself in another world that is influenced by colonial forces. She is from a different class and she is introduced to a different race living in a household were her gender is subjugated. At the same time she gets torn between behavioral patterns, where she does not know whether to conduct herself traditionally or modernized. She is also silenced by the fact that she does not want to anger her benefactor who gives her a psychological nervous condition because her situation does not allow her individuality. She is clever and a hard worker, and when the opportunity arises for her to move to a prestigious school, “(her) uncle and (her) father discussed (her) future” (page 185). Nevertheless she manages to escape this patriarchal rule, only to be faced with another war at Sacred Heart of racism and “Englishness”. Although she faces possible domination, she remembers her mother’s warning and also realizes that her “mother knew a lot of things and (she) had regard for her knowledge” (page 207).

From these five women, who represent many other women, we can see that their daily lives are battles. Tambudzai and Lucia find a way to escape their immediate oppression, but we see that they have not entirely escaped the double oppression because they live in a society where their gender is subjected to that. Tambudzai’s mother and Maiguru are entrapped by this gender subjectivity and tradition because they are seen as mothers and wives, which makes them the possession of males; which goes back to the Mother Africa Trope because their struggle in those roles are not considered by the male characters around them. Nyasha has seen this subjectivity and tries to rebel against it, but in the end it leads to self-hate and a breakdown. While the country is fighting the national war against colonialism, these women are fighting a bigger war against colonialism and patriarchal rule. What I find interesting about their positions is that they are each other’s pillars, that they give each other voices. Nyasha is able to give Tambudzai a voice in her home at the mission; Lucia speaks up for her sister and gives Maiguru a voice in her own home. So this “story is not after all about death” (page 1) but about the war that these five women face head on.

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