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Portrayal of Life in the Changing African Society: Critical Analysis of Nervous Conditions

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A film writer and an award winning author Tsitsi Dangarmbga was born in Zimbabwe. Her novels confess a deep message about societal issues concerning much on the racial and gender discrimination witnessed by the black people of Rhodesia before and after independence. Her novels exhibit a clear portrayal of the sufferings of the blacks under the colonizers and the agony and pain undertaken by the female characters due to gender discrimination which was in practice for many years in Rhodesia. Hence the works of Dangarembga serve as a tool to project the sufferings of both the black natives and the female characters of Zimbabwe before and after independence.

Critical Race Theory is a set of principles which stands as a means to show how the victims were brutally treated under the colonizers based on race, color, ethnicity and gender in a colonized society. With the use of this Critical Race Theory the thesis has analyzed the works of Dangarembga by illustrating various situations under which the natives suffer due to race, gender, culture, tradition and ethnicity.

The novel Nervous Conditions presents a broad picture of life in the changing African society. Nervous Conditions is fundamentally a novel deeply connected with the human relationships, and real human beings in the postcolonial society, searching freedom and identity for their existence in the world. It is wholly about the African families and their children and how an African child overcomes all the obstacles both in the family and society to lead a life as per her wish, unlike other African children.

In dealing with some important issues like male dominion, cultural transfusion, moral values of the children and their opposition against their parents, the novel captures the experiences of thousands of parents, children and families in the African continent. The novel’s greatest force lies in its excellent and brilliant crafting of the work with various literary devices. In Nervous Conditions different narrative elements are intermixed skillfully and deeply to deliver the message in a grand manner to the readers. These components do not work distinctly but collectively as a whole in order to carry the importance of Dangarembga’s serious message on racism and gender inequity.

Dangarembga’s work of style takes the readers back to that of the works of Charles Dickens than to that of Chinua Achebe, as her style of writing was similar to that of Charles Dickens. Her writing style separates Nervous Conditions from the majority of the African writers in the postcolonial African literature. Her writing style is termed as baroque and its excessive style stands in contrast to the African most significant writer, Chinua Achebe, but was similar to that of her contemporary Tu-Nehiri Coates.

Dangarembga’s baroque writing style in Nervous Conditions effectively forms her novel. This style allowed the readers to appreciate and picture each and every image of the story visually, by creating rhythm and humor. And also Dangarembga’s use of the baroque style made Nervous Conditions a memorable and noteworthy addition to the postcolonial African novel.

In Dangarembga’s novel we can see the sentences making rhythm. This rhythm can be seen in each and every single line of the novel, because rhythm was highly valued in the African society by most of the writers. And rhythm writing was something that was very special which came naturally to Dangarembga, and this style of writing evoked a feeling of Africanness into the minds of the readers. The use of rhythm also distinguished Nervous Conditions from many western novels and some of which that were set in Africa.

The Book of Not, a sequel to Nervous Conditions is associated with the story of the nation, where it was distinctive and despondent than to its prequel Nervous Conditions which was said to be a book of hope and escape. The Book of Not intelligently projects a young woman’s struggle to attain subjectiveness amidst the continuous and dreadful instances and sufferings of racism, gender inequality and war. It bought an awareness about the postcolonial concern with racial identity and subjectivity.

The Book of Not said clearly that racism is not an event which just happened in the past that has to be mourned, but must be considered as a continuing tradition that has a deep psychological and social effect on the individual even after the colonial powers went out of the nation. Thus The Book of Not conveys an idea that the citizens of the postcolonial nation must look both backward and forward in order to balance the demands of the past with those of the future.

In Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions the author clearly shows the devastating impact of colonization on the native people in Zimbabwe and centralizes on the oppression of females in the society. Dangaremga clearly explains about the female status in a colonial nation. The purpose of Dangarembga choosing a female as the protagonist of her novel is that to show to the world about how women are doubly colonized in the African society and are marginalized both by the patriarchal norms and racism.

Dangarembga demonstrates the sufferings underwent by the women in Rhodesia through the depiction of the character Tambu the protagonist. Tambu suffered in many ways in order to achieve success and triumph in her life. She suffered the terrible influence of colonization and the effects of racial prejudice on one hand, and the suppression by the patriarchal society on other hand which was a serious obstacle for a female in African society. Thus the women were actually doubly colonized in a colonial society.

Though Nhamo and his sister live in the same world, gender discrimination placed Tambu lower than Nhamo in the male dominated Rhodesia. The suppressive power of males can be observed throughout the novel. The majority of females in Nervous Conditions were submissive and respectful to men. But Babamukuru’s intellectual daughter Nyasha was the one who dared to question the supremacy of the male character in the novel. Dangarembga depicts the pathetic situation of females in Zimbabwe throughout her novel. Thus the women who were considered as inferior should tolerate both the aggressive nature of the colonizers as well as the oppressive nature of the male gender on them.

Education plays a significant role in the novels of Dangarembga and it stands as an important status marker for the female characters in her novels. In Dangarembga’s works, the girls were involuntarily sent to school by the family members and it was also assumed by them that it will not profit the girls straightly but would act as an attractive and favorable quality for the girl’s marriage later on. Thus the thesis examines on how Dangarembga’s novels create an awareness on the differences in the colonial educational system as well as on the individual that arise out of the western educational system and the traditional patriarchal society.

The main discussion of this thesis consists of two chapters. In the first chapter an analysis of the gender discrimination as a great obstacle for the women in the colonized Rhodesia and the act of racial prejudice on the black natives by the white colonizers was seen, and the second chapter dealt with the racial discrimination practiced by the colonizers, specially on the black students in the college and the identity crisis which was experienced by the natives.

Thus by analyzing the novels of Dangarembga we find, racism , gender inequity , hegemony , suppression of the female characters, and colonialism at its peak which was continuously practiced by the colonizers and the patriarchal society in the colonial Rhodesia. And this has led to a serious problem by affecting the lives of the Africans in many ways socially, culturally, morally, physically and psychologically without granting them peace in their life. The sufferings of the characters are clearly shown in the novel.

Tambu, the protagonist of the novel represents Dangaremba herself as a child, and the experiences of Tambu in the novel were the real life incidents experienced by Dangarembga when she was a child. In order to depict the sufferings and cruelties done to her and the native blacks she chose writing as a tool. Most significantly the driving force behind her to write the novel was that she did not find any character similar like her in the novels that she has read and the anticipation to see a character like her in literature she wrote this novel.

Thus Dangarembga wanted to portray the pain, misery and cruelty underwent by the blacks especially the females in the African society and how they suffered a lot by the colonizers and the male dominated society, which led to various conflicts socially, culturally, morally, physically and psychologically.

Discrimination on the equality of men and women in the society based on the gender which affects the life of an individual by not allowing them to fulfill their desire and ambition in life is called as gender discrimination. As seen earlier in the chapter this gender discrimination totally affected the life of the female members and degraded them as a human in the African society. The social conflict experienced by the members due to the gender discrimination made them feel low and embarrassed as a female. This discrimination not only affected the women, but also the growing young female minds in the society.

Tambu as a child experienced this discrimination during a Christmas gathering where she was made to kneel before everyone of the family as a tradition which made her feel frustrated by kneeling before the family members. Tambu even showed a strong disgust towards the men in the family when they did not allow the female members to visit the airport in order to welcome Babamukuru.

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This kind of illiterate social practices in the society of Africa affected the female members of the society by making them feel that as a woman their only duty was to serve their family and husbands and to look after their children. Thus this kind of practice is something which should be eradicated not only in the African society but other places where it is practiced. By abolishing this kind of social and traditional practices in the world we can pave way for a better and successful way for the women in the society by allowing them to do as they wish for their happy and better life.

The next social aspect that was exercised in the African society was that female child was not permitted to get education and it only preferred a male child to go to school. This was practiced because the parents knew that the male child belongs to them till his death even after his marriage, and also had a belief that if he gets education he will get a good job and will earn money. The money which he earns will be given to the parents and they will be benefited. But if they send a female child to school they know that it will not benefit them as, after their marriage every girl belongs to their husbands and it will only benefit them.

So this was a belief and idea in the minds of the male gender which allowed them not to send the female child to school. This kind of practice is still exercised in many parts of the world especially in the rural areas who are unaware about anything but still practicing the age old customs. This kind of thought must be first removed from the minds of the male gender and an awareness must be created on the advantages of the education to both the gender. Thus if a man is educated, only he will be benefited and if a woman is educated, her whole family will be educated and benefited. Hence the age old tradition and social practices must be abolished and every girl child must be allowed to go to school to get educated for the betterment of the family and the society.

Nyasha, the child of Babamukuru was affected badly both physically and psychologically due to the cultural practices that were prevalent in the society. Nyasha, who was bought up within an English culture, loved to enjoy with her colleagues and do as her wish. This was considered a big problem for Babmukuru as generally girl child was said to act according to the will of her parents and be submissive according to the African culture.

One day Tambu and Nyasha were invited for a Christmas party in the mission school and after the party Nyasha spent some time with her boy colleagues and came late to home. This was considered as an immoral act by Babamukuru and so he abused her very badly which affected Nyasha physically and psychologically. Though it was a custom that a girl child should not be out in late night with boys, Nyasha did not commit any sin and as the colleagues of her class she just spent some time enjoying with them. Without any investigation beating her and abusing her with bad words is actually unfair on the part of Babamukuru and that too hearing those words from her own father’s mouth shattered Nyasha wholly leading to various problems which affected the rest of her life.

Maiguru and Mainini are the female characters who suffered psychologically but never showed them out. As senior citizens they were used to the male oppression on them by their husbands and remained silent and accepted whatever their husbands say. Maiguru, though an educated woman in the family always needed the support of her husband and so remained silent without arguing anything and sacrificed her wishes. Thus this adherence and obedience to the husbands is not good. Each of them must consider them as equals and must try to understand each other in order to lead a happy life and there should not be dominant and submissive characters in the family.

Thus the gender discrimination that was practiced in the society affected the female characters socially, morally, culturally, physically and psychologically. This gender distinction must be totally abolished and there must be equity practiced among the genders without any discrimination to lead a peaceful life without sufferings, affliction and pain in the society.

Racial discrimination is another issue that is been seriously discussed in the previous chapter. Dangarembga mainly wanted to speak about the racial prejudices that were followed in her society when she was small as a black native. The struggle, sufferings and the humiliating moments as a young child in the African society made her write the novel in order to portray the helpless situation underwent by the black natives to the whole world.

In both the novels there are many black victims who suffered a lot on the base of their skin color. We can also see the government who does not support the black natives and dehumanizes them by saying that seven was the age for the African students to go to school as, only after that age they will be intellectually developed in order to learn and read. This was totally unfair which degraded their image and capacity of the African students.

We can also see how the African students in the Sacred heart college were dumped into one single dormitory being separated from the white students. The practice of racism is seen clearly by the activities done by the institution, by separating the black students away from the white students. This was an unmannerly behavior and attitude shown by the institution towards the students of the African dormitory.

The matron Miss. Plato did not like the students in the African dormitory and the only reason for her not liking the students was that they belonged to a different race. She was always interested in finding fault with the black students and was happy when they were caught in any mishaps. Likewise Sr. Emmanuel also used to dehumanize them when they were caught for any mistake done by them.

The most heart rendering incident that happened to Tambu was that, when she entered into the white- only toilets and used the toilet for the first time she was caught in front of everybody and was put to shame by Miss. Plato and Sr. Emmanuel for using the toilet. This was the most embarrassing moment for Tambu in her life and she also felt that she should not aim for what she could not achieve. Because of the racial difference Tambu was put to disgrace by the white members of the college. Hence we can see from this incident how the racial conflict was to its pinnacle in the colonial Rhodesia which made the black students feel agonized and miserable by the activities of the white race.

The touching of the white students by the black students was considered an error in the colonial society and so each and every second the black students were conscious and scared whether without knowing they may touch the white students, which may lead to serious consequences. We can also see how the white students and Sr. Emmanuel make jokes about the skin color of the black students which always caused a mental discomfort to the black students.

Dangarembga also clearly shows how the black students were not recognized for their success and totally isolated from the name and fame they must receive. In the Sacred heart college, the results for the O- level was announced and Tambu was eagerly waiting to know her result. As her expectation she got good marks in the examination. And when the award for the best O- level was given, it was given to Tracey the white student. It was a shock for Tambu as Tracey’s results when compared to Tambu was not good and Tambu was in confusion about how Tracey would receive the award for the best O- level. So she asked to Sr. Emmanuel and the answer given by the sister could not be accepted by anyone.

Sr. Emmanuel said that the award was given to a student who was an all-rounder in everything in the college. By the answer said by the Sister Tambu found out the reason about why she was not awarded the O-level trophy. The reason was that she was a black student and the sister in charge does not want to give the trophy to a black student and so said a silly reason that the award was given to an all-rounder and Tambu was not an all- rounder.

Again Tambu encounters the same problem in her workplace, where she was a copy editor at Steers, D’ Arcy, and MacPedius Advertising Agency. Tambu was the main reason for the success of the agency that year. She worked hard for the success of the agency. But her hard work was in vain, she was not recognized for her success instead another person took the name and fame of Tambu as his own. Tambu fed up with this incident resigned her job and was searching for a new future in the independent Zimbabwe.

Thus we can see how the racist activities prevailing in the society does not allow anybody to be recognized for what they have achieved nor lead a happy life. In the racist world the black race was considered as something which was corruptive and venomous and they were totally isolated from the society. This seclusion always made them feel discouraged and dejected. As a black race they were not recognized and given a status in the society. Even when they were capable of achieving something this racist society with their norms totally humiliate and degrade them by which they get depressed and spiritless.

Thus Dangarembga’s novels stand as an epitome of success in the Zimbabwean society with the major ideas of race, hegemony, patriarchy, gender discrimination and colonization. Her main purpose to write the novel was to make the world know about the racist activities which was followed in the colonial Rhodesia and the sufferings undertaken by the black Africans in Rhodesia. Her novels also clearly represent how the female members of the African society suffered under the male domain.

Thus the sufferings underwent by the women of Rhodesia was innumerable. They were subjected to double colonization that is they suffered under both the dominating patriarchal society and the western colonizers. Thus Dangarembga’s novels clearly stand as a depiction of the sufferings of the black natives both by the male dominion power and the racist colonizers. Hence the thesis stands as an illustration which evidently proved the sufferings of the black natives as the result of race and gender discrimination practiced in the colonial society.

Dangarembga wants to get rid of this racial and gender discrimination in the society which is been followed as an age old tradition by many people and society as a whole. Thus a total racial and gender free world will help to create a better society with love and laughter. The novels can be further examined on various perspectives like colonial modernism, cultural colonialism, realism and transculturation for further study.

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Portrayal of Life in the Changing African Society: Critical Analysis of Nervous Conditions. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-life-in-the-changing-african-society-critical-analysis-of-nervous-conditions/
“Portrayal of Life in the Changing African Society: Critical Analysis of Nervous Conditions.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-life-in-the-changing-african-society-critical-analysis-of-nervous-conditions/
Portrayal of Life in the Changing African Society: Critical Analysis of Nervous Conditions. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-life-in-the-changing-african-society-critical-analysis-of-nervous-conditions/> [Accessed 4 Feb. 2023].
Portrayal of Life in the Changing African Society: Critical Analysis of Nervous Conditions [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-life-in-the-changing-african-society-critical-analysis-of-nervous-conditions/
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