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The Book of Not and Nervous Conditions: Analytical Essay

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This essay gives a brief summary of the novel The Book of Not and how the black Africans were treated badly at the hands of the whites by applying the Critical Race Theory. Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel The Book of Not was published eighteen years after Nervous Conditions. It is a sequel to the story Nervous Conditions. It is a refined, skillful, competent and lyrical novel which deals with multifarious aspects specifically those of race, during the historical struggle for independence in Zimbabwe. It addresses about the effects of racism, imperialism, gender inequity during the destructive transfiguration from white- minority rule in Rhodesia in the 1970’s to the independent Zimbabwe in the 1980’s.

The Book of Not is a piece of the recent flourishing novel of Zimbabwean women’s writing, which is deeply involved with the war of liberation and its after efforts. Dangarembga creatively applies various devices like irony, humor and farce to present the absurdities of racism in the colonial society, by bringing into visibility what was unspeakable in the post colonial Zimbabwe. Her use of fiction to say clearly about the Rhodesian legacy of colonialism and racism is substantial.

The Book of Not, which is a sequel to Nervous Conditions, picks up where Nervous Conditions ends. It is narrated by Tambu as an adult storyteller who reminisces the thoughts and experiences of the younger Tambu. It continues the story of the protagonist Tambu which was began as a predecessor to this sequel. Her follow-up to Nervous Conditions is set against the backdrop of the liberation war and the first years of Independence in Zimbabwe.

The book spans Tambu’s high school days at the cusp of independence when the liberation war was at its vertex. Tambu is one among the few black girls who was chosen to attend the Sacred Heart College. The novel presents the story of Tambu from the young ladies College of Sacred Heart, where most of the novel is situated and later a position in the Advertising Agency set against the backdrop of the colonial Rhodesia.

The story proceeds further to describe the struggle underwent by Tambu in order to achieve a productive, fruitful and independent life immediately after Zimbabwe’s independence, and portrays her as an individual who is been obsessed with recognition and self- achievement. As Tambu starts her education in the school, she believes that she should be one of the best, and motivates herself by saying the words that, the average will not apply to her and she must be absolutely outstanding or nothing.

In The Book of Not Tambu narrates the story of her high school years during the war of liberation and her struggle to make an independent life for herself after the national independence. Tambu also recollects her ambitious optimism about her desires in the initial years when she joined the school. Her desire was always positive, and her only motive was to achieve, achieve, and achieve some more.

The novel opens with a scene where, her mother, Mai, takes Tambu and her younger siblings to a morari. Morari is a political gathering which aimed to raise support for the freedom fighters and instill loyalty among the villagers. Before going to the morari, Tambu anxiously walks around the homestead analyzing old and rusted objects that could be breaked and which cannot be fixed because of the force of wholeness has been abdicated. This hopelessness of repair figuratively signifies what lies ahead for her and the nation, as the war allowed violence and atrocities to happen which stood as a common factor. Tambu also senses her mother’s aversion toward her uncle, Babamukuru, the head of the family and Tambu’s well-wisher. Mai, who was skeptical about the Englishness and grieving for the loss of her son, was extremely displeased about Babamukuru when he allowed Tambu to attend the Sacred Heart. Tambu, like her uncle and aunt desires to escape from her homestead. And even though Tambu disregards her mother’s lack of ambition, her mother has a hold over Tambu so that she may not find ways to escape from the homestead.

On their way to the meeting Tambu’s mother warns the children not to say anything and should answer as everyone does or should remain silent. At the rally her uncle was beaten by the villagers for being a sell- out. Everybody was around him just standing and watching but did nothing to help him and Mai was totally happy seeing this and was breathing in catches of contentment. In an attempt to distance herself and remain safe, Tambu shuts down her senses by trying not to look at anything that is happening around her so that when she returns to school she will not make the mistake of saying that she has seen this or that and also tried not to hear any of the words so she will never repeat the words of the war anymore.

The beating of her uncle was stopped only by another destructive event. Tambu’s younger sister Netsai, who was in love with a comrade joined the guerrilla war and stepped on a landmine. When she stepped there was an explosion in the landmine and Netsai’s leg spun up, up, up in the sky. Tambu registered the explosion in the slow motion of traumatic time. As the older sibling of the family, she felt that she should do something, but she was overwhelmed and astounded by the unexpected events. Then they took Netsai in a car to the hospital. On their way, while passing through the rich white suburbs near the college, Tambu noticed the economic and material discrepancy in the activities of the white residents and black workers.

When Tambu returned to school after the morari, she was continuously pursued by traumatic flashbacks, and for her, the morari recalled the European images of Africans like, the cavemen dragging their women where they wanted them, by their hair and hands. Tambu was at a convulsion to differentiate her from European discourses of African state of nature, which she often related with the village and her mother. Yet despite her intentions, she and her dorm mate, Ntombi, frequently came to blows, hurting and scratching each other, even though they were aware of the risk of authorizing the European fantasies of racial difference.

Tambu always aspired to be recognized by the Europeans and the Africans as a person of value. At first, she aimed to achieve the honor roll in the Sacred Heart College. In order to achieve the honor roll she devised various strategies like memorization and mimicry to recollect each and every word said by the teacher and as a result she even scored high marks in her second year. She next set within herself the desire of achieving the silver cup for the best O- level results, which will be displayed in the school trophy cabinet.

In a quest to achieve her goal, she studied alone in a secret place rather than joining her dorm mates, as they often danced to African music without studying. While Tambu was obsessively preparing for the O-level exams, a terrific news came that, the parents of the Rhodesian twins at the school were brutishly murdered by the freedom fighters. In the assembly, the headmistress handed the newspapers to the students with the pictures of the girl’s slain father so that they may see it, and also announced that their mother died shortly thereafter.

This incident caused Tambu and the other black students a bit uncomfortable. The headmistress failed to confess the white-minority rule and the atrocities committed on the black victims by the white soldiers and the civilians, and so legitimatized the media’s positioning of black Africans as assassins of terrorism.

To distance herself from the terrorists, Tambu positioned herself with the white students, willing to knit for the Rhodesian troops. On Friday nights she used to have a ride into the town with the white girls in the bus, while they sang the song that the land belongs to Rhodesians. After this incident, she began to betray her race and even her relationship with the dorm mates became worse. Ntombi was angry on Tambu for being behaving in a rude manner with the dorm mates. And so one day, Ntombi snatched Tambu’s knitting needles from the cupboard, calling her a betrayer, and even accused her for putting them all at risk by joining hands with the white students.

When the O- level results were announced, Tambu comes first and Ntombi also excels, which helped them to restore their estranged relationship. But, Tambu encountered a devastating blow, when she learnt that the silver cup will be rewarded to Tracey, who excelled in sport as well as academics. After this crushing declaration, Ntombi offers to go with Tambu to question Sister Emmanuel’s decision. The denial of the trophy and the loss of recognition which she desired sank her into depression.

Yet Tambu frightfully wanted to speak up for herself. One day Sister Emmanuel calls the inmates of the African dormitory to inform them about the quotas and also that the government has asked the college to be cautious about the African students they have. Tambu, thoughtful of her one legged sister in the village panics about what the security forces might do if they find about her sister. Despite her anxiety about why she was not awarded the trophy she was even more aggravated by the manner Sister Emmanuel discussed the issue of quotas by making fun about their flesh.

Tambu’s preparation for the A- level went very badly. As the war intensified, the science teacher from Europe did not come to teach the students, so the students studying science subjects were transported to a segregated boy’s school from which Tambu was excluded. She was left to study on her own without a teacher. Tambu’s expulsion prompted her to question her own identity. She even fantasized about refusing to knit for the Rhodesian troops in revenge for her exclusion, but she did not have the courage to take such a decisive step.

Ntombi came to Tambu’s room one evening and Tambu showed off her by quoting Shakespeare. When Ntombi put her head on the desk wailing, Tambu mistakenly thought that she was laughing at her. As Tambu continued her recitation, Ntombi cried out to Tambu about the terrifying details of the vicious murder of her infant cousin by the Rhodesian soldiers. Although Tambu shared Ntombi’s grief and outrage, she was totally depressed in her own desolation, so she was unable to respond empathically.

After this encounter she succumbed to a strange behavior, convulsion and sobbing whenever she looked at the pine and wattle plantations which reminded her of Netsai. Her body affirmed the truth that she was not yet conscious of, that the colonial education system has not only separated her from herself and her community but also has led to ruin, destruction and despair as a result of colonialism and the war of liberation.

After independence Tambu takes a series of dispiriting jobs, eventually working as a copy editor in an Advertising Agency in Harare. Her associate Dick, supported by her old schoolmate Tracey, was an executive at the agency and he took the honor of Tambu’s creative work under the acting that she merely edited his copy rather than composing it. When he invited her for coffee, she anticipated the happiness she would feel when he congratulated her on a brilliant ad. Imagining that she and Dick will make a captivating new Zimbabwean couple, she recalled as if people gazing at them and nurturing their smiles like hope at the reconciliatory, post- independence harmony.

This mixed race coupling was in reality a repetition of the old colonial order in which the black woman was complicit with the white man in her oppression. Dick told Tambu that the boss loved her Afro- Shrine copy, but has asked him to present it to the client. Unable to break out of her habit of internalizing failure, she tried to convince herself by saying that the act that put Dick’s name to her work must be good for everyone, including herself as she had earlier justified Sister Emmanuel’s decision to award the trophy to Tracey.

Depressed by her lack of success to achieve the brilliant future of which she dreamt, Tambu decides to move into better accommodations. She moved to the Twiss hostel, an elegant old colonial building for single girls. The hostel though had only few black residents reflected the humiliations she experienced at Sacred Heart. In the dining room, discrimination was unofficially practiced and Tambu has to calculate when to arrive and where to sit so as not to appear unique. After resigning her job as the copy editor, Tambu was in a crisis about what she was going to do and whether there will be a way to go to the agency again.

Thus Tambu was in a confusion about where to stay after resigning the job and also thought that there is no use in staying in the Twiss hostel anymore without a job. She also thought that she cannot go and stay with her relatives in the mission anymore as Babamukuru has said that he will not provide anything to help her and she could not even go back to the homestead as Netsai, her younger sister was suffering there with a single limb.

Another thought of Tambu was that when she goes to the homestead her mother Mai would laugh at her as, she went to study outside opposing the whole family without the willingness of her mother and now when she goes back there without any success her mother would laugh and make fun of her. Thus the novel ends by questioning what the future holds for the new Zimbabweans.

Critical race theory is a theoretical mode which examines about the appearance of race and racism in a society. It attempts to understand how the victims of racism are being affected. Thus the novel The Book of Not can be analyzed using the Critical Race Theory, as many racist activities is been seen in this novel mostly between the whites and the black students in the college. The exploitation and oppression experienced by the African characters due to the racial inequality is clearly analyzed according to the Critical Race Theory. Here are a few instances from the novel which depicts about racism, racial segregation, racial discrimination, racial inequality and racial prejudice.

Fanon’s words insist that sin is black and virtue is white. Accurately these words echo the sense of guilt and terror Tambu felt of being black in a racist world. Thus Tambu desires for the other, a desire that transforms to a hatred of herself and anything that reminds her of her blackness, her skin, her people, her culture, her profession and her mind. This psychological battle that she encounters approves the reader to be compassionate with her, despite the selfish and outrageous projection of the whites.

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Dangarembga’s investigation of racism discloses self- evident truths about the colonial experience. But these seem silly in the plight of Tambu’s various family members. In considering primarily on the whites racist engagement with black people, Dangarembga fails an opportunity to tell the darker story of the effect of the war on Tambu’s family. The two most significant characters who are absent in the sequel are Nyasha and Lucia. Lucia was the one who denied having her sexual needs as the concern of the men of the household. The other character is Nyasha whose disobedience ended her with debilitating bulimia. These two characters played the most memorable part in Nervous Conditions who are not present in its sequel.

The Sacred Heart College is said to be a humane, kind and benevolent place run by nuns. But still there were evidences of racism being prevalent, where there were white spaces at the school which the black girls cannot occupy, such as the whites- only toilet. Racial discrimination is also apparent in the fact that all the African students, despite of their form levels, were confined to one dormitory. This racial segregation is also evident from the daily insults the black girls encounter from Bougainvillea, one of the white students.

The events of racial prejudice are exhibited in the novel in most of the places where the blacks were totally rejected and not recognized for their hard work. We can find this when Tracey the white student, accomplishes the award for the best results at O- level even though she doesn’t score the required marks needed. When asked about this cruelty done to Tambu, the justification given by the Sister in charge was that every year the award will be given to the all- rounder of the college. So, as Tracey was an all-rounder the award was rightly given to her. This was not accepted by Tambu as a reason but as a black girl she could not do anything and just accepted everything. The black girls in the college were even prohibited for using their vernacular language within the school.

Most significantly, racial segregation is reflected when touching between the races was strictly forbidden at the school and when it occurred, it was considered abnormal. The awareness of this racial prejudice is what makes the African girls fear about touching their white counterparts in the corridors, at the assembly line and while they passed food to each other in the dining hall. Any kind of touch between the races was therefore translated into pain and humiliation.

Tambu brings out the terror the black girls felt dealing with their white counter parts. This terrifying psychological exposure to racism contributes to the peeling away of her sense of self and a subsequent desire to mimic what her mind feels as a superior self. Unfortunately, this mental deformity implodes into a sense of not being and certainty in the inferiority of her race.

The Book of Not brings together the scenes of humiliation of racism in everyday colonial life. The racist discrimination takes place in the school dining hall where Tambu and Ntombi share a table with their white classmates. While speaking to Tracey, Bougainvillea stares fetishistically at the hands of the black girls and says to Tracey to look at their amazing fingers and also makes fun that its not just they two but, all of them have the same. They even had a look on those amazing fingers by raising their eyebrows with a practiced investigatory motion as they inclined their head forward. Thus Bougainvilla dehumanizes Tambu and Ntombi by treating them as samples to be inspected and classified.

The irrationality of the relations between the black and white students is further dramatized through the transaction involving Nesquik, a luxury shipped from South Africa which only the white girls could afford to buy. After Bougainvillea inspects their hands, Ntombi takes advantage of their acquaintance and asks if she can have some of her Nesquik. Tambu was on a convulsion, wondering whether Ntombi will touch Bougainvillea’s Nesquik, and whether the white girls will regard the Nesquik as contaminated after she touched it.

Bougainvillea relieves the suspense by spooning some of the chocolate into Ntombi’s glass. Bougainvillea also offers Tambu the Nesquik. But Tambu, who was mentally caught up with the issue of dignity, was trapped in a dilemma of her own, whether to consume it or not and why Bougainvillea wanted her to have it and whether can she be trusted etc, various questions arises in her mind and she was in a total confusion.

The racial inequality was again reinforced by the way in which the waitresses served the European and African students. When serving the former the waitresses move fluidly, but they bang it down with a jut of the chin and drops as though crushing a thing down on disgusting crawling objects when they set a jug or a plate before Ntombi or Tambu. Tambu always observed that when this happens, Ntombi’s cheeks begin to sag and her bones melt like chocolate left out in the sun. Thus the African students were being embarrassed by this way.

Another racist activity practiced inside the college was that the black girls were not allowed to touch the white girls. In the college each and every student should stand in their own form for the assembly. Bougainvillea was the leader and Tracey took the place behind Bougainvillea. Tracey did not mind touching black girls and so, Tambu always preferred to stand behind her. Due to this fear of touching anybody Tambu used to pray to God before Sister appears for the assembly so that Ntombi might come quickly from the dormitories and stand behind her so that she may not touch anybody. This way each and every day they spent a lot of time consumed by this kind of fear and terror. It was all demeaning and the horror of it worried them so much.

The African dormitory once again for the third time captured the attention of the headmistress. The reason behind this was that again they caused a clog up of the college’s sewerage system. So the entire drainage must be over hauled. The headmistress was angry on the African dormitory because, instead of repeated warning about the various consequences of their actions, the young ladies in that dormitory throwed their used feminine hygiene pads into their toilet.

Most significantly the students in the dormitory were treated as illiterate with unpolished behavior. Thus the Sister insults them only because they belonged to the black race by saying that the girls in the dormitory may not be aware of the reasons why such articles should not be deposited in toilet bowls, and this was the reason for which they were brought to the college, so that they may polish their behavior.

Thus again she repeats to the African dormitory about the significance of the sewerage system, that the sewerage system is expensive and it should not be clogged up with their personal hygiene items. She concluded saying that they are causing the whole school to a great expense that they should not be carrying at that moment. Thus the sister was ill-tempered on the African dormitory because of their behavior.

Another incident where Tambu was ashamed before everyone was in the toilet. The junior hostel toilets had swing doors. It was for the first time Tambu was in those toilets. It was considered a sanctified place and there were rows of showers with shiny curtains, bathtubs that sparkled like mother of pearl in pale coral colors, along one wall where plump- bellied washbasins were so deep as to be splash proof, and the smell of jasmine permeated from everything.

Soon, Tambu pulled the door to a cubicle violently behind her in a hurry to make sure that she was not seen by a white girl. She felt a shock of triumph as she exposed her buttocks, imagining all the white girls doing the same. But she felt guilty of having a desire above her station; she was where she was not supposed to be. She was breaking the law. When she was inside the toilet, suddenly she heard a voice from the matron that she has seen her and she cried at her that she is not meant to sit in that toilet and asked her to open the door.

Deidre, Barbara and all the girls who came to the ablution block heard and soon the brown school sandals amassed around her. Miss. Plato ordered again to open the door. Tambu was intended to clean the toilet bowl but could not do and so opened the door. When she emerged out of the toilet the white girls called her as the vorter and also said that she has not flushed. So again Tambu entered the cubicle and performed the required operation and returned unable to look at anyone. She was ashamed and she herself could not believe that how she behaved in such a silly fashion which resulted in her being caught before the English girls.

Because of this, the black mark entered against her name. Thus Tambu was been forced out of the toilet which was only meant for the white students. When she was caught and admonished for using the white- only toilet, she madly blamed it all on the fact of blackness and transferred her self- hatred into anger at her fellow blacks.

There is an instance we can see where the Sister degrades the African dorms while talking to them regarding the quotas , by making jokes about their flesh and how some of the people thought that it was all lumped as one, their flesh was piled together. The worst part was that their opinion was not asked regarding the audience formality. One evening the juniors were taking their milk and biscuits in the dining room and it was Marie biscuits and butter shortbread, both dry. Patience in a hurry took the biscuits kept for the juniors. Seeing this Miss. Plato came hurrying and cried furiously to Patience, that she should feel guilty for this act of taking the food kept for the young ones.

The examination progressed and everybody was gathered to know the O-level results. The headmistress announced the examination results. Tambu was eagerly waiting for the announcement that the award for the best O- level results will be awarded to her. Sister announced the marks of Tracey and she was jumping up and down hugging Bougainvillea as she got six ones. Then Sister Emmanuel congratulated her. When Tambu’s results were announced Tracey was angry as Tambu scored seven ones and one two.

After announcing everybody’s marks Sister Emmanuel approached the matter for which Tambu was waiting with uncontainable excitement. Sister announced that the award for the best O- level results for the year will be awarded to a very deserving and hard working young lady who is also a champion swimmer. Now the O- level trophy was awarded to Tracey Stevenson. Though Tracey doesn’t deserve the O- level trophy it was given to her and this was not accepted by Tambu and her breath was short and annoyed, stomach tightened half in anticipation and half in shock.

It was two months into the holiday and the letter arrived with the result slip. On the result slip there were two d’s and one e, as well as nothing more than an O- level pass in mathematics. Hearing this Babamukuru was furious and said that Tambu is a great disappointment, and advised Tambu that education is a greatest commodity and she has simply wasted it.

Babamukuru also said that Tambu can do anything as she wish but on a condition that he will not provide anything to help her. Babamukuru also warned Tambu that she cannot expect to earn much as she does not have a degree and has only three A – levels and even if she is qualified for university with what she have she will not be qualified for a decent profession. These words were strange for Tambu as she has never heard Babmukuru speak this way.

Thus Tambu slunk away from the mission a few weeks after acquiring the disastrous results. Tambu departed to take up a series of jobs, secured from Babamukuru’s contacts in education as a clerk in one establishment, a temporary teacher of the dullest, most junior grade in another. Tambu was fully dispirited, traumatized and discouraged with these jobs. Finally she obtained a job as a copywriter at Steers, D’ Arcy, and MacPedius Advertising Agency where she was lowly and only marginally better paid.

Here she was happier as she thought that she will be receiving the award for that year, because she has stood as the pillar for the success of the agency and also was contented and pleased that she has been recognized as a result of her own resources. So she was happier and satisfied than the first occasion of indescribable joy, when she left her homestead to live with Babamukuru at the mission, nor on the second occasion of her entry into Sacred Heart, nor on the third occasion when she read the slip of paper which confirmed that she had obtained the best O-Level results in the convent.

Mr. Steers greeted all his staffs for the party and mentioned that the success of the year’s advertising awards was accrued as a result of the Afro- Shine campaign taking the golden cock in print, radio and television and almost in every category it entered. And so Mr. Steers the managing director announced that the two awards of the inaugural year for the copywriter and visual artist will be given to Dick Lawson and Chris De Souza.

It was a shocking news for Tambu as she was eagerly waiting to receive the award. She was totally smashed when she heard that the award will be given to dick and Chris De Souza, as the total effort for the advertising agency’s success was made only by Tambu and her ideas. She was totally fed up and resigned her job. Thus as a Zimbabwean black girl, Tambu was not recognized even for the hard work which was done by her.

Hence Tsitsi Dangarembga through this novel clearly portrays bow the African girls are been treated without self respect, identity and humanity by the white majority people. Thus this chapter ascertains about how the blacks were been treated in an inhuman manner by the whites due to the racial discrimination that prevailed in the minds of the white people. The following chapter gives a summary of the first three chapters, the authors’ style, themes and scope for further research.

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