Nervous Conditions: A Domino Effect

all oppression creates a state of war

Nervous conditions exist often unrecognized, unacknowledged, or unspoken. A nervous condition is anything that involves a tension between two things; it is no stranger to internal war, as it usually involves a silent battle of self. In Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, Babamakuru wrestles with expectations of being a masculine provider that are placed upon him as he is torn between two worlds: English and Shona. Babamakuru’s nervous condition, has a domino effect in a sense, causing Tambu and Nyasha’s internal conflict with ideas¬† of what it means to be a female in a patriarchal world. Tambu’s emotions are shattered when Babamakuru’s crisis of living into this role of masculinity and control, causes him to call Nyasha a whore. She relates to her cousin, explaining, “I [felt] bad for her and [thought] how dreadfully familiar that scene had been, with Babamukuru condemning Nyasha to whoredom, making her a victim of her femaleness, just as I had felt victimised at home in the days when Nhamo went to school and I grew my maize. The victimization, I saw, was universal. It didn’t depend on poverty, on lack of education or on tradition. It didn’t depend on any of the things I thought it depended on. Men took it everywhere with them . . . I didn’t like . . . the way all conflicts came back to this question of femaleness. Femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness”(Dangarembga 115-6). Babamakuru’s failure to recognize his daughter’s hybridity, in both culture and ideals, begins with his failure to recognize his own hybridity.

The image I chose presents the quote by Simone de Beauvoir, “All oppression creates a state of war.” I believe this is a truth that expresses itself forwardly in Dangarembga’s novel. The danger Babamakuru faces of being oppressed if he doesn’t fit into the English world, causes him to in turn oppress his own household. Cultural tension and clashing expectations ironically turn his intention to support his family financially into further separating him from his family emotionally. Babamakuru, split between two worlds, provides an example for Dangarembga’s audience of how a crisis of culture can transition, or translate, into a crisis of gender; the character shows how the tension of nervous conditions lies not only between rural and urban, black or white, Shona or English, but also between men and women.

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