Nervous Conditions

Nervous Conditions Study Guide

Nervous Conditions is a partially autobiographical novel by Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga that takes place in Rhodesia in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It focuses on the themes of race, class, and gender through the eyes of Tambu, the young female protagonist. The title references Jean Paul Sartre's introduction to Frantz Fanon's 1963 book The Wretched of the Earth, in which he writes, "the status of 'native' is a nervous condition introduced and maintained by the settler among the colonized people with their consent." Dangarembga expands Fanon's exploration of African people oppressed by a colonial regime by incorporating the gender-specific role of black women, who are arguably doubly oppressed. The women in Dangarembga's novel grapple with "nervous conditions" borne from years of colonialism as well as the continued oppression under the Shona power system. The theme of remembrance permeates the novel, especially in the case of Tambu's grandmother, who teaches Tambu about the history of women's oppression in Zimbabwe. These "history lessons," which provide the basis for Tambu's identity, would never appear in a colonial textbook - much like Dangarembga's unique narrative.

Published in 1988, Nervous Conditions is a commentary on the continued suppression of female voices in Zimbabwe. When Robert Mugabe's nationalist Zimbabwe African National Union party (ZANU) was elected in 1980, more than fifty percent of the votes were cast by women. However, the few female representatives in parliament were appointed figure-heads with little actual power. In 1987, women were excluded from the Unity Accord negotiated between ZANU and ZAPU. Tsitsi Dangarembga's novel could not have come at a more opportune time. Nervous Conditions has garnered acclaim from important literary figures like Alice Walker and Doris Lessing, who wrote, "This is the novel we have all been waiting for... it will become a classic" (Thien). Many literary scholars consider Nervous Conditions to be one of the most important African novels of the 20th Century.