Nervous Conditions

Two Tambus: The Fundamental Narrative Structure of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions

Narrative structure is often one of the most crucial and strategic rhetorical elements of a work of literature. This is particularly true when the narrator is essential to understanding the themes and purposes of the text itself, such as the personal story of a specific character or group. Tsitsi Dangarembga’s striking novel Nervous Conditions represents this strategy wonderfully. Dangarembga’s narrative structure focuses on the personal journey of the narrator, Tambudzai, yet allows her to reveal crucial insights into the socio-political situations in which the journey takes place.

An understanding of the narrative structure begins by inspecting the role and character of the narrator herself, as well as the setting in which the narration takes place. The novel is set in Rhodesia, a pre-colonial African environment that housed a tumultuous mixture of English and Shona cultures, and suffered a multitude of problems stemming from colonization. Tambudzai was subject to opposition in every direction: the two cultures clashed both externally, as the English attempted to assimilate the Shona societies into Western thought, and internally, as the women struggled to maintain their identities in the rigid patriarchal societies. The...

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