Manifestation of Colonialism in Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1385 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Apr 21, 2022

Words: 1385|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Apr 21, 2022

How is it possible to advocate nationalism when for the sake of competition and economic independence, certain concessions to western traditions must be made? A colonised Rhodesia, plagued with a reliance on Anglocentric morals, is where Tsitsi Dangarembga sets her novel “Nervous Conditions.” A close reading through a post-colonial lense reveals that in the white man’s efforts to exert control over Rhodesian society, the identity/culture of the African has been compromised; a consequence of the victimization of the Shona language, ‘white man’s burden’, and the educational/cultural hybrid.

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Many post-colonial critics argue that language is a fundamental site of struggle for post colonial discourse as the colonial process stems from language. Rhodesia itself, named after Cecil Rhodes, insinuates how the colonisers, ‘understand’ the colonised area. This intune hands them linguistic control over it thus enabling them to exert their power. Tsitsi utilizes Nhamo - Tambu’s older brother - to convey his deliberate choice to abdicate the Shona language and speak only in English as a method of imposing his superiority onto his family. Upon arriving home from the white missionary school, it is clear that Nhamo is a victim of conditioning. His embarrassment towards his mother tongue is a manifestation of his desire to be eurocentric. The sour victimization of the Shona language also conducts social discourse within Tambus family. Her mother “wanted to talk to” Nhamo, however the language of the colonisers became an obstacle for the once fruitful relationship between a mother and son. Alternatively, Nhamo’s own father, Jeremiah, instigates his behaviour by marking it as the “first step to his families emancipation”. The less Rhodesian Nhamo becomes the more his ‘Father was convinced he was being educated”. Though in good will, Jeremiah’s belief that economic freedom lies in embracing the language of the colonisers, indicates how everyone, including the colonised, consciously or subconsciously contributes to the victimisation of the Shona language by labelling the English language as the only doorway to freedom.

Following this notion of cultural disenfranchisement, Dangarembga utilises the character Nyasha to indicate the ironic lack of identity in the cultural/educational hybrid. Nyasha, Tambu’s cousin and daughter of the successful Babamukuru, alongside her family has been to England - the house of the colonisers - where she witnesses their fashion trends and their beauty standards. Upon arriving home these supposedly English traits have been adopted by her and on the surface have the potential to expand her identity/culture. Instead, she faces a culture shock where she devastatingly exclaims “I am not one of them but I'm not one of you.” This cultural disorientation perhaps results in Nyasha’s “anorexia” which ironically provides her with order to her disorientated life. Interestingly, as Rhodesia is NOT prominent in mental diseases in women of colour, Anorexia is a western influence (further certified when all the doctors agreed “Africans did not suffer”. Consequently, ‘hunger and food insecurity is seen as a product of colonisation in Africa’. Nyasha is detached from her Rhodesian culture by means of her English lifestyle ie. “tiny little dress”, yet she is also alienated from western society by means of colour and nation of origin. On the surface she fits the narrative of the “man of two worlds theory” however upon further observation, Nyasha essentially belongs to no ’world’. The control and manipulation of the colonial education system successfully conditions Nyasha into a ‘Nervous Condition’. Alternatively, it is through colonisation a seed is planted for a young impressionable teen to have the leisure to contemplate a sense of identity and embark on a remarkable exploration of her own morals and ethics that paves the way for her to prosper and obtain this ‘success’ that everyone in the novel desperately hunts.

Another manifestation of colonialism in Nervous Conditions is the concept of the ‘white man's burden’- a term theorised by Rudyard Kipling- and was used to morally justify imperialism. The theory pledged that ‘white people are superior to other people and are therefore responsible for them..’ As part of the three C’s to colonisation, Christianity was implemented in Rhodesia as a means of justification to the British for their colonisation. ‘For they were holy’, Tambu accepted the white missionaries as intrinsically superiority and ‘treated’ them ‘as minor deities’ Rudyard's poem denounced the religious practices of Africans who themselves begin to desert ‘witchdoctors’ the ‘sacrificial ox’, ‘mediums’ all ancient traditions of removing evil. These religious practices were perceived as barbaric to the coloniser and were transmuted into superior practices ie Christianity as ‘the light of heaven shines upon us’ -Flickinger. This is a deliberate method of power exertion over the Rhodesian society: by converting the nation, it is much easier for European imperialists/colonisers to exploit the indigenous Africans. As powerfully stated by Nyasha, “it’s bad enough when a country gets colonised but when the people do, that's really the end.” Masked as the saviour to Africa’s savagery coupled with the ‘matchless’ Christianity, the white missionaries/British were able to justify their efforts to civilize the ‘Dark continent’. Dangarembga utilises Minimi- Tambu’s mother - who “suffered from being black...and uneducated” as a harsh symbolism of Africa’s inglorious past. To which the British ‘liberate’ her through the Europeanisation of her children. However, due to her barbaric uneducated nature she is incapable of gratitude; white colonialist saw it as their moral duty to reform the African similar to Minimi who had not yet been conditioned.

Furthermore, another strong element of colonisation in Dangarembga's novel nervous condition is the contrasts in how the colonised experience literature; indicated through their take on cultural reading and understanding (taken from Heroic Ethnocentrism). For instance, the traditional African does not partake in kissing or foreplay. Therefore when reading erotic western texts intimacy regarding kissing is perhaps alien to the African. As “ it is not natural at all”, kissing can be regarded as a social construct within western society and a product of colonisation as it is a western import. The inquiry is thus posed as to whether Tsiti rejects the colonial import of kissing. The answer to this lies in the absence of kissing or even basic intimacy within eg. Jeremiah and Maininis marriage. The closest we get to the prevail of love nevermind sexual innuendos is Maigurus loving nickname for her husband ‘Daddy-sweet’ or ‘Daddy-pie’. The absence of kissing or any sexual tension in the novel reinforces the writers dismissal of the generic anglo-centric novel plagued with references to foreplay and kissing which is foreign to the African pre-colonisation. To accentuate this allegorical protest in cultural reading and understanding of literature, Dangarembga utilizes Babamukuru’s distaste to his daughter reading of Lady Chatterley's Lover; “No daughter of mine is going to read such books”, to highlight the differences between Rhodesian society and British society where such a book would be understood as an emblement of creativity. Alternatively, Tambus lack of emotion when she states “I was not sorry when my brother died” is truly mortifying to the western reader, however to the Rhodesian/African based reader perhaps their reaction would be more diluted. Due to unfavourable circumstances, the average life expectancy of the African is much lower to that of the Englishmen; therefore Tambus unemotive reaction to her brothers passing is relatable to the African reader. Thus the question is posed, ‘is the African way less sophisticated than our own or is the belief that these supposedly ‘universal’ attitudes should be the same as ours the naive one?’ Nevertheless, the striking contrasts in cultural reading and understanding undoubtedly divide our societies and shape our interpretations of literature.

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In conclusion, Dangarembga successfully exposes the harsh consequences of colonising a nation through presenting the struggle for identity undergone by Nyasha, Nhamo’s ‘choice’ to abdicate the shona language (a byproduct of conditioning due to writing English off as ‘superior’), and the controversial depiction of the African way as inferior due to the differences in cultural reading and understanding.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Manifestation of Colonialism in Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. (2022, April 21). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
“Manifestation of Colonialism in Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga.” GradesFixer, 21 Apr. 2022,
Manifestation of Colonialism in Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Feb. 2024].
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