Tambu’s Sense of Superiority in the First Half of Nervous Conditions

One idea that reoccurs throughout the text is the importance Tambu places in self-determination, which is something we discussed in class on Tuesday. However, I wanted to delve into the ways that her attitude implies that she considers herself superior to those around her. For instance, her mother explains that “womanhood is a heavy burden,” (16) and it is clear to Tambu that she doesn’t have the same privileges as her brother. However, when she is finally sent to school, she considers herself a lesson to her sisters that “no burden [is] so binding that it could not be dropped” (58).

Another example of this attitude comes when Tambu moves in with Maiguru and Babamukuru. When she arrives, she carefully observes their house, because, as she says “I would own a home like this one day; I would need to know how to furnish it” (68). She also scorns her brother’s transformation amongst the wealth that her aunt and uncle possess; “I triumphed. I was not seduced” (70). Directly comparing herself and her brother, she finds herself stronger than him—but she’s hardly making a fair comparison. She is not seduced after fifteen minutes in this new setting, whereas she didn’t see her brother until months had passed in his new home and at his new school. Lastly, her feelings toward Nyasha throughout the first half of the story are consistently superior—she judges her cousins for the “inferior” manner and style of England, perhaps because she is insecure around her.

That said, Tambu always works hard to back up her self-confidence. She observes that her dad has avoided taking responsibility for himself and his actions, using Babamukuru as a crutch. This is illustrated on page 5, where she inquires about the specific reason behind the gap between her father and Babamukuru. I also think her self-confidence and feelings of superiority come from the fact that she is a young, bright child whose hard work has thus far paid off.


Posted on September 11, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Tambu was definitely a believer in her own abilities. After all, doesn’t self-determination correlate with self-esteem to some extent? For example, when the nuns visited the missionary to recruit students for the Sacred Heart Convent, Tambu’s confidence may have came across as arrogant when she said, “So it was not in the least surprising that I performed brilliantly in the entrance examination, thereby earning the privilege of associating with the elite of that time, the privilege of being admitted on an honorary basic into their culture.” (181) Nonetheless, you are correct- her hard work paid off… only to result in Tambu later objecting the “Sacred Heart and what it represented as a sunrise on my horizon.” (208) –> brainwashing

    In reference to your statement about Tambu resisting the seduction of wealth and convenience upon moving into Babamukuru’s household, though, I believe at times she subliminally succumbed to this “privileged” influence. Certain characters throughout the novel critiqued Tambu for showing signs of such “Anglicized” or “assimilated” behavior. For example, Tambu’s mother, Mainini, denounces the whole living arrangement at Babamukuru’s household, like when she said “Maiguru has turned you against me with her money and her white ways.” (143) Mainini was very vocal at times in regards to the dangers of Anglicization and the dismantling it reaps upon Shona heritage. Another example is when Tambu may have came across as snobby when she criticized her mother for not cleaning the latrine. Like Mainini, Babamukuru also accused Tambu of being spoiled when she refused to go to the wedding, albeit it was justified. (168) Also, Tambu’s self-determination stagnates for a little while when the “holiness” of Babamukuru makes washing dishes more important than reading books or questioning status-quo. (157) Whether she would admit it or not, at times Tambu was silenced and domesticated through Babamukuru’s sphere of influence. Even Nyasha was disappointed in Tambu at one point, specifically when she decided to enroll in the convent, for it would result in imminent assimilation just as it had for Nyasha in England- which certainly was a hindrance to her upbringing.

    Even though Tambu was influenced by many external factors that shaped the development of her character, her intentions were always pure and never ill-spirited. In the spirit of a coming to age novel, Tambu signifies various stages of development allowing her to learn from her the past.

  2. Jacob,

    Thanks for that awesome response! I couldn’t agree more about Tambu’s transformation in the second half of the novel. You’ve made some substantiated claims that are absolutely spot-on. I was merely examining her attitude in the first half of the novel (as the title says), because this attitude is what puts her on the cusp of the changes to follow in the second half of Nervous Conditions.

    Many of her comments in the first half of the book become ironic when we look at her behavior later on, particularly (as you pointed out), in her relationship with her mother. As much as Tambu scorns Nyasha’s disrespectful demeanor with Maiguru, by the second half we see her criticizing her mother when she returns home for Christmas. On page 125, she insolently asks her mother why she doesn’t wash the latrine–when her mother is pregnant, sick, and barely keeping the household together without the help of her two absent eldest children. She also never understands why Nhamo avoids the homestead until she herself lives at the mission, and is seduced by the wealth and culture that at the beginning she resists (70, as referenced above).

    Dangarembga subtly and masterfully navigates the change in protagonist, giving us readers some awesome clues and themes to think about. I found this to be a very enjoyable book for that reason and many others.

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