Women seen as inferior to men
Nervous Conditions follows Tambu and her transition to understanding the broader world around her. Gender inequality shows to be a common theme in this novel. The traditional conception that women are less than limits Tambu as an individual. As a girl, she faces significant disadvantages. Although this novel is a bildungsroman as Tambu’s coming of age story, I believe that all the women in the novel grow significantly.
Tambu isn’t given the option to go to school until her brother Nhamo dies. At mission school, Tambu learns about the western world and its cultural differences. She sees how Chido and Nyasha interact with their white friends and becomes more socially aware. She understands that the school she attends is for the privileged in the sense that most can’t afford it. She is able to look back at her life and see how her way of thinking has progressed. Another person who changes their train of thought.
Although Maiguru is educated and well capable of providing for herself, she has to fulfill the wants and needs for her husband and children and take on the traditional domestic role of a woman. Maiguru gains the courage as she watches her children and Tambu grow, to confront Babamukuru. She talks to him about about her role in the household. She wants to be more respected, recognized, and admired. She steps out of her expected role and challenges Babamukuru by leaving the house. Although she returns she is able to relay the message of her worth.
The novel shows the growth of women in the novel but doesn’t really show the same for men. After Nyasha comes home late, Babamukuru resorts to violence to teach her a lesson.
When confronting her he says:
“What’s the matter with you, girl? Why cant you behave like a young woman from a decent home? What will people say when they see Sigauke’s daughter carrying on like that?”
By simply staying out late, Babamukuru believes that Nyasha has disrespected herself but more importantly him and the family. Because of his strict traditional beliefs he does condone her staying out late. More than anything, he is worried about status and what others have to say.
After he hits Nyasha, Tambu realizes that Babamukuru has condemned Nyasha to whoredom making her a victim of her femaleness. She understood that “the victimization she saw was universal.” “It didn’t depend on poverty, on lack of education, or on tradition… Men took it everywhere with them.” She saw that females were traditionally seen as inferior to males and knew she had to continue education in order to escape for these narrow ideals.