Blame does not come in neatly packaged parcels
Assimilation; brainwashing; cultural conditioning- these concepts are omnipresent throughout “Nervous Conditions.” Intertwined with rigid gender conformities in a hostile world against women, where silence and obedience is inflicted both among women and Africans alike, our author Tsitsi Dangarembga solidifies the theme that these value systems are formed during the earliest years of a child’s upbringing. Due to years of accumulative influence, whether in terms of the Anglicization of the Shona or the domestication of women, “blame does not come in neatly packaged parcels” (12).
How does one going about changing repressive behavior (biases, judgments, prejudice) if it’s all they have ever known? For this entry I shall provide examples of some characters who were exceptionally susceptible to external forces that gradually resulted in their own individualized nervous condition.
Babamukuru may not exactly have a nerve-ridden condition, but he is the man that cultivates such instability in the lives of the women throughout this novel. We can view this as a colonial attitude that he learned early on. He was considered to have been “a good boy, cultivable, in the way that land is, to yield harvests that sustain the cultivator” by the “white holy wizards” that are the Christian missionaries (19). As expected, the missionaries took advantage of Babamukuru’s susceptibility as a poverty-stricken child in order to embed their European principles of decency and moral conduct into him. Successful in his endeavors and seen in a holy light, Babamukuru cultivates authoritarian dogmatic tendencies that subtly or explicitly torment Nyasha.
Some will say that Nyasha’s nervous condition derives from her upbringing in England- how she was Anglicized at a young age and the manner in which it clashed with African formalities. Is becoming un-assimilated ever an easy process? Overtime she develops an identity crisis that makes her the antithesis of her father’s relentless expectations for tameness and civility. From my recollection, Babamukuru never questions the decision he made to string his family along for his academic pursuits. Instead he views her non-African manners as indecent and a pathway to whoredom, constantly hindering her self-development as an autonomous woman.
With such constant ridicule, Nyasha becomes “a victim of her femaleness” (118) and develops a complex sense of self-loathing due to her perceived moral deficiency. Often Nyasha confides in Tambu that she isn’t deliberately trying to spite her father, that maybe if she and Chido had returned to Rhodesia earlier on, her parents wouldn’t be “stuck with hybrids for children” (79). Nyasha’s disdain for her Anglicization becomes incredibly vivid when she denounces their history and the negative impact they’ve had on her family, calling them liars and exclaiming “look what they’ve done to us!” (205)