The Entrapment of Womanhood

“Marriage. I had nothing against it in principle. In an abstract way I thought it was a very good idea. But it was irritating the way it always cropped up in one form or another, stretching its tentacles back to bind me before I had even begun to think about it seriously, threatening to disrupt my life before I could even call it my own,” (180).

Throughout Nervous Conditions, Tambu the narrator provides the reader with specific accounts about how the culture and context she has been brought up in consistently poses obstacles for her developmental journey as a child and adolescent. However, it is her language of feeling trapped and being pulled backwards that gives the reader a sense of Tambu’s true character.

From the beginning of the novel, the reader is exposed to Tambu’s undying determination to pursue a future that she has envisioned for herself rather than a future that has been laid out for her. We gather from her accounts that poverty and race serve as great obstacles in her pursuit of success, but neither of these are as impassable as that of gender expectations in her culture. When it comes to her ethnicity and her social class, Tambu understands that she is in a disposition, but it is not a disposition to be ashamed of. Tambu owns the fact that she is a Shona girl and vows to never lose her mother-tongue, and even though she does not wish to be impoverished, she shows humility when she repairs the homestead’s roof and allows her father to take the credit for it. It is the facet in her identity as a woman that Tambu struggles internally over throughout the novel.

At every single step in her education, Tambu has been faced with the mutual exclusivity of her education and her role as a woman. As the reader quickly gathers, a woman is meant to become a wife, which as her mother explicates, comes with great sacrifice. Tambu struggles with this notion of sacrifice as she witnesses the women in her immediate circle also taking a stand to the box they’ve been told to remain in. With Maiguru, Tambu witnesses a woman who is able to provide for her family and still create her own sphere of happiness. With Lucia, she witnesses that a woman can provide strength for other women instead of just obedience for men. With Nyasha, she begins to understand that trying to please another person can take a heavy toll on your own happiness. And with her mother, Tambu sees that her culture’s traditional framework of a household does not ensure success. Each of these women in Tambu’s life make sacrifices, but not necessarily the sacrifices they are told to make. Witnessing the way their womanhood traps these women – whether in societal image, success, or happiness – reinforces Tambu’s inner fire to shed these entrapments from her own self-concept. It is through the experiences of these women that Tambu learns how to create her own freedom.


Posted on September 12, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Expanding on your point of Lucia providing strength for women rather than just obedience for men. Lucia is a very interesting character in this book. I admire the fact that she isn’t like most women in the book, however she is condemned for it by both men and women. The women in this book view her a ‘loose’ woman because she didn’t follow the path set out for her. Which is where my admiration for Lucia comes in. Even though she is not viewed favorably by other women, that does not hinder her from sticking up for other women. She stuck up for her sister and nursed her back to health. She also risked a lot sticking up for Tambu because that may have caused her to lose her job.

  2. You make the interesting comment that through the eyes of Tambu, each of the women in her life have to make sacrifices, sometimes involuntarily. I think this poses an interesting question for the novel, whether Tambu will eventually be forced to make a similar sacrifice, and if so, what sacrifice she might make. Despite the progress she has made throughout the novel in having an education, it seems the social structure of Zimbabwe has changed very little, in addition to the fact that politics play a very small role in the plot of the novel, as we noted in class. Ultimately, her very thought process in the quote you presented at the beginning is treacherous in and of itself. I think Tambu will one day need to make a choice, and I am not entirely convinced at the end that she can fight back the social pressures.

  3. I think the title of your post says it all. I agree with everything you’ve stated; but, moreover, I think it is interesting that Tambu’s recognition of her entrapment began at such a young age, in spite of the society in which she grew up. Her desire for education and competition with her brother’s academic success speaks to her determination to achieve what she wanted, regardless of the fact AND because of the fact that she was a girl. I think the title, Nervous Conditions, says a lot about the poverty which her family was faced with. Even in times where her father discouraged her or her brother discouraged her (like when he stole her crops) she didn’t let that away her determination. It was also interesting to me that she decided early on that she didn’t respect her dad’s opinions, and so he became just another obstacle in her way. I think it was this sexism that molded her into the determine and steadfast individual she developed into. Even in spite all of this, I’m still reminded of Ezinma’s character in, Things Fall Apart, and how Okonkwo thought she should of been a boy.

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