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.