In the movie, Yesterday mentioned that her father came up with her name, Yesterday.
When Yesterday is at the medical clinic, female doctor shows interest in the name Yesterday. The doctor said she have seen people named today or tomorrow but she never heard of the name yesterday. Yesterday’s father named her Yesterday because Yesterday was better than today.
This tuns out true when Yesterday finds out that she has HIV. Yesterday is shocked and fear the death but then she quickly decides to stay strong for her daughter beauty. Yesterday was happier in the past days when she did not know she had AIDS. However, Yesterday when she did not know the truth, could have been more happier for her. However, she stays strong and try to make better tomorrow. For example, she tells the teacher that she will have to be strong at least until the day beauty goes to school.
The idea of happier past is also shown when Yesterday is reminiscing happy memories that she had with her husband. In the old days, Yesterday’s husband used to give her gifts and was affectionate towards her. The violence that her husband showed to Yesterday probably made her think that it could have been better if she did not come to the city to tell her husband about AIDS, because then, at least Yesterday would not have been hurt, both physically and emotionally. The past times when she did not know her husband’s illness and when she wasn’t beaten by her husband could have been the better “yesterday” that Yesterday’s father meant by making that name.
However, this idea of better past, better yesterday seems cowardice. It seems like one is trying to avoid challenges and hardships that one should go through as part of one’s life. This idea is similar to being in a denial of things that will come today and in the future. Yesterday says that her name is Yesterday because yesterday was better in life. However, Yesterday is facing all the challenges that today or tomorrow is bringing to her. She does not opt out, but rather fight back her obstacles. She takes medicine and fights her illness with desire to see beauty going to school. Also, when people in the town start a rumor about her husband, she builds the hospital and take care of him. Yesterday is trying to find the best solution possible, even in such a difficult situations. Yesterday’s name seems to symbolize her eager to fight, even the sufferings of today, rather than staying in innocent yesterday.
Though Tambu doesn’t spend too much time talking about white people, her changing view towards them is very telling of her awakening to the colonized mindset. Towards the beginning of the novel, she is wary of white people, knows very little about them, and is disgusted with how they look. As she is educated at the mission, however, she is slowly conditioned to accept white people’s definition of beauty.The very first time that Tambu has direct interaction with white people begins on page 27. Tambu describes her thoughts upon meeting an elderly couple:
I did not like the way they looked, with their skin hanging in papery folds from their bones, malignant-looking brown spots on their hands, a musty, dusty, sweetish odour(sic) clinging around the woman like a haze”
It feels strange to read a white person’s race described as a character trait, as opposed to simply being accepted as a given. Upon reading this line, I was reminded of a Buzzfeed article I had just read entitled “If White People Were Described Like People of Color in Literature.” This article uses satire to call attention to the overt exoticism and objectification of people of color in Western Literature. “He looked at her longingly,” the article jokes, “as he imagined her exotic, mashed potato skin laying gently against his.” This is quite shocking to read because we are so used to having diverse, complex descriptions of white people in literature that don’t have to resort to the nearest food group to be relatable. Similarly, Tambu shocks us in the way in which she describes the elderly couple. She has very little experience with white people, so she measures their appearance in accordance to her culture’s beauty standards, rather than Eurocentric beauty standards, of which she has no knowledge. Finding their appearance rather lacking, she is wholly disgusted and makes no secret of it. Until she meets younger white people at the ministry, she is convinced that all whites are ugly. She only allows the whites to have a single story, just as they do to her. In comparison with Tambu’s prejudice, however, we see how dangerous the single story is when combined with a position of power. Tambu cannot hurt the white couple for thinking they are ugly, yet Tambu’s entire future rests on their opinion of her. But by allowing naive Tambu to uphold her single story of white people, Dangarembga continues to flip dangerous literary traditions on their heads, challenging us to question those traditions.
When Tambu goes to the ministry school, she meets many other whites, young ones, and concludes the ones with
…smooth, healthy, sun-brown skin…took away all of the repulsion toward white people that had started with the papery-skinned Doris and her sallow, brown-spotted husband…it was good to discover that some Whites were as beautiful as we were. After that it did not take long for me to learn that they were in fact more beautiful and then I was able to love them.”
This quote is a bit of a euphemism because it hints at darker themes. She begins by allowing that some whites could be beautiful, provided they conform to African standards of beauty by having darker skin. After time, however, the social and academic atmosphere of the white- run ministry convince her that they, after all, were far more attractive than Africans. Although Tambu’s language suggests this transformation is a positive one that she is able to accept and love the whites, the underlying implications are chilling. It is all too clear that her ministry education is conditioning her to uphold certain racial hierarchies, including the Eurocentric standard of beauty.
A large part of retaining power over colonial and post-colonial states includes retaining a strict hierarchy. The rules in which beauty and attractiveness is one such hierarchy that can be devastating to native psyches and self-esteem. This can be devastating to a young girl like Tambu who, beginning to internalize society’s emphasis on female beauty, is then led to understand that she can never be truly beautiful due to her race. Although going to the ministry school provides Tambu with great mental growth, the education she receives comes with a colonial conditioning that removes her people as the center of her worldview and replaces them with whites and white institutions.