Many Faces of Oppression
Tsitsi Dangarembga address several issues concerning women in her novel, Nervous Conditions. Three main issues include coming-of-age, colonialism, and patriarchy. They are all encountered by the central character, Tambu as she grows up in colonial Rhodesia. While living on the homestead with her family, Tambu witness the examples of oppression prevalent in her environment. The women in her immediate family are domesticated and for the most part uneducated. When Tambu learns of her aunt Maiguru”s education and “success”, she tries to ignore the potential images of the women on the homestead by working hard to go to school.
Once she is granted an education with the help of her uncle, Tambu finds out that her aunt Maiguru is oppressed too, only in a different setting. Therefore the struggles women face are similar regardless of their class,or level of education. Tambu learns early about the oppression of women in the traditional patriarchal way of life on her homestead. For example, Tambu can not continue to go to school because her family lack the funds for her to go. However, her brother Nhamo is granted the right to go and is expected to do well. Their father boasts about his son”s education and gives him certain rights and privileges.
Tambu resents the fact that her brother is able to get an education and she is not. She is constantly in conflict with Nhamo because of Nhamo”s arrogance. He retorts, “Did you ever hear of a girl being taken away to school? With me it”s different. I was meant to be educated” (Dangarembga, 49). Speeches like this contributes to Tambu”s increasing drive and desire for education. Tambu, seeking to break away from her oppression through education, asks her parents for maize seeds to raise her own crop and sell them for tuition. Her own mother”s years of oppression seeped into discouraging Tambu.
My mother said being black was a burden because it made you poor… [and] being a woman was a burden because you had to bear children and look after them and the husband” (Dangarembga, 16). Discouragingly the parents give the seeds to her and she raises her crop. She notices that her crop is coming up missing and finds out her brother was stealing them to keep her from going to school. However through determination and a little assistance, Tambu raises the funds for school. Her father, in an act of dominance tries to take the money away from Tambu”s education but is unsuccessful.
Tambu gains a small victory in her journey to reach her dream. The death of Nhamo is a turning point in Tambu”s life. Because Nhamo was the only son in the family, Tambu took his place. Tambu is granted the chance to be a part of colonized life and the advantages it has over the poverty she has lived. All the whileTambu goes through her schooling she sets her sights to becoming what her aunt Maiguru seems to be. “She was altogether a different kind of woman from my mother. I decided it was better to be like Maiguru, who was not poor and had not been crushed by the weight f womanhood” (Dangarembga, 16).
One of the examples Tambu is shocked to know is the oppression Maiguru encounters by obtaining her Masters Degree. Tambu is accustomed to the hierarchical forms of address which place women and children lower than men. She is surprised to know a woman can go that far and wonders why no one acknowledged her aunt”s degree. Again another example of oppression in Tambu”s family, especially the women, is that they didn”t like Maiguru acquiring that amount of education and therefore did not acknowledge her level of education.
They did however,celebrate Babamukuru”s Master Degree constantly and gave all praises to him, even the women joined in. Another example of the oppression in a middle class household is Maiguru”s salary. Even though she had the education and the career in teaching, Maiguru never saw a penny of her earnings. They went directly to her husband. Even Maiguru shows her acceptance to this oppression by saying, “… no one even thinks about the things I gave up. But that”s how it goes… and when you have a good man and lovely children, it makes it all worth while” (Dangarembga, 102).
Even though Maiguru was educated, she was still expected to marry and raise children, so her education only provided another way of serving her family. This confession disappoints Tambu because it shatters her image of Maiguru being an independent role model. Now, with the influence of her cousin Nyasha,Tambu must find and become her own image of an independent, educated woman. The patriarchal way of life in Rhodesia had many levels of oppression. From the poverty-stricken homesteads to the colonialized middle-class setting, women were being oppressed from something.
Author Tsitsi Dangarembga, cleverly reveals these levels of oppression in Nervous Conditions. Main character Tambu is able to see some of these levels with her opportunity to go from her homestead to her uncle”s home while she grows and goes through school. She think she has escaped the oppression when her brother dies and she has the opportunity to leave home where oppression is prevalent. Tambu fails to see that oppression exist even in a colonized setting until she learns from her aunt and idol, Maiguru.
Even with a high level of education and ability to make money, there was still the opportunity for oppression to exist, in Maiguru”s example, by not acknowledging educated women or having their earnings controlled by men. Although this realization now occurs to Tambu, she tries to find some other way to resist the oppression (refusing to go to her parents” wedding). Nervous Conditions is a great example of how women struggle regardless of class or level of education and whether they accept the oppression or resist it.