Nervous Conditions


Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Tsitsi Dangarembga

Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in Rhodesia (what is now Zimbabwe), but spent several years of her childhood in England. She returned to Rhodesia at age six. She graduated from a missionary high school in Umtale and then returned to England to attend Cambridge. She studied medicine there but left in 1979 to return to Rhodesia, only a few months before the country declared its independence and became Zimbabwe. After that, she studied psychology at the University of Zimbabwe and did copywriting work for a marketing agency. During this time, she began writing plays and joined a local theater group. She began to publish short stories and plays that attracted positive attention in the mid-1980s, which culminated in Nervous Conditions in 1988. The novel won the African selection of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 1989. Despite her success, Dangarembga abandoned writing novels for almost two decades, and, during that time, studied film in Berlin and made several films that have been shown at prestigious international film festivals. She finished the second installment of Tambu's story in 2006 and completed the planned trilogy in 2018, more than 30 years after she began writing about Tambu.
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Historical Context of Nervous Conditions

Rhodesia was first colonized by the British South Africa Company in the 1890s. The Company created a number of Christian missionary schools to serve local populations. Far from being a benevolent endeavor, the mission schools were intended to control the population, reinforce the supremacy of white settlers, and often censored knowledge. In the mid 20th century, the Rhodesian government—which was still controlled by white settlers—chose to fund education such that European children received nearly 90% of educational spending. Tambu would've been part of the 4% of native children who even attended secondary school during the 1970s, and one of even fewer girls to have the opportunity—given the scarcity of educational opportunities, they were often afforded to boys. These discrepancies intensified starting in 1965 as Rhodesia began to angle for independence from British rule. The United Kingdom stated that in order to grant colonies independence, the colonies needed to shift to governments that were controlled by a black majority. This requirement terrified the white Europeans in Rhodesia and led to several attempts to create an independent state under white rule, none of which were recognized by the international community. In 1980, after nearly a decade of bloody war, Rhodesia became the internationally recognized and independent state of Zimbabwe.

Other Books Related to Nervous Conditions

Dangarembga conceived of Nervous Conditions as being the first in a trilogy. She published the second in the series, The Book of Not, in 2006, and the third, This Mournable Body, in 2018. NoViolet Bulawayo's 2013 novel We Need New Names is another coming of age novel focusing on a Zimbabwean girl, though it takes place in the early 2010s. Nervous Conditions was the first novel published by a Zimbabwean woman in English; because of this distinction, she joins the ranks of authors such as Chinua Achebe (his debut novel, Things Fall Apart, was one of the first Nigerian novels to gain international acclaim) and the playwright Wole Soyinka, whose plays portraying the effects of colonialism on the Igbo population in Nigeria, such as Death and the King's Horseman, were extremely successful and some of the first African-authored plays presented in London. The intersection between education and colonialism has been explored by a number of writers from formerly colonized countries all over the world, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah, The Thing Around Your Neck) and the Indian author Amitav Ghosh (The Shadow Lines).
Key Facts about Nervous Conditions
  • Full Title: Nervous Conditions
  • When Written: 1983-84
  • Where Written: Harare, Zimbabwe
  • When Published: 1988
  • Literary Period: Post-colonial African Literature
  • Genre: Semi-autobiographical novel; Bildungsroman
  • Setting: Rhodesia, 1965-1971
  • Climax: Tambu stands up to Babamukuru and refuses to go to the wedding, inciting Babamukuru’s rage.
  • Antagonist: All the men in Tambu's life are antagonists to a degree; more broadly, she fights colonialism, racism, and sexism
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Nervous Conditions

Publishing Issues. Tsitsi Dangarembga actually finished writing Nervous Conditions in 1984 and attempted to get it published in Zimbabwe, but none of the small African publishing companies would accept the novel. This is why Nervous Conditions was only published by a British publishing house four years later.