The Trauma of Colonial Condition: in Nervous Conditions and Kiss of the Fur Queen

©2013 Textbook 94 Pages


This study depicts the traumatic condition of the formerly colonised indigenous people of Africa and Canada. The postcolonial trauma novels Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998) and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1988) are first-hand accounts of colonial experience under the governance of the British Empire of the second half of the twentieth century. The semi-autobiographical novels bring up the voices of the formerly silenced natives and are pioneering accounts of the native perception of Western intrusion. The narratives portray the upsetting experiences of the era of colonisation and explore the insidious consequences of living in the midst of historical change. The novels, written in English, speak back to the canon and expose the suffering of its subjects. They depict the grim atmosphere of the colonial project and show the effects of the domination, oppression, diaspora and discrimination suffered by the natives. They are life narratives and as such reveal facts that are not recorded in history books. Both trauma novels enrich and challenge the discourse on (post)colonial trauma. The native authors, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Tomson Highway, explore the questions of identity, trauma and resistance in the context of colonization. Their approach queries traditional notions of identity formation and the common understanding of trauma and trauma healing. With their portrayal of unique means for resistance and survival, the novelists offer a challenge to the existing beliefs and theories.


Table Of Contents

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1. 2 Trauma Studies, Identity and Literature
1.3 The Approach to Trauma in the Novels

2. Nervous Conditions
2.1 Colonialism and Patriarchy
2.1.1 The Effects of Gendered Ideology
2.1.3 The Burden of Femininity
2.2 Identity and Hybridity
2.2.1 The Distortion of Identity
2.2.3 The Ambiguity of White Masks
2.3 Trauma and Resistance
2.3.1 The Trauma of Colonisation
2.3.2 Tambu’s Resistance
2.3.3 Nyasha’s Resistance
2.3.4 The Female Empowerment and Conclusion

3. Kiss of the Fur Queen
3.1 The Question of Identity
3.1.1 Acculturation
3.1.2 Christianisation
3.1.3 Cultural Hybridity
3.1.4 The Problem of Translation
3.1.5 Impersonation and Restoration
3.2 Trauma, Mythology and Communication
3.2.1 The Trauma of Abuse
3.2.2 The Trauma of Civilisation
3.2.3 The Communication of Trauma
3.2.4 The Accommodation of Trauma
3.3 Resistance, Healing and Reconstruction
3.3.1 The Power of Cree Mythology
3.3.2 The Protagonists’ Spiritual Homecoming
3.3.3. Towards an Individual and National Reconstruction

4. Conclusion

Works Cited

List of Abbreviations

1. Introduction

This study will depict the traumatic condition of the formerly colonised indigenous peoples of Africa and Canada. The postcolonial trauma novels, Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998) and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1988), are first-hand accounts of colonial experience under the governance of the British Empire of the second half of the twentieth century. The semi-autobiographical novels bring up the voices of the formerly silenced natives and are pioneering accounts of the native perception of Western intrusion. The narratives portray the upsetting experiences of the era of colonisation and explore the insidious consequences of living in the midst of historical change. The novels, written in English, speak back to the canon and expose the suffering of its subjects. They depict the grim atmosphere of the colonial project and show the effects of the domination, oppression, diaspora and discrimination suffered by the natives. The novels are life narratives and as such reveal facts not recorded in history books. The trauma novels enrich and challenge the discourse on (post)colonial trauma. The native authors, Dangarembga and Highway, explore the questions of identity, trauma and resistance in the context of colonization. Their approach queries traditional notions of identity formation and the common understanding of trauma and trauma healing. With their portrayal of unique means for resistance and survival, the novelists offer a challenge to the existing beliefs and theories.

In the study of the novels Nervous Conditions and Kiss of the Fur Queen, which allow silenced, repressed individuals to speak out about the unspeakable events of their lives, I will explore the formation of colonial and postcolonial identities, the nature and impact of colonial trauma and the possibility of resistance on the side of the colonised. I will work towards identifying the discrepancies between indigenous and Western notions of trauma and identity, and study the challenges of postcolonial literatures. I will explore the concept of cultural hybridity as presented in the novels and study the impact of trauma on identity construction. In the process of this study, I intend to find out to what extent trauma influences and shapes identity. Moreover, I will reconsider the Western notions of trauma and identity and examine their integrity in the colonial discourse. With the help of the novels, I will study the differences between the antagonistic cultures and pursue the development of colonial trauma, which may shed a different light on the Western study of trauma. Moreover, I will explore the natives’ means for dealing with the traumas brought about by the process of colonisation. My focus will be to explore how traumatised characters cope with living in a continuously distressing environment, the symptoms of their traumas and how these symptoms are expressed. Moreover, I will explore the conditions and means for resistance, and the process of the decolonisation of the mind. Furthermore, I will explore the authors’ reasons and intentions for writing these novels.

In addition to it, in my analysis of psychic trauma in Nervous Conditions, I will draw a link to Franz Fanon’s writings on psychoanalytic thought and his theory of decolonisation. Similarly to the novel, he analyses “the harm done to marginalised groups by continuous exposure to ‘a galaxy of erosive stereotypes’.”[1] With the aid of the novels I intend to study the analogies and differences between Dangarembga’s and Highway’s novels and Fanon’s writings on gender, identity, violence and resistance to oppression.

1.2 Trauma Studies, Identity and Literature

This study will explore the fragmentation of identity as it is being transformed from the native identity to the colonial hybrid identity. The postcolonial novels demonstrate the process of colonial identity formation riven with cultural hybridity and ambiguity in a changing world. Among others, Franz Fanon’s and Homi Bhabha’s theories of cultural hybridity will be applied to the protagonists of the novels. The postcolonial novels illustrate cultural differences in identity construction. They depict the intermingling cultures of colonization which complicate the evolvement of an unambiguous stable identity. Moreover, the novelists explore the sociological component of identity formation. Westerners construct their identities as autonomous, independent selves, whereas indigenous peoples incorporate a sense of community into their identities. The Western basic framework “that sees the individual as distinct and distinguishable in the first place”[2] is problematic in the indigenous environment. In indigenous societies individuals are always part of a community and identify themselves with it. They cannot stand for themselves as solid independent individuals. In Africa, for example, “a person depends on other people to be a person.”[3] In this context “community is essential to subjectivity [and] a person is incomplete unless he or she maintains an active connection with the society or culture of which he or she is part.”[4] This study will explore how these essential connections with native community are complicated and annihilated due to colonial intervention.

Moreover, the novels contribute to the discourse of trauma studies. Trauma studies as an area of cultural investigation came to prominence in the early-to-mid-1990s.[5] The relatively new discipline is committed to the ethical issues of trauma investigation. Cathy Caruth is “one of the leading figures in trauma studies,” and argues that “a textualist approach [to trauma] can afford us unique access to history.”[6] She purports that “the analysis of cultural artefacts that bear witness to traumatic histories, [can enable to] gain access to extreme events and experiences”[7] that constitute trauma. The scholars of trauma studies query the Western-biased approach to trauma and investigate the culture-bound deficiencies in trauma research. Caruth declares, “in its most general definition, trauma describes an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, uncontrolled repetitive appearance of hallucinations or other intrusive phenomena.”[8] The very definition of trauma sets an emphasis on “sudden, unexpected catastrophic events”[9] and, deriving from “the Greek word meaning wound,”[10] trauma has still predominantly a corporeal connotation in Western psychoanalysis. However, the colonial situation itself is inherently traumatising and has pathological consequences on the psyche of the colonised. Thus, the definition of trauma has been expanded by the analogy of the corporeal wound to “the wound of the mind.”[11] The “feminist psychotherapist Laura S. Brown has argued” that colonial trauma is an “insidious trauma,” by which “the traumatogenic effects of oppression that are not necessarily overtly violent or threatening to the bodily well-being at the given moment […] do violence to the soul and spirit.”[12] The novels Nervous Conditions and Kiss of the Fur Queen predominantly portray the expanded and revised notion of trauma, as trauma to the soul.

The recent developments in trauma studies call for a reconsideration of the applicability of Western trauma theories to colonial subjects by arguing that “current definitions of trauma have been constructed from the experiences of dominant groups in Western society.”[13] The experiences of these dominant groups, however, do not include the chronic nature of trauma. Therefore, the chronic psychic suffering of the colonised has been commonly neglected in the Western study of trauma. The European or Western conception of trauma focuses traditionally on a single shocking and personally upsetting event which causes a psychopathology referred to as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the victims. The traumatising effects of colonialism, however, have a different dimension. Colonialism encompasses a series of traumas for indigenous populations. Both novels illustrate the chronic nature of colonial trauma and its pathological effects on the colonised. Therefore, in my investigation of colonial trauma I will not focus on a single shocking event that causes trauma, but on a continuous accumulation and enhancement of traumatic stressors. I will analyse colonial trauma in terms of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and revise its applicability in the context of colonialism.

Another problem of the traditional study of trauma lies in its tendency to focus on individual psychology.[14] “Whereas earlier [trauma] research had focused on only single types of situations and victims,” a more recent research of “the literature on traumatic stress” challenges this by mapping trauma as “a generalized and socialized phenomena.”[15] Since colonisation constitutes a collective or cultural trauma, it is necessary to consider the wide scope of trauma. Following Sam Durrant, collective or cultural trauma disrupts “the ‘consciousness’ of the entire community [by] destroying the possibility of a common frame of reference and calling into question our sense of being-in-common.”[16] Jessica Murray compares individual trauma to Durrant’s notion of collective trauma. She writes, “as individual trauma overflows the individual victim’s frame of reference, the trauma of colonialism ‘disrupts the colonised culture’s frame of reference’.”[17] The indigenous societies’ departure from the Western individual framework calls for a societal approach to colonial trauma. Thus the specificity of colonial trauma cannot be disclosed “unless the object of trauma research shifts from the individual to larger social entities, such as communities or nations.”[18]

Furthermore, this study will explore the issues of healing, reconstruction and resistance. The Western approaches to trauma therapy are insufficient for dealing with the traumatic experiences of subaltern groups. Due to the limited scope of knowledge about non-Western groups, trauma therapists often neglect the fact that other cultures have different ways of coping with trauma at their command. In the novels, I will explore alternative solutions for coming to terms with colonial trauma. Furthermore, I will investigate the protagonists’ resistance to oppressive systems in terms of individual and national empowerment and trace their means for the reconstruction of their culture, self-knowledge and identity.

1.3 The Approach to Trauma in the Novels

Nervous Conditions is an exemplary novel of insidious trauma induced by colonial oppression and discrimination. The novel’s traumatic conditions move away from the corporeal schema of trauma and expose trauma deriving from psychological damage. Nervous Conditions explores the traumatised condition of “the native” as a consequence of colonial intervention into the balance of traditional Shona culture in colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dangarembga’s first-person narrator Tambudzai provides a sophisticated view into the coming-of-age consciousness of a teenage narrator struggling to cope and survive in a distorted colonial world. Tambudzai’s complex identity provides the reader with an elaborate analysis of the sources underlying the nervous conditions of the colonised.

In Nervous Conditions the narrative focuses not only on colonial oppression but especially on sexual discrimination. The author subdivides the nervousness of the characters into gendered categories and provides an account of the extent of Westernization that pollutes and distorts the traditional gender roles. Tambu’s anglicized cousin, Nyasha, is an influential character in the novel. She supports and guides Tambu’s evolving identity. I will analyse the connections between Tambu’s coming-of-age consciousness and Nyasha’s appraisal of the colonial situation. The analysis of Nyasha’s predicament in the novel, will concentrate on her deep cultural hybridity due to her early uprootedness. The patriarchal system will play a crucial role for my study of the main character’s developing identity and her traumatic experiences. Belonging to the genre of Bildungsroman, the novel is a bright composition of the process of self-realization in relation to colonial analysis. I will query the nervous conditions in Dangarembga’s novel with respect to its male and female characters and try to detect the triggers which enhance traumatic situations. I will study the psychopathological effects of the oppressed and analyse their means of coping with the situation. In terms of the indigenous and sexual empowerment, I will investigate the characters’ ability to generate a resistance to oppression and colonisation.

Highway’s partly autobiographical novel Kiss of the Fur Queen is an extreme exposition of trauma due to its incorporation of a twofold trauma—psychic and physic. The novel is set Manitoba, Canada, between 1951 and 1990, and tells a story of two young Cree brothers who are taken from their home and family and sent to a distant Catholic Residential School. In the boarding school the brothers are subjected to the whims of a sexually abusive principal of the school. It is a life narrative about diaspora, oppression, abuse, racism, violence and loss. The novel addresses the insidious consequences of colonial trauma, the author’s way of coping with the unbearable situation, his identity problems and the issue of uprootedness on a very large scale. It is a life narrative about the different paths of two Indian brothers with a different outcome. Indigenous mythology and symbolism play an important role in the narrative. The author unveils the Cree world of spiritual mythology and legends, entwined with the Western cultural discourse. The novel is an exemplary narrative about cultural hybridity induced by Western influence and its consequences, and is a means for accommodating the novelist’s personal trauma. I am interested in the study of the nature and effects of the trauma of the main characters. I will analyse the formation of the main characters’ (post)colonial hybrid identities and explore their paths of self-realisation and reformation. Moreover, I will study the novel’s political significance with respect to indigenous liberation and explore the significance of Indian mythology in Highway’s novel. Thereby I will look at its meaning for his coping with trauma and the significance of the native set of symbols for approaching the brothers’ traumatic experiences.

Since trauma studies need to “acknowledge traumatic experiences in non-Western settings,”[19] many scholars (have lately suggested theorizing colonization in terms of the infliction of a collective trauma and reconceptualising postcolonialism as a post-traumatic cultural formation). In order to (realize the self-declared ethical potential) of trauma studies, an examination of (postcolonial literary trauma representation) is necessary. This can achieve (a break with Eurocentrism). The analysis of postcolonial trauma (in relation to the dominant trauma discourse) can enable a modification of Western trauma theories (with a view to wider applicability). My intention is to detect alternative conceptions of trauma by analysing indigenous ways of coping, accommodating, communicating and combating the trauma of the past. The study will query the challenges the novels pose to the dominant discourse on trauma, identity and healing, and look for alternative solutions offered by the authors.

2.Nervous Conditions

2.1 Colonialism and Patriarchy

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s (born 1959) first novel, Nervous Conditions, is the first novel published in English by a black Zimbabwean woman, and is the “winner of the African regional prize in the 1989 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize competition.”[20] The semi-autobiographical novel centres around two main female characters, Tambudzai (Tambu) and her anglicised cousin Nyasha, growing up in colonial Rhodesia. It is a first-person narrative told from Tambudzai’s point of view. Dangarembga provides a sophisticated insight into the consciousness of a native coming-of-age character, Tambu, in her colonial environment, who has to endure colonialism and patriarchy. Tambu’s highly self-reflexive analysis of her predicament as a young African woman growing up in a colonial world arises to a great extent from her accurate observation of her same-age cousin Nyasha, who suffers much more under the colonial situation in Rhodesia. Dangarembga’s novel outlines the consequences of the British colonisation of Rhodesia, renamed Zimbabwe after its independence in 1980.[21] She illustrates the nuisances of “the colonial rule that extended from 1890 to 1979,” during which “the white minority dominated and oppressed the native population and divested them of their land.”[22]

The prologue of the novel—“The condition of native is a nervous condition” (v) —is taken “from Jean-Paul Sartre’s preface to Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.”[23] Although, following Dangarambga’s words, “she had not read Fanon until the novel was competed,”[24] there are striking similarities between her book and Fanon’s writings. Similarly to Fanon (1925-1961), Dangarembga had medical and psychological training before she started writing. In The Wretched of the Earth (1961) Fanon describes “the colonial world as a Manichaean world, in which the world of the native is the negation of the world of the settler.”[25] Dangarembga goes beyond the limits of “Fanons’s canonical ‘master narrative’ of post-colonial psychiatric thought and literary criticism” and presents “patriarchal and colonial domination” from a woman’s point of view. The author challenges Fanon by exploring “other psychological realities that [he] leaves unexamined— most specifically the role of gender in the colonial context.”[26] In Dangarembga’s critique of patriarchy she underlines how “the sexualities of native men and women are contained and mortified by colonialism and by Shona and Western patriarchy respectively.”[27] With her novel, Dangarembga seems to imply that the condition of ‘female’ native has additional burdens.[28]

2.1.1 The Effects of Gendered Ideology

Nervous Conditions opens with the shocking breaking of a familial taboo in the form of Tambu’s comment, “I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologising for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling” (1). The occasion of Tambu’s brother’s premature death is the first event that can be accounted for as traumatising due to colonialism, and it is the first event in the story that puts Tambu “in a position to write this account”(1). Her coldness towards her brother’s death is a tragic sign of confusion and breakdown in social relations and cultural values under the pressure of colonisation. As Charles Sugnet underlines, Tambu’s acknowledgement in the very first sentence of the novel that “I was not sorry when my brother died” is “perhaps the most important instance of an overt rupture”[29] of traditional familial bonds. In her “critical self-examination, [Tambu is] quite conscious about rejecting the guilt associated with ‘unnatural’ sisterhood, inhuman lack of feeling.”[30] She says, “As he was our brother, he ought to be liked, which made disliking him all the more difficult” (11). She explains in the opening chapters of the novel how she came into the position to write this sentence. As Sugnet points out, “the whole novel is the story of how Tambudzai came to be capable of writing this sentence.”[31] From Tambu’s sophisticated analysis of her feelings towards her elder brother Nhamo, one can see the forces at work behind the colonial system. It is the intense clash of two distinct cultures and ideologies that causes dramatic imbalance and breaches familial bonds in traditional Shona families.

In Tambu’s excuse for her lack of feelings for her brother, a crucial element comes to light, namely that of patriarchy. Colonial patriarchy worsens Tambu’s condition as a colonial subject. Through her narration the reader can see the reasons for her “unnatural sisterhood” and for her repulsion towards Nhamo. Initially she likes him, which is normal for a sister. Later, however, her feelings drastically deteriorate as she is confronted with her brother’s sexism. Tambu’s first-hand experience of unfair inequality structures relying solely upon one’s biological sex, uttered by her brother Nhamo, triggers her negative feelings towards him and initiates her nervous condition. His words, “I go to school. You go nowhere” (21) deeply shock her. Tambu recalls, “Nhamo was not interested in being fair. Maybe to other people, but certainly not to his sisters, his younger sisters for that matter”(12). The moment she learns that Nhamo blatantly advocates universal gender inequalities that preclude her from going to school, she states, “My concern for my brother died an unobtrusive death”(20). Nhamo fully approved the sexist mindset that boys shall have first access to education, and thus appropriated sexism into his repertoire of values.

Tambu depicts how effectively socialisation has worked on Nhamo and contributed to their alienation. Tambu recalls how he refused to carry his own bags and expected his sisters to carry them for him, and how he refused to help with housework. She complains about her “brother’s laziness” and says, “I hated fetching my brother’s luggage” (10). Worrying about his development, Tambu notes that “any of the tasks he used to do willingly before he went to the mission, became a bad joke” (7). Moreover, Nhamo tried to prevent his sister from going to school and thus oppressed her emancipation by overthrowing Tambu’s attempt to grow maize to provide herself with school fees. This behaviour shows his affiliation with the patriarchal ideology. Disappointed in her brother, Tambu states that “our home was healthier when he was away” (10).

Since Nhamo’s status as a boy and elder brother is a threat and an impediment to the education Tambu desires, his death is a coincidence which Tambu welcomes because it gives her the privilege of obtaining education in a “colonial system [which] makes education scarce.”[32] Due to the fact that she has no elder siblings, she becomes next in line to receive colonial education at the mission school. The patriarchal system renders Nhamo’s death not a tragedy to her but a salvation; she “could not have survived on the homestead” (59). His death is celebrated as the occasion for her education at the mission school and an opportunity to become a full-fledged, educated person and escape the poverty of her native homestead. Tambu vindicates herself, “Thinking about it, feeling the injustice of it, this is how I came to dislike my brother […]”(12).

Moreover, Tambu observes her uncle Babamukuru’s approval of sexism, apparent in his maltreatment of his wife and his daughter Nyasha. She comments on “Babamukuru condemning Nyasha to whoredom, making her a victim of her femaleness, just as I had felt victimised at home” (118). She states her indignation at sexual injustice that is fundamental to colonialism, “what I didn’t like was the way all the conflicts came back to this question of femaleness. Femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness” (118). Tambu identifies the malign nature of patriarchy, “The victimization, I saw, was universal. It didn’t depend on poverty, on lack of education or on tradition” (118). Her realization of the scope of female oppression intensifies her traumatic realisation of gender inequalities. This realization about her uncle’s sexism disillusions her image of him. Her previously immensely admired uncle, “who was as neatly divine as any human being could hope to be” (167), loses his reputation in her eyes. The disenchanted Tambu states, “Even heroes like Babamukuru did it” (118).

2.1.2 The Question of Masculinity

The novel investigates the relationship between native men and colonial authorities, and reveals another aspect of colonial patriarchy: the embodiment of Western cultural consensus on the level of political and socio-economic dominance. The colonial relationship between Europeans and natives was executed “in terms of the ‘natural’ ascendancy of men over women.”[33] This notion of sexual dominance was transferred onto colonial masculinity and engendered an immense break in native masculinity by rendering it effeminate. The “racial effeminacy” of African men was analogous to the Western “dominance of men and masculinity over women and femininity.”[34] The colonial congruence with “the existing Western sexual stereotypes and the philosophy of life which they represented”[35] deprived native men of their masculinity and created tension in the relationship between African men and women. African men in turn suppressed their women and thus participated in the double oppression and colonisation of the women nearest them. The novel suggests that “the existence of the colonized woman is invalidated by men of color in much the same way that the selfhood of all colonized people is annihilated by the Europeans.”[36]

Moreover, the novel shows the sharp edges of colonial education offered to native African men. The patriarchal colonial rule sought to maintain its hegemony by electing African men who received colonial education. These men were catapulted to the colonial elite. This indirect rule facilitated the colonisation of the rest of the indigenous population through their ‘traditional’ leaders. Thus the colonial education of the African elite “served colonial economic and political needs.”[37] Africans’ “status as agents of colonial hegemony” offered “privilege, material reward, and apparent security.”[38] Colonial education, however, has a double edge. It represents “literary and cultural temptations of Europe” and is a booster of “cultural transgression.”[39] By transmitting Western values and belief systems, colonial education extinguishes the traditional values of the natives. It is an intricate tool to achieve the goal of colonial authorities, to colonise the mind of the natives.

The novel illustrates how colonial patriarchy works on African men as representatives of colonial hegemony. In the epigraph to the novel, Dangarembga omits the ensuing clause of Fanon’s sentence, “The status of a ‘native’ is a nervous condition introduced and maintained by the settler among colonized people with their consent.”[40] The three most colonially implicated male characters of the novel, Babamukuru (Jeremiah’s elder brother), Nhamo and Chido (Babamukuru’s son), “give a sort of coerced consent to their status as agent[s] of colonial hegemony.”[41] The colonial system offers Babamukuru a privileged position. He was able to receive colonial university education in South Africa and attain his Master’s degree in England. In return for his academic career and prosperity, which enables his position as the provider for his extended family, he has to fulfil many obligations. He works for the colonial system and is the headmaster of the mission school which Tambu wishes to attend. He represents the system’s indirect ruler who works as a transformer between the colonial authority and the marginalised natives, and whose law “becomes the law of the white men.”[42] Therefore, Babamukuru impersonates a traditional leader. Sugnet underlines, “with all his advanced degrees and Christian ways, Babamukuru [is an] impressive kind of ‘native,’ created by the British colonial system to serve its purposes.”[43]

Dangarembga reveals Babamukuru’s plight in the novel, where he is torn apart by his desperate attempt to maintain a traditional Shona family and simultaneously apply to them Western Christian values. When he plays “the part of the ‘good kaffir’ of the colonizer’s imagination,”[44] he suffers from ‘bad nerves’ and is only able to alleviate his nervousness when he is far away from the centre of colonial authority, on the countryside. In a rare moment in the novel, he remembers his boyhood and starts to hum an old song and is spontaneously happy: “Unaccountably, unusually, Babamukuru was happy. Free of tensions and in the best of spirits, he looked younger and more lovable than he ever did at the mission” (124–25).[45] Sugnet emphasises, “the farther he gets from his English-made job and personality, the farther he gets from his nervous condition.”[46] When Babamukuru is in the centre of his colonial responsibility he is ill-tempered. One evening, when he returns to his house, he is moody and avoids greeting his family; “Babamukuru grunted briefly by way of reply, in a way that told you at once that he had weightier matters on his mind than the goodness of the evening” (81). Tambu utters her disappointment in her uncle’s behaviour after she moves to his house. She deplores that his behaviour has changed and he became more aloof than he used to be before he left for England: “I had thought it would be like the good old days […] with Babamukuru throwing us up in the air and giving us sweets” (104). She continues: “We hardly ever laughed […] we did not talk much when he was around either” (104). His wife, Maiguru, explains, “His nerves were bad because he was so busy” (104). The deterioration of Babamukuru’s behaviour signals his nervous condition which is a far-reaching consequence of his colonial education.

Tambu’s father, Jeremiah, is a ‘historical artefact’ as well, constructed and maintained by the colonial system. His traditional patriarchal dependency on his elder brother, Babamukuru, is colonially induced. Colonial authorities deprived him of his ancestral lands, thus making him incapable of providing for his family and fully dependent on his brother’s financial support. Sugnet argues that Jeremiah “becomes the stereotype of the shiftless ‘native’, spending his children’s school fees on beer and letting his homestead run down.”[47] As a result, he “embodies a parodic debasement of ‘traditional’ values.”[48] Jeremiah suffers from the loss of his patriarchal authority as father of his children. When Tambu’s teacher, Mr Matimba, helps her with selling her mealies and keeps her money in safety for her school fees, Jeremiah complains, “Does he think he is your father? [...] He thinks that because he has chewed more letters than I have, he can take over my children. And you, you think he is better than me” (24). He also mistreats his wife, Mainini. In the novel, Dangarembga connects male suffering under the colonial system with the men’s impulse to bully the women in their families.[49]

2.1.3 The Burden of Femininity

The colonial system renders Tambu and other native women doubly oppressed. In the Rhodesian colonial context female subordination is maintained by the cultural consensus that regards women as second-class citizens. The author reveals the system of double oppression: the British colonial authority oppresses the male indigenous population and indigenous men themselves oppress their women. Tambu elucidates, “the needs and sensibilities of the women in my family were not considered a priority, or even legitimate” (12). Even Tambu’s father, Jeremiah, sides with the oppressive system and operates as an antagonist to Tambu’s educational prospect. His comment, “Can you cook books and feed them to your husband?” (15), shows his native patriarchy entwined with solidarity for the oppressive colonial system. Ketu H. Katrak elucidates that “in general, female education, governed by Victorian ideology and Christian missionary zeal, was aimed at producing women as good wives and mothers.”[50] In this context the burden of femininity poses a direct threat to Tambu’s highly desired education.

Furthermore, Dangarembga illustrates Nyasha’s desperate attempt to free herself from the patriarchal oppression. Her struggle for emancipation within Rhodesia is a precarious matter, because her sexuality is a contested term. Nyasha’s uprootedness makes it (increasingly difficult for her to belong within the constraints of traditional patriarchal norms embodied in and enforced by her father Babamukuru). Nyasha cannot fulfil the traditional expectations of female obedience and silence, and her father’s (attempts to have a ‘traditional’ daughter, obedient to his will, backfire in the terrible dramas around food). Her European influenced view of women is at odds with the African concept of female subordination, and her struggle to free herself from the traditional expectations of her father ends tragically in her ailment anorexia nervosa or bulimia when she (attempts to take control over her life). Additionally, the intersection of education provided by the mission with the patriarchal elements of the Shona culture increases her plight. Though Nyasha has gained a critical apparatus in England with which help she is able to analyse critically the whole colonial situation, she is incapable of leading a traditional Shona life because “she has also picked up English social expectations that disrupt her acceptance of patriarchal social norms.”[51] Her hybrid identity poses her between the antagonistic cultures and renders her an outsider within her native Shona community.

Dangarembga delineates how Babamukuru oppresses his well-educated wife, Maiguru, who holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy from London and has her own job. Maiguru struggles to cope with the oppressive social situation. She has to give away her entire salary for the sustenance of Babamukuru’s relatives and is unable “to stand up to her husband or protect her daughter.”[52] Tambu remarks, “[…] it was a great shame that Maiguru had been deprived of the opportunity to make the most of herself, even if she had accepted that deprivation” (103). Maiguru’s inability to act alone under oppressive circumstances and keep her salary to herself causes her daughter Nyasha to lose respect of her. Maiguru has to fulfil the traditional expectations of an obedient and good wife is spite of her European education. She is at pains to comply with the Shona tradition and fulfil the obligations of a working wife and mother. Caught in her powerless situation, she desperately laments, “I am not happy. I am not happy any more in this house” (175). As the only Western-educated woman of her native community she is not accepted among other married women. Her desperate situation shows how “English education […] renders educated women into outsiders in their own communities.”[53]

The horizontal oppression unleashes the nervous conditions of all the characters in the novel. As such, the chain reaction of patriarchal oppression imposes a threat to the mental and physical health of the colonised. Maiguru and Mainini “both give numerous hints of the repressed rage they harbour over their assigned roles through their attempt to hide these feelings.”[54] The oppressed women of the novel are frequently characterised by silence. In many instances in the novel, female characters refrain from uttering their opinions. They reluctantly comply with the traditional silence of women unless asked. Especially for the partly Western educated Maiguru, the situation is difficult to endure. Her excessive submissiveness unnerves her extremely. Mainini’s attitude of indifference is her reaction to oppression. Tambu also suffers under the oppressive situation and often has a need to say what she thinks. Justin D. Edwards outlines Pauline Ada Uwakweh’s argumentation that “silence is used as a patriarchal weapon of control” for the reason that “voicing is self-defining, liberational, and cathartic.”[55] When the powerful Babamukuru “tries to silence all the women in the family,”[56] his daughter, Nyasha, accurately designates her father “a historical artefact” (162). The concept of a ‘historical artefact’ stems from Franz Fanon[57] and Dangarembga extends his concept to native women. Her novel demonstrates that not only native men, but also native women are not natural but ‘historical artefacts’ constructed by the oppressive colonial system.[58] Dangerambga describes “the struggles of the young Tambu against the immediate manifestations of patriarchy in her life.”[59] Mainini’s predicament shows her powerlessness and hopelessness, and even Maiguru is denied agency, control and even identity. Concerning all these characters, the novel shows how female “self and sexuality are constructed and controlled by indigenous patriarchy and British colonial practices,”[60] and “how patriarchy and colonisation collude to worsen women’s predicament.”[61]

2.2 Identity and Hybridity

Nervous Conditions introduces two main characters with complex identities—Tambudzai and Nyasha. Dangarembga’s coming-of-age novel explores colonial identities in a society in transition. The main protagonist, Tambu, provides a self-reflective and lucid analysis of her highly complex identity. Tambu grows up on an impoverished farm with her family. Nyasha spends five of her formative years with her parents in England. When Tambu’s brother dies, she is thirteen. She moves to her uncle’s house, where she becomes close to his daughter Nyasha. Nyasha’s hybridity is the result of the years she spent in England. The novel explores the formation of colonial identity and offers sophisticated answers to questions of colonial and post-colonial identity. In the novel, Tambu takes readers on the journey of “constant reconstruction and reinvention of the self.”[62] Her cousin Nyasha is her companion and sometimes guides her on that journey.

The novel expands the standard Western identity model which focuses on identity as being (a stable, self-contained agent). Instead, it focuses on the analysis of identity as becoming (a process of constructing, negotiating and, not least, maintaining).[63] Dangarembga’s delineation of the process of colonial identity construction in the novel complies with Stuart Hall’s appeal to reconsider the issue of identity and to depart from the Western concept of stable identity. Hall proposes “to appropriate it to designate identity as a constructed process rather than a given essence.”[64] He points out, “the black subject and black experience are [also] constructed historically, culturally, politically.”[65]

The novel shows how the African notion of identity gets fragmented and polluted by the appropriation of Western modes of individual autonomy. The novel illustrates “how cultural hybridity causes the individual to be pulled in multiple directions, adopting identities which may differ from each other.”[66] Tambu’s and Nyasha’s hybrid identities exemplify the “modes of experiencing and constructing difference.”[67] Eslamieh explains the genesis of a colonial/postcolonial hybrid: “The identity of both the colonizer and the colonized within a postcolonial society evolves into a hybrid identity, since colonisation creates spaces that are corporal positions of multiplicity.”[68] With the aid of Dangarembga’s novel, we can observe and explore the steps of colonial identity formation, a process which involves fragmentation, ambiguity, splitting, mimicry and re-creation of the colonised self.

2.2.1 The Distortion of Identity

Dangarembga demonstrates how colonialism disrupts and distorts mother-child relationships and hinders the female protagonists’ healthy identification with the mother. The mother’s role is especially important in nurturing and socialising her children. Laurie Vickroy emphasises Jessica Benjamin’s point that “the mother must have her own independent identity to be able to give the child the recognition it wants and guide its healthy development.”[69] The oppressive system deprives mothers of their own identities and renders them (deeply conflicted between the social demands of motherhood, their own needs, and their children’s well-being). Dangarembga successfully presents how mothers are (continually denied their point of view or status as subjects in oppressive systems [and] how their limited scope of action becomes destructive of themselves and their children). She delineates how (a mother’s role is compromised when mechanisms of oppressive control […] limit her options and rights). Tambu illustrates her mother’s subjugation: “for most of her life my mother’s mind, belonging first to her father and then to her husband, had not been hers to make up” (155).

The colonial interference in the lives of the natives impedes Tambu’s identification with her parents. She disapproves of her parents as role models and instead admires her partly English educated uncle, Babamukuru, and his wife, Maiguru. Tambu states: “I decided it was better to be like Maiguru, who was not poor and had not been crushed by the weight of womanhood” (16). She disapproves of her parents’ way of life and their attitudes. Tambu regards her mother’s thinking in binary oppositions of good versus evil, indigenousness versus Englishness, as inadequate and distances herself from it. She comprehends that there must be paths other than remaining completely uncontaminated by Englishness, or the opposite direction, becoming completely Westernised. She condemns her mother’s “history of compromise, and her tendency toward passivity and paralysis,”[70] and disapproves of her appeal “to learn to carry [her] burdens” of “poverty [and] blackness” “with strength” (16). As for her father, Jeremiah, she cannot approve of his laziness and his spending of the money for school fees on beer. Jeremiah lets the homestead run down so much that she has to intervene and mend it herself. She abhors his patriarchal thinking and says: “I discovered to my unhappy relief that my father was not sensible” (16). Thus the novel shows how the colonially imposed hindrance of a neat identification with the mother contributes to the fragmentation of Tambu’s identity.

Tambu’s estrangement from her parents amplifies when she leaves for the mission. Her father becomes “insignificant” and her mother “superfluous, an obstacle in the path of [her] departure” (58). Instead she looks up to her educated uncle and aunt, until she learns that they, too, are not perfect. Bit by bit she spots their flaws and becomes disappointed and frustrated. When she figures out that her uncle is not an exception when it comes to patriarchy, and Maiguru knowingly succumbs to the predicament of femininity, even though she is educated, Tambu’s faith in her role models gets shaken and she has to reorientate herself. Since it is important for healthy identity formation for one to have role models to identify with, the inconsistency of her role models poses additional burdens to Tambu’s evolving identity.

Moreover, Tambu experiences a break with the traditional concept of identity which assumes community and culture as key resources for identity formation. Instead she strives for autonomy and independence. She develops an individualistic thinking characteristic of the West. The first instance of the rupture of familial bonds and communal sense is evident in Tambu’s inauguration of the novel. Her lack of condolence for her brother’s premature death and her intense desire for colonial education are indicative of the Western influence. Tambu’s wish for colonial education can be measured as her embrace of Western individual success. When Nhamo dies Tambu explains that his loss is not her loss: “I was not sorry that he had died, but I was sorry for him because, according to his standards, his life had been thoroughly worth living” (56). This comment accentuates the break of traditional familial bonds and shows Tambu’s aspiration for Western individual success. Moreover, Tambu’s acceptance of Nhamo’s “death as the price of her own freedom”[71] presents colonialism as a disease that infects and destroys indigenous familial relations.

Her brother Nhamo’s changed identity shows how colonial influence disrupts traditional values. Dangarembga depicts the chain of education, acculturation, alienation and disavowal that leads to his changed identity before his death of mumps. When he moves to the mission, he gradually assumes his new Westernised identity. Tambu recalls: “when Nhamo came home at the end of his first year with Babamukuru, you could see he too was no longer the same person. The change in his appearance was dramatic” (52). Nhamo starts disliking the homestead and disapproves of the whole situation there. He only reluctantly goes home, and stops speaking his native Shona. Instead he starts speaking English and appropriates Western behavioural manners. He removes himself physically and mentally from the homestead and his family there, and is intent on taking on his new identity because it offers him privilege and security, which he cannot expect on the homestead. Tambu notes his alienation: “my brother had become a stranger to me” (56). Nhamo is ashamed of the poverty of the homestead and even of his parents: “’[…] I shall no longer be Jeremiah’s son,’ he shouted, speaking [his] father’s name in such derogatory tones” (48). Renee Schatteman argues that Nhamo represents most evidently “the desperate imitation of whiteness” as he abandons his father’s name.[72] As for his mother, Tambu recollects, “he did not speak to her very often any more” (53). His behaviour shows the break of familial bonds and reveals that Nhamo denies his “own cultural identity for a comfortable place in the social pecking order.”[73]

Dangarembga depicts the compromised identity of her main character. Tambu suffers from the inequalities of the oppressive patriarchal system, which establish in her a sense of her own superfluity. Before Nhamo’s death her imminent exclusion from education, preserved for boys only, triggers an identity crisis in Tambu. She reasons, “Exclusion whispered that my existence was not necessary […] that the process had gone wrong and produced me instead of another Nhamo, another Chido, another Babamukuru-to-be. I often felt superfluous in those days” (40). Tambu’s self-perception is recomposed when she leaves her home and parents behind and grasps enthusiastically the opportunity that would lead her to her “destination” (58). She experiences a drastic break in her personality. Tambu equates her formal welcome at her new place with a formal disinterment of her mind and body from the village.[74] On the mission, she depicts the advent of her new identity, “Thus began the period of my reincarnation” (94). Dangarembga explicitly outlines Tambu’s alternating identities when she moves. Tambu analyses, “This was the person I was leaving behind. At Babamukuru’s I expected to find another self, a clean, well-groomed, genteel self” (58). These adjectives symbolise the Western appearance she strives to assume at Babamukuru’s. Tambu adds that “this new me” “could not have been bred, could not have survived, on the homestead” (59). Tambu is intent on becoming “a young woman of the world” (94) and willingly sheds her old traditional self.

However, Tambu is very soon disillusioned with her life at Babamukuru’s house. When Tambu sees her uncle’s big white house and the wealth that exceeds what she had imagined, she realises that there is a deep breach between her and Babamukuru. She states, “A deep valley cracked open. There was no bridge; at the bottom, spiked crags as sharp as spears. I felt separated forever from my uncle” (64). This realisation “became very depressing and confusing” (65). Tambu states that the dust in the house which was responsible for her hay fever was “restoring your sense of proportion by reminding you that this was not heaven” (71). Moreover, Tambu depicts her initial ambiguous feelings towards her anglicised cousin Nyasha on the mission. The ambiguity results from Nyasha’s acculturation and estrangement due to her Western socialisation. Tambu delineates her split consciousness: “I was intrigued and fascinated with one part of my mind, the adventurous, exploitative part. But … most of me sought order. … These parts disapproved of Nyasha very strongly and were very wary of her” (76). This shows her shifting selves caught in the ambiguity of the colonial condition.

Tambu analyses how her embrace of the Western modes of life makes her identity ambiguous and elusive. Tambu describes the transformation that follows her relocation to the mission as a distressing experience and self-alienation. She recounts how her ambiguity irritated her mother, “made my mother wonder whether I was quite myself, or whether I was carrying some other presence in me” (94). She mourns a rather woeful development in her new place. She is worried about her new self on the mission which, being caught in “a bed of confusion,” has become “unnatural” (167). Furthermore, she says that her “vagueness and reverence for [her] uncle” has “sapped the energy” that she had used “in childhood […] to define [her] own position” (167). Tambu assesses the loss of her ability to assert herself as a very unsatisfactory feature of her new identity. She states, “I do not know how I came to be like that. … I had grown very tentative” (112). She stresses the trouble of her new identity, “My going to the mission was such a drastic change that it unnerved me” (112).

The turning point for Tambu’s negotiation of identity arises at the prospect of her parents’ church wedding, insisted on by her uncle Babamukuru. A dramatic challenge strains her realization of self. Dangarembga portrays how colonial education engenders ambiguity and splits the identity of the colonised by teaching them racist facts that “black would remain definitely sombre and white permanently clear” (167). Tambu’s identity is compromised through her education, which conveys Christian values “such as that ‘sin is black,’ and [she] does accept them.”[75] The performance of a Christian ritual in a Rhodesian setting induces a stark clash of belief systems which queries Tambu’s very existence. The incompatibility of Christian and indigenous belief systems induces a vehement identity crisis in teen Tambu. She declares that the wedding “placed doubt on [her] legitimate existence in this world” (165). Her split identity is explicitly described in the trains of thought regarding her parents’ wedding. She says that “the advantages and disadvantages of white lace and vows at this late stage battled about in [her] head” (166) and “made a mockery of the people [she] belonged to” (165). Tambu realizes that “this wedding was a farce” (167). Therefore, she “could not approve of the wedding” “with half of [her] mind, but in the other half the black square of sin reappeared and grew to an alarming size” (165). With this utterance she shows her splitting due to the incorporation of Christian values into her belief system. Moreover, her assigned role as a bridesmaid in her parents’ wedding makes her anxious. She says, “My role in the comedy had been confirmed and rehearsed, but I still did not want to take part” (166).

2.2.2 Mimicry and Early Childhood

Nyasha’s identity undergoes the most radical transformation of all the characters in the novel. Her early relocation to the colonial metropolis when she is only five years old entails an irreversible break with her African identity. The five years she spends in England with her parents turn her into a cultural hybrid. During her formative years in England she is exposed to English culture and language, and this early exposure brings about the loss of her African identity since she is too young to remember her early life before her time in England. Upon her return to Rhodesia she is another person. Tambu complains about the change in her appearance, “I missed the bold, ebullient companion I had had who had gone to England but not returned from there” (52). Her looks and behaviour have changed by assuming English ways.

Nyasha’s mimicry of the English exemplifies Homi Bhabha’s concept of mimicry. Nyasha represents the ambivalent ‘mimic man’. She is caught in a situation of hate and desire for the colonial metropolis. On the one hand she is attracted to Europe, but on the other hand she despises it. Dimple Godiwala argues that according to Bhabha, the colonised subject “mimics because he or she has internalised the notion that their cultural values are inferior to that of the colonials.”[76] Due to Nyasha’s early relocation, her mimicry of English culture is produced “quite unconsciously as she internalizes and repeats implicitly [its] values.”[77] Godiwala delineates that for Bhabha, “the anglicization of a colonial subject makes the subject familiar and yet, […] emphasises the difference from the English subject which is a process that mocks the authority of the latter.”[78] Thus, Leela Gandhi emphasises that Nyasha’s anglicisation unleashes “the construction of a politically conscious, unified revolutionary Self, standing in unmitigated opposition to the oppressor.”[79]

Nyasha’s deep cultural hybridity is developed and performed unconsciously due to her early exposure to English socialisation. Unlike Tambu, she cannot change her behavioural pattern and assume her indigenous identity because her deeply hybridised nature is beyond her control. Nyasha complains, “They think we do it on purpose…I can’t help having been there and grown into the me that has been there” (79). She complains that her parents are now “stuck with hybrids for children,” which “they don’t like” and which “offends them” (79). Tambu mourns the dramatic change in her cousins, “Now they had turned into strangers. I stopped being offended and was sad instead” (43). Nyasha’s alienation and acculturation make her ignorant of traditional rites and thus remove her further from her aspiration to belong. She and her brother Chido can barely speak and understand Shona any more. She has barely any friends at school and her cultural hybridity makes it increasingly difficult for her to belong in Rhodesia.

Nyasha’s early English socialisation poses the main difference between Tambu’s and Nyasha’s developing identities. Nyasha is disconnected from the Shona culture and her people because she cannot retrieve the memories of her early childhood. Tambu, however, can hold to her “rootedness in childhood, the Zimbabwean landscape, and her own female body,” evident in “much of the early narrative [which] captures the felt immediacy of the presocialized child.”[80] These memories give Tambu strength and points of orientation as she ascends the social ladder and absorbs Christian messages that collude with her childhood memories. In her childhood memories “she seems to own her own body”[81] and is yet uncontaminated by gender differences which she later condemns. She recalls the bliss and jauntiness of the bathing areas before they were overrun by the colonial commercial system. She says, “when I was feeling brave, which was before my breasts grew too large, I would […] run down the river, slip off my frock […] and swim blissfully for as long as I dared in the old deep places” (4). As Sugnet notes, her frock “marks both gender difference and British colonialism.”[82] Thus Sugnet argues that Tambu’s rootedness in the “old deep places” of the river Nyamarira, where she could play as she pleased, functions as a touchstone of her identity.

The difference between Tambu’s and Nyasha’s early childhood makes Nyasha’s identity more complex. The politically sophisticated Nyasha, who “had taken seriously the lessons about oppression and discrimination that she had learnt first-hand in England” (64) “does not have such ‘old deep places’ to orient herself.”[83] Heather Zwicker argues that “Nyasha’s relationship to Shona culture has been formalized into an almost anthropological interest in traditional crafts like basket-making.”[84] Even though she is outspoken in her critique of colonialism, “she has no connections to protect her when she does speaks out,” for “she has no other culture with which to connect.”[85] This missing connection complicates Nyasha’s identity formation since, unlike Tambu, she has no bedrock in which to build her identity.

2.2.3 The Ambiguity of White Masks

The novelist discloses the harm done to the colonised identity and supports many of Fanon’s and Bhabha’s theories about the insidious consequences of the colonial enterprise. The novel unveils striking similarities with Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon’s psychoanalytical work condemns colonialism for the disruptive forces it releases on the side of the colonised. He claims that colonialism “dislocated and distorted the colonised’s psyche” and “eroded his very being, his very subjectivity.”[86] He further suggests that “the colonial experience annihilates the colonised’s sense of self.”[87] Nervous Conditions mirrors his position with regard to colonialism. Fanon describes the colonial condition “as psychopathological, a disease that distorts human relations and renders everyone within it ‘sick’.”[88] The novel demonstrates, quite in Fanon’s sense, how the process of colonisation distorts human relationships and erodes the very subjectivity of the colonised. Tambu’s mother Mainini makes consistent references to ‘Englishness’, which she relates to colonialism. She identifies Englishness as a deadly social disease, with an ability to destroy one’s identity and split families apart. It is depicted as a symbolic sickness that poses danger to the life of colonial society, brought about by the process of colonialism. She blames Englishness for the alienation of her children. Mainini warns Tambu, “Tell me, my daughter, what will I, your mother say to you when you come home a stranger full of white ways and ideas? It will be English, English, all the time” (187). When she speaks of the anglicised siblings Nyasha and Chido, she blames ‘Englishness’ for their plight: “‘It’s Englishness’… ‘It’ll kill them all if they are not careful’” (207).

Nyasha’s deep cultural hybridity shows the serious consequences of Englishness as symptomatic of the infection of Western influence. In Black Skin, White Masks Fanon analyses “the harm done to marginalised groups by continuous exposure to ‘a galaxy of erosive stereotypes’ (129), which causes them to develop feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and self-hatred.”[89] Similarly, in the novel, Nyasha’s exposure to Western concepts of beauty provokes in her feelings of inadequacy and thus the urge to adjust. Nyasha has internalised the European ideal of female beauty and tries to adjust to it by reducing her food intake. She prefers angles to curves and disapproves of Tambu’s traditional female physique, “Pity about the backside… It is rather large” (92). In a possible transference of Black Skin, White Masks onto Nyasha’s character, she becomes the black person “adopting white masks.”[90] The white mask causes a disturbing experience in a black subject because there is always a gap between the black skin and white mask. This gap is marked by the impossibility to transcend it. By putting on a white mask the black subject tries to “make the fact of his blackness vanish,” but never succeeds. This disturbs his or her psyche and shatters his or her very being. Nyasha’s depiction in the novel supports Fanon’s argument that “the colonial subject cannot escape the blackness of the skin and is ‘forever in combat with his own image’.”[91] Schatteman argues that Nyasha “is an extreme embodiment of the white-masked black with her desire for slimness, her definite British accent and her western concepts of feminism.”[92] Nevertheless, her white mask cannot make the fact of her black skin vanish and thus, tragically, advances her into nothingness. The tension between performance and appearance prompts Nyasha’s self-destructive behaviour and leads her into anorexia. This inescapable situation traumatises Nyasha’s psyche, as for Fanon “psychic trauma results when the colonised subject realises that he can never attain the whiteness he has been taught to desire, or shed the blackness he has learnt to devalue.”[93] This situation of imitation “reflects the miserable schizophrenia of the colonized identity.”[94] This tension suggests, as Bhabha argues, that “colonial identities are always a matter of flux and agony.”[95]

Bhabha amplifies Fanon’s image of black skin/white masks by arguing that there is not ‘a neat division’ but (a doubling, dissembling image of being in at least two places at once). This disturbing image of ambiguity displaces the colonial subject. Following Bhabha, (the disturbing distance in between constitutes the figure of colonial otherness—the White man’s artifice inscribed on the Black man’s body). He maintains, (it is in relation to this impossible object that emerges the liminal problem of colonial identity and its vicissitudes). The colonial situation turns Nyasha into an outsider, neither English nor African. She suffers immensely from her predicament and complains about the distortion of her self, “I was comfortable in England but now I’m a whore with dirty habits” (119). Nyasha’s English is much better than that of the rest of her peers. It sounds more natural and renders her an outsider. Nyasha learns painfully that “to speak in the desired way [means], from now on, [also] to speak against oneself.”[96] She suffers from exclusion from her classmates: “As it turned out, it was not Nyasha’s accent they disliked, but Nyasha herself. ‘She thinks, she is white,’ they used to sneer, and that was a bad curse” (95). Later Nyasha describes her distressing situation in a letter to Tambu:


[1] Buelens, Gert, Steff Craps: “Introduction: Postcolonial Trauma Novels.” Studies in the Novel, 40, 1/2 (2008), 3. Hereafter referred to as Studies.

[2] Murray, Jessica: A post-colonial and feminist reading of selected testimonies to trauma in post-liberation South Africa and Zimbabwe. Journal of African Cultural Studies, 21,1 (2009), 4. Hereafter referred to as Zimbabwe.

[3] Zimbabwe, 4.

[4] Zimbabwe, 4.

[5] Cp. Studies, 1.

[6] Studies, 1.

[7] Studies, 1.

[8] Caruth, Cathy: Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press 1996, 11. Hereafter referred to as Unclaimed.

[9] Studies, 3.

[10] Luckhurst, Roger: The Trauma Question. London: Routledge 2008, 4. Hereafter referred to as Question.

[11] Unclaimed, 4.

[12] Studies, 3.

[13] Studies, 3.

[14] Cp. Studies, 4.

[15] Vickroy, Laurie: Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2002, 18. Hereafter referred to as Survival.

[16] Zimbabwe, 13.

[17] Zimbabwe, 13.

[18] Studies, 4.

[19] Studies, 1-3. All further references in the text are to this edition.

[20] Thomas, Sue: “Killing the Hysteric in the Colonized’s House: Tsitsi Dangarembga’s ‘Nervous Conditions’.”The Journal of Commonwealth Literature,27,1 (1992), 26. Hereafter referred to as Hysteric.

[21] Cp. Edwards, Justin D.: Postcolonial Literature. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2008, 4. Hereafter referred to as Literature.

[22] Literature, 4.

[23] Hysteric, 26.

[24] Sugnet, Charles: “‘Nervous Conditions’: Dangarembga’s Feminist Reinvention of Fanon.” In: Obioma Nnaemeka (ed.): The Politics of (M)Othering. London: Routledge 1997, 35. Hereafter referred to as Reinvention.

[25] King, Bruce (ed.): New National and Post-Colonial Literatures: An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press1998, 122. Hereafter referred to as National.

[26] Scahatteman, Renee: Fanon and Beyond: The ‘Nervous Condition’ of the Colonized Woman. In: Kofi Anyidoho et al. (ed.): Beyond Survival: African Literatures & the Search for New Life. Trenton: Africa World Press 1998, 213. Hereafter referred to as Beyond.

[27] Hysteric, 27.

[28] Cp. Hawley, John C.: “Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Ambiguous Adventure: Nervous Conditions and the Blandishments of Mission Education.” In: Gerhard Stilz (ed.): Missions of Interdependence. A Literary Directory . Amsterdam: Rodopi 2002, 185. Hereafter referred to as Adventure.

[29] Reinvention, 39.

[30] Nair, Supriya: “Melancholic Women – The Intellectual Hysteric(s) in Nervous Conditions.” Research in African Literatures, 26.2 (1995), 133.

[31] Reinvention, 39.

[32] Reinvention, 38.

[33] Theory, 100.

[34] Theory, 100.

[35] Theory, 100.

[36] Beyond, 213.

[37] Ania Loomba: Colonialism, Postcolonialism. London: Routledge 2002, 139. Hereafter referred to as Colonialism.

[38] Reinvention, 38.

[39] Gandhi, Leela: Postcolonial Theory, a Critical Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 1998, 13. Hereafter referred to as Theory.

[40] Reinvention, 38.

[41] Reinvention, 38.

[42] Colonialism, 145.

[43] Reinvention, 36.

[44] Hysteric, 26.

[45] Cp. Reinvention, 37.

[46] Reinvention, 37.

[47] Reinvention, 36.

[48] Reinvention, 36.

[49] Cp. Reinvention, 36.

[50] National, 233. All further references in the text are to this edition.

[51] Adventure, 186.

[52] Reinvention, 39.

[53] National, 233.

[54] Beyond, 214.

[55] Literature, 103.

[56] Reinvention, 33.

[57] Cp. Reinvention, 38.

[58] Cp. Reinvention, 38.

[59] Reinvention, 34.

[60] National, 232.

[61] National, 232.

[62] Pristed, Helene: “The Concept of Identity.” In: Wojciech H. Kalaga et al. (ed.): Multicultural Dilemmas: Identity, Difference, Otherness.Frankfurt am Main: Lang 2008, 35.

[63] Cp. Kunow, Rüdiger, Wilfred Raussert (ed.): Cultural Memory and Multiple Identities. Berlin: Lit 2008, 7.Hereafter referred to as Memory.

[64] Loomba, Ania: Colonialism, Postcolonialism. London: Routledge 1998, 176. Hereafter referred to as Postcolonialism.

[65] Postcolonialism, 176.

[66] Eslamieh, Salumeh: “Tsitsi Dangarembga’s ‘Nervous Conditions’: Coming of Age and Adolescence as Representative of Multinational Hybridity.” Moveable Type: Childhood and Adolescence, 1.1 (2005). <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/english/graduate/issue/1_1/salumeh.htm> (04.11.2011). Hereafter referred to as Adolescence.

[67] Memory, 7.

[68] Adolescence.

[69] Vickroy, Laurie: Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2002, 51. Hereafter referred to as Survival. All further references in the text are to this edition.

[70] Reinvention, 40.

[71] Reinvention, 39.

[72] Beyond, 210.

[73] Survival, 43.

[74] Cp. Dangarembga, Tsitsi: Nervous Conditions. Banbury: Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd. 2004, 87.

[75] Reinvention, 43.

[76] Godiwala, Dimple: “Response to Homi Bhabha’s Theory of ‘Mimicry’.” In: Joel Kuortti et al.: Reconstructing Hybridity: Postcolonial Studies in Transition. Amsterdam: Rodopi 2007, 61.Hereafter referred to as Response.

[77] Response, 61.

[78] Response, 60.

[79] Theory, 11.

[80] Reinvention, 40.

[81] Reinvention, 40.

[82] Reinvention, 41.

[83] Reinvention, 41.

[84] Zwicker, Heather: “The Nervous Collusions of Nation and Gender: Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Challenge to Fanon.” In: Treiber Jeanette et al. (ed.): Negotiating the Postcolonial: Emerging Perspectives on Tsitsi Dangarembga. Trenton: Africa World Press 2002, 19. Hereafter referred to as Collusions.

[85] Sizemore, Christine W.: “Negotiating Between Ideologies: The Search for Identity in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s ‘Nervous Conditions’ and Margret Atwood’s ‘Cat’s Eye’.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, 25.3/4 (1997), 73. Hereafter referred to as Negotiating.

[86] Colonialism, 142-43.

[87] Colonialism, 143.

[88] Colonialism, 143.

[89] Studies, 3.

[90] Colonialism, 145.

[91] Beyond, 209.

[92] Scahatteman, Fanon and Beyond, p. 211

[93] Postcolonialism, 176.

[94] Colonialism, 145.

[95] Postcolonialism, 176. All further references in the text are to this edition.

[96] Theory, 13.


Type of Edition
ISBN (Softcover)
File size
454 KB
Publication date
2014 (February)
Identity Gender Westernisation Dislocation Resistance

Title: The Trauma of Colonial Condition: in Nervous Conditions and Kiss of the Fur Queen
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94 pages