I Am Woman: Gender Identity in Nervous Conditions
The novel Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga tells the story of a young Rhodesian girl, Tambu, who gets an education despite the pressures of traditional Shona society. Tambu only gets to go to school because her only brother has died, and even then, she goes in spite of her father’s will. Along with Tambu’s story, the lives of the other women in Tambu’s family demonstrate the struggle of black women and complexity in their defying traditional female gender roles and maintaining their personhood as African women.
Tambu’s aunt Lucia is the simplest example of a non-traditional woman out of Tambu’s relatives. Lucia is Tambu’s mother’s younger sister who not only has never married, but also, at the beginning of the novel, has no children. Tambu describes Lucia as a beautiful “wild woman” (Dangarembga 127) who “was dark like [her] mother but unlike [her] mother her complexion always had a light shining from underneath the skin” (Dangarembga 127). Eventually in the story, Lucia comes to Tambu’s family’s home to help Mainini, Tambu’s mother, with a difficult pregnancy. While Lucia is there, she sleeps with Tambu’s father’s brother Takesure and becomes pregnant. When he hears of this situation, Babamkuru insists that Takesure and Lucia leave the homestead and go to Takesure’s home together. However, several months later when Babamkuru returns to the homestead and finds Lucia and Takesure still living there in spite of his instructions for them to leave, Lucia does not bother herself to be polite or subservient toward him as the rest of the women in the family are. In fact, she is outright rude to him.
Unlike other women in Zimbabwe, Lucia does not rely on men to take care of herself. Even once she is a mother, she does not get married; she gets a job cooking at the mission and even goes to school at night. Before Lucia got pregnant, other people would say things about her such as:...