Babamukuru as the Mimic Man: A Post-colonial : An Examination of Tsitsi Dangaremba's Nervous Conditions

John Yang, English 119, Brown University, 1999

Part 5 of "Representation and Resistance: A Cultural, Social, and Political Perplexity in Post-Colonial Literature"

The ultimate dilemma in applying representation and resistance theory to post-colonial literature rests in the notion that a novel, a literary form that arises in the western world of print culture, may challenge as well as perpetuate colonial institutions. It seems an unlikely paradox, yet the paradox is very real and very present in post-colonial literature. In "Figures of Colonial Resistance," Jenny Sharpe uses the term mimic man to describe a figure who represents this paradox: "The mimic is a contradictory figure who simultaneously reinforces colonial authority and disturbs it" (99). The mimic man can be a character in a novel or even an author himself.

The mimic man represents a byproduct of colonial civilization, not a entity separate from the colonial sphere. As result, the fact that he was produced with the colonial voice relegates the seemingly more important issue of whether the mimic speaks for or against colonial authority. Sharpe continues along this line of argument stating, "To think of the relation between the discourse centering on the production of the colonial subject [mimic man] and what it occludes as an eclipse is to see that the subaltern classes are not situated outside the civilizing project but are caught in the path of its trajectory" (100).

In Dangaremba's Nervous Conditions, Uncle Babamukuru represents this colonial subject or mimic man. Babamukuru, although Shona in ethnicity and heritage, is ultimately a product of Western education and Western means of success. His family reveres him not because he is high on the Shona cultural ladder of respect but because he possesses the gift of the white man's voice and uses it to achieve success. From protagonist Tambudzai's point-of-view, Babamukuru represents all that she could possibly achieve and more:

Then I discovered that Nhamo had not been lying. Babamukuru was indeed a man of consequence however you measured him . . . Nhamo's chorus sang in my head and now it sounded ominous. Its phrases told me something I did not though he was. He was wealthier than I had though possible. He was educated beyond books. And he had done it alone. He has pushed up from under the weight of the white man with no strong relative to help him. How had he done it? Having done it, what had he become? A deep valley cracked open. There was no bridge; at the bottom, spiked crags as sharp of as spears. I felt separated forever from my uncle. (64)

This passage depicts both the awe Tambudzai felt upon first seeing her uncle's house and the ultimate disappointment she experienced when she realized her uncle's wealth and status separated him from her.

Do family members revere Babamukuru for the wrong reasons? Why does Babamukuru not use his financials means to improve the local education system of his village instead of adopting one child at a time? Are his lavish gifts a sign of true altruism or one of condescension, a condescension paralleled by the white man upon the indigenous people?

Babamukuru cannot exist without his Western education. Without it, he suffers the fate of his brother Jeremiah, being a nobody with absolutely no importance. Babamukuru seems genuinely vested in the social and financial improvement of his family, notions which serve to infuse pride into the indigenous people. However, he must also use his identity of a Western educated scholar as the means for improvement. In fact, the mimic man is the only means of improvement in Tambudzai's family. Therefore, Babamukuru reinforces the dominance of colonial institutions and disturbs it at the same time. He uses Western ideas of success to garner respect and worship from Shona people.

While Babamukuru's vested interest in his family makes it difficult for readers to condemn him, his dependence on colonial institutions prevents him from receiving the full glory he may deserve. He is indeed a paradox, belonging to both Western and indigenous culture and at the same time being forever separated from both as Tambudzai observes. Perhaps the sacrifice that one pays for becoming a voice or a symbol for a certain people or nation is the ultimate alienation from both his people and his audience.


Sharpe, Jenny. "Figures of Colonial Resistance." in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. New York: Routledge, 1995. pp. 99-103.

Representation and Resistance: A Cultural, Social, and Political Perplexity in Post-Colonial Literature

Postcolonial OV discourseov Zimbabwe OV Tsitsi Dangaremba