Identity in Existence

John Yang

"Exclusion held dreadful horrors for me at that time because it suggested superfluity. Exclusion whispered that my existence was not necessary, making me no more than an unfortunate by-product of some inexorable natural process. Or else it mocked that the process had gone wrong and produced me instead of another Nhamo, another Chido, another Babamukuru-to-be." (39-40)

"It would be a marvellous opportunity, she said sarcastically, to forget. To forget who you were, what you were and why you were that. The process, she said, was called assimilation, and that was what was intended for the precocious few who might prove a nuisance if left to themselves, whereas the others well really, who cared about the others?" (178-179)

Throughout Nervous Conditions, we see Tambu struggling to search for and achieve an identity, but more importantly a value to place on her life and existence. She struggles to rise above the shadow cast over her by Nhamo, Chido, and to a certain extent, Nyasha. Tambu takes the initiative of her own emancipation by growing mealies in order to sell them. Eventually, she receives the benefits of her uncle Babamukuru (after Nhamo's death) to live with him and study at the mission.

While struggling to find a value in her existence and identity, she sometimes undermines the value of her culture and her familial bonds. She criticizes Chido and Nyasha at first for forgetting to speak their native Shona, but Tambu relishes in the thought of attending multiracial schools and learning to speak English fluently as a factor in her emancipation. She apparently does not see the conflict in criticizing her cousin's lack of respect yet wanting more than ever to break free from the poverty surrounding her family. As the novel progresses, she becomes more and more hesitant to visit her parents, claiming educated women like herself had no place on the farm. When Tambu is accepted to Sacred Heart, she gloats in the fact that she will be receiving a white man's education. She trivializes her uncle and her mother's concern that she will be losing her Shona culture by assimilating more and more into the "white" ways of life, the same concerns Tambu herself had of Chido and Nyasha when they first returned from England.

By struggling for identity and importance, is Tambu losing identity? She separates more and more from her family and is finally ashamed of them when Babamukuru decides to grant her parents a wedding to mask their sin. Is Tambu willing to relinquish her former self to create a new one that includes money and prestige, but excludes her family more and more? Is what Nyasha calls "assimilation" a necessary evil for the "marvellous" education Tambu is about to receive? What does this say about her identity that struggled hard to find?

Postcolonial Web Zimbabwe OV Tsitsi Dangarembga Overview