Nervous Conditions Tsitsi Dangarembga Each Critical Essay Annotated Bibliography

Excerpt from Annotated Bibliography :

Nervous Conditions" Tsitsi Dangarembga): Each critical essay include a Precis critique, separate . All 3, underlying theme gender inequality post colonialism.

Gender Inequality in Post-Colonial Literature

Barker, Clare. "Self-starvation in the Context of Hunger: Health, Normalcy and the "Terror of the Possible" in Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions." Journal of Postcolonial Writing 44.2 (2008): 115-25.

Clare Barker's article examines the ways in which Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions explores the issue of hunger in terms of how it relates both to human starvation and eating disorders within the book. She rejects the common belief among critics of the book that Nyasha's eating disorder is an example of how she is "Western" or set in opposition to other African people. Instead she sees Nyasha's self-starvation as consistent with the normative nature of hunger in her environment (that being the war-torn Rhodesia of the 1960's and 1970's). Thus her disorder is, like all hunger, a disabling condition but not necessarily one that is aberrant.

Barker further looks at the novel in terms of disability studies. She notes that in that field, viewing certain states of health and physicality as "normal" is seen as hegemonic. She says that Nyasha identifies with the suffering in her culture and that factors into her disordered eating. By setting up Nyasha's behavior as a contrast to her immediate family's and an attempt to align herself with her poorer extended family, Barker argues that Dangarembga is critiquing the dominant structure of white colonialism. Her family is middle-class as a result of colonial policies and they are moneyed and satiated in comparison to the rest of the family.

Barker makes a compelling argument about the failure of criticism, overall, to challenge norms with respect to the cause, function, and implications of disordered eating. Rather than argue about how healthful or productive Nyasha's eating or the motivation behind it is, she focuses the larger paradigm of how starvation in Africa is viewed and conveyed in literature. Speaking to how these issues relate to gendered expectations of beauty, Barker hypothesizes that in Nyasha's world there is no standard beauty that is not problematic in some way: to be thin is to be starved and to be well-fed is to be allied with oppression and commercialism. Her eating disorder, being tied directly to appearance, still holds power as a self-subjugation mechanism, yet she is actually rejecting the standards presented to her in culture, which functions as an act of political defiance.

Thesis Statements

I argue that throughout the narrative of Nervous Conditions, Nyasha's developing disorder channels an interrogation of the concept of normalcy as it pertains to health and, in particular, to hunger and food consumption in her society (116).

-- the essay aims to delve into many different aspects of normalcy and its relationship to hunger for Nyasha and for her people and this statement links the two ideas together.

Primary Points

The idea of the norm is therefore both inherently politicized and inextricable from its cultural context (116).

-Barker is pointing out what is meant by the term "norm" and how it is often used in criticism in a reductive way, rather than taking into account cultural differences.

For many rural Africans, hunger is a quotidian reality to be negotiated, and is thus identified with the "norm" (116).

-Further Barker ties in the ways in which hunger could be considered normal.

Within this contradictory society, poverty and wealth, shortage and excess, subsistence and consumer economies can exist in frightening proximity even within the same family, with the result that it becomes impossible for Nyasha to develop a "healthy," untroubled relationship with food and with her own body (117).

-Barker ties Nyasha, one of the characters in Nervous Conditions, into her thesis by pointing out how her immediately and extended family's relationship to food influences her own.

Prevalent modes of discourse on hunger in Africa…typically centre on a sensationalized and symbolic idea of famine at the expense of cultural, economic or political analysis (120).

-This statement shows how Barker is looking at how we look at Africa in general. She feels that we consider Africa and African "problems" as one big notion, and in doing so we are easier able to compartmentalize and eventually dismiss it.

Key Concepts

"the terror of the possible" (123)

-This refers to the threat of famine with which some Rhodesians live every day.

Hunger as a discursive and politicized context (120)

-Barber asks us to think of hunger in this way.

Situating Move

By challenging the idea of eating disorders as the milieu of the upper-middle class, frivolous, white world and tying it to something that, for that same white world is quite taboo, Barber sets her essay apart. She sets up a way in which the reader can see an eating disorder as a "norm" but yet she does not condone disordered eating; rather she asks the reader to consider how Nyasha's illness could be a function of interacting with her culture rather than a reaction against it.

Additional Sources of Interest

"Wretched of the earth" (117)

-Barber quotes Richard A. Gordon, who notes how anorexics often feel kinship with people in poor or otherwise unfortunate circumstances and that their disordered eating can be a political reaction to a well-fed, middle-class sensibility.

Particularly Impressive Sentences

Nyasha's emaciation, as a displaced and defamiliarized representation of starvation in Africa, functions as a visible marker of an unhealthy society and disallows a response to hunger that is passive, objectifying or disengaged from political discourses (124).

-Barker ends by imploring the reader to use Nyasha's example as a representation of hunger.

Patchay, Sheena. "Transgressing Boundaries: Marginality, Complicity and Subversion in "Nervous Conditions" English in Africa 30.1 (2003): 145-55.

Patchay's article explores how the novel Nervous Conditions uses its characters as examples of female liberation by both giving each their own unique voice and by imbuing them with various forms of hysteria, which she explores therein. She does not see hysteria as other feminist critics do, which is as a reductive term when applied to women. Instead she sees it as a source of power for Dangarembga's characters, who act outside of the boundaries of acceptable behavior and, in doing so, create their own space.

Patchay first discusses the character Ma'Shingayi and lays out her argument that, rather than seeing her as one of the more oppressed female figures in the novel, she actually acts as an oppositional force against the male power structure in many ways, using her refusal to do things, her very inaction, as a form of action. Patchay also uses her discussion of Ma'Shingayi to explore the idea of women as witches and how the sexuality and danger that witches possess grant them more control.

The article also looks at Nyasha's anorexia and how it functions as a means of control for her. In fact she sees the other instances of body mutilation the novel the same way: They are representative both of the body of the individual and the larger body of people that have been oppressed and colonized. Thus punishing the body is a way of exerting mastery over it. Nyasha is both literally rebelling against her father and also in a broader sense rebelling against the men who have placed strictures on all of the women around her. Patchay discusses how both Nyasha and Ma'Shingayi experience periods of self-deprival and how, instead of reading these as ways in which they are further subjugated, she reads them as challenges to traditional African expectations of beauty and femininity.

Lastly Patchay talks about storytelling and how the very structure of the book, with its shared narration (unusual in that much post-colonial literature is dominated by male voices), forces the reader to consider many different perspectives of African women. Dangarembga presents us with one country, one community, but many different points-of-view and experiences, such that they defy easy labels.

Thesis Statements

By emphasizing the various levels of complicity with and resistance to patriarchy and colonialism, the novel negates the notion that African women's voices constitute a homogeneous 'third world voice' (145).

The female body, maligned and inscribed by patriarchal and colonial practice, becomes a powerful site of resistance in the novel (145).

-Both statements point out Patchay's reading of the Dangarembga novel as a celebration of the diversity of women in Africa and their power to fight back against patriarchy with both body and voice.

Primary Points

Hysteria should be read as a position of revolt that causes upheaval (146).

-Here Patchay puts forth her, at first incongruous, idea that hysteria, which is often seen as a position of weakness, is actually a form of protest.

The multi-vocality lent to the novel through harnessing the stories of four women told by Tambudzai challenges the various ways in which African women's stories have been silenced both through patriarchal and colonial meta-narrativity (147).

-This sentence further demonstrates the second part of Patchay's thesis in its explanation of what sets this book apart from its predecessors literature about Africa.


Cite This Annotated Bibliography:

"Nervous Conditions Tsitsi Dangarembga Each Critical Essay" (2011, March 08) Retrieved August 20, 2017, from

"Nervous Conditions Tsitsi Dangarembga Each Critical Essay" 08 March 2011. Web.20 August. 2017. <>

"Nervous Conditions Tsitsi Dangarembga Each Critical Essay", 08 March 2011, Accessed.20 August. 2017,