Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions: At the Crossroads of Feminism and Post‐Colonialism

  • Citation: McWilliams, Sally. "Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions: At the crossroads of feminism and post‐colonialism." Journal of Postcolonial Writing 31.1 (1991): 103-112.
    • Topics:
    • IR Theories
    • Keywords:
    • women of color
    • intersectional feminism
    • post-colonialism

Language is power, and in multilingual contexts this invariably causes complications. Such complications reverberate in postcolonial literature written in a colonial language such as English. However, this is not unique to postcolonial texts. As Mikhail Bakhtin has pointed out, all literary texts are ‘ideologically saturated’ since language is ‘populated over-populated with the intentions of others’.’ The power relationships inherent in language have been studied by many scholars. Among the myriad voices in this debate, two stand out as particularly relevant to the present study: Ralph Grillo, who endorses Chomsky’s claim that ‘questions of language are basically questions of power’,2 and Helen Tiffin, who comments that much postcolonial writing reveals ‘the continuing struggle over the word’.3 Since many postcolonial texts are set in traditionally patriarchal societies, in which boys are thought more worthy than girls of formal education, any discussion of language and power must include gender politics alongside questions of linguistic and cultural hegemony. The power of language to upset, uproot, and either shackle or set free is demonstrated with devastating clarity in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s awardwinning first novel, Nervous Conditions.4 In this text, ‘the first published novel in English by a black Zimbabwean woman’,5 Dangarembga’s treatment of the politics of both language and gender is witty, sophisticated, and hardhitting. Set in Umtali in the former Southern Rhodesia during the g6os and I970s, the novel departs in two ways from the Bildungsroman function which might seem to be its ostensible form.

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