Professor Krystyna Michael
Comparative Literature 102W
December 6, 2011
Cultural Change in Nervous Conditions Related to the Functions of Eating and Ingestion
Nervous Conditions is a novel that explores the dichotomy of both the English and Shona cultures. Tambu Siguake, is the central character and narrator who is preoccupied in this identity crisis. Tambu observes the polarizing effects of these intertwining cultures on the people around her, which in turn raise questions about the nature of colonialism. Tambu’ slow progression through assimilation is documented throughout the novel using food related metaphors. The interesting aspect of this novel is the ...view middle of the document...
Therefore, his assimilation into the English culture creates a barrier between him and Siguake, thus separating the family.
Siguake goes to the mission after Nhamo dies and at her first dinner there, it is clear that she has not been assimilated to their culture yet:
The food looked interesting, which made me suspicious of it since I knew that food was not meant to be interesting but filling. Besides the rice, there was something that might have been potato: I could not be sure since it was smothered in a thick, white, tasteless gravy. Although I gallantly placed small portions of it in my mouth, it refused to go down my throat in large quantities. In fact nothing as going down my throat in large quantities. I discovered that using a knife and fork was not as easy as it looked; most of my supper was landing on the table, on my chest, in my lap – everywhere except in my mouth. In a way this was not a bad thing because the taste of those potatoes made everything else, even the meat, which was properly cooked with plenty of salt and onions and tomatoes, taste funny. (Dangarembga 83)
This passage shows that the food and utensils are foreign to her and she has not been Anglicized like the rest of her uncle’s family. The theme of eating is present again, where she could not swallow the potato. This can be seen as Siguake not being able to stomach these new cultural changes that were being imposed upon her. It is interesting that Maiguru decided to dish out sadza, a traditional Shona dish, which “nobody else would eat” (Dangarembga 84). Siguake was the only one who ate the sadza, thus showing her inherent culture. Dangarembga’s use of food illustrates the cultural differences between Tambu and the rest of her family at the mission, Tambu maintaining her Shona roots, while her family is Anglicized.
Tambu’s foreign mannerisms as opposed to her Anglicized cousin can be seen at her first breakfast at the mission, “At breakfast, the food would not go down. My throat constricted more tightly with each mouthful I tried to swallow…Watching Nyasha work her way daintily through egg and bacon and tea, having declined the porridge and toast because too much food would make her fat” (Dangarembga 93). The obvious disparity is how Nyasha could easily eat the breakfast while Tambu couldn’t. However, the underlying point of this passage is that Nyasha has assimilated into the English culture and Tambu has not. Tambu mentions that Nyasha had turned down food which furthers the notion of Nyasha’s Anglicized ways.
Tambu eventually assimilates to the English culture by means of living at the mission. This is seen when Tambu talks about why Chido did not come home for Christmas with the rest of his family, “You couldn’t blame him really for not wanting to go home, because he was too old now – we all were, and too civilized too – to be amused by eating matamba and nhengeni” (Dangarembga 122). Tambu began to develop a sort of identity crisis which was much more...