Writing about female oppression : the social and political significance of Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous conditions

Broekman, Shirley Jeanne (1999)

Thesis (M.A.)--University of Stellenbosch, 1999.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis demonstrates that an African woman writer often faces a number of challenges due to her social and economic situation in many countries, and this has led to writers like Dangaremgba adopting unusual literary strategies in an attempt to be heard in the literary arena, as well as in their communities. Most African women are subjects of patriarchal systems and previously were subjects of oppressive colonial systems, which meant that they were faced with sexual discrimination in virtually every aspect of life. For example, African women writers have had to challenge male dominance in the literary arena, and rework sexist and stereotypical representations of African women in literature. They have also had to struggle to have their novels published and receive serious critical attention, as their works have frequently been appropriated and misrepresented by a great deal of Western feminist literary analysis, which tends to construct artificial categories of analysis and ultimately discriminates between "us" and "them" in an imperialistic and often racist manner. In response to this social and literary context, Dangarembga has developed a number of literary strategies which enable her to deliver social and political commentary and challenge the status quo. For instance, she uses the technique of "writing beyond the ending" to critique her main character, Tambu, by narrating the story from the point of view of an experienced self which develops outside the scope of the novel. Because of this technique she is able to draw attention to the inconsistencies, dangers and ironies inherent in the position of many of her characters. She has also created a novel which appears to conform to the convention of a "Bildungsroman", but then reverses this familiar pattern by demonstrating that the individual is at the mercy of the colonial system without the support and sense of heritage that involvement with their community provides. The novel ultimately demonstrates that it is because of her involvement with the community that Tambu achieves consciousness and emancipation, as opposed to through her individual endeavours. Finally, Dangarembga challenges simplistic and reductive representations of women in Western feminist and other texts, by vividly portraying the multiplicity and variety of her characters' responses to an oppressive situation, as well as the unique and multifaceted nature of their situation. She strongly rejects the idea that African women are ultimate victims of oppressive social systems, by demonstrating - that there are a number of choices and options available to women and that they are able to influence their situation, even though the circumstances they live in are extremely complex and stressful. This thesis concludes by pointing out the social importance of this kind of text, as it illustrates an alternate mode of behaviour for oppressed women and thus may ultimately contribute towards social and political change. At the same time, writing of this sort provides a vital outlet for many African women writers who experience oppression and silencing as members of patriarchal societies, as well as a way in which to analyse and reinterpret their experiences of oppression in a more constructive manner.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis demonstreer dat Afrikaanse skryfsters in baie lande dikwels verskeie uitdagings tee kom, as gevolg van hul sosiale en ekonomiese situasies. Om daardie rede het skryfsters soos Tsitsi Dangaremgba ongewone literere strategiee aangeneem, as 'n poging om in die literere arena, sowel as in hul eie gemeenskappe gehoor te word. Die meeste Akrikaanse vroue is aan patriarchiese sisteme en was voorheen ook aan oppressiewe koloniale sisteme onderdanig, waarin hulle seksuele diskriminasie in amper elke faset van die samelewing tee gekom het. As gevolg hiervan moet Afrikaanse skryfsters manlike dominasie in die literariese arena uitdaag, en seksistiese, stereotipiese uitbeeldings van Akfrikaanse vroue in literatuur verander. Hulle sukkel ook om hul boeke te laat druk en om emstige kritiese aandag te ontvang, omdat hulle werk dikwels deur Westerse feministe literere analiseerders aangeneem en misverteenwoordig word. Dit skep gewoonlik onnatuurlike kategoriee van ontleding en diskrimineer tussen "ons" en "hulle" in 'n imperialistiese en dikwels rasistiese manier. Dangaremgba se antwoord in die sosiale en literere konteks, was om verskeie literariese strategieete ontwikkel wat haar in staat gestel het om sosiale en politiese kommentaar te lewer wat die "status quo" aanpak. Sy gebruik, by voorbeeld, die tegniek van "skryf verby die einde" om op haar hoofkarakter, Tambu, kritiek te lewer. Hier sien ons hoe sy die storie vertel van 'n ervare self se oogpunt wat buite die tydperk van die storie ontwikkel het. Hierdie tegniek laat haar toe om aandag te trek aan die ongelykhede, gevare en ironiee wat bestaan in baie van haar karakters se situasies. Dangarembga het ook 'n boek geskep wat blyk asof dit pas by die model van 'n "Bildungsroman", maar dan sit sy hierdie bekende patroon in tru rat. Sy demonstreer dat die individu aan die koloniale sisteem blootgestel is, sonder die steun en bewussyn van afkoms wat betrokkenheid met die gemeenskap verskaf. Die boek demonstreer uiteindelik dat dit juis haar betrokkenheid met die gemeenskap is , wat Tambu na bewusheid en vryheid lei, en nie haar eie pogings nie. Byvoorlaas, vat Dangarembga simplistiese en verminderinde verteenwoordigings van Afrikaanse vroue in Westerse feministe en ander tekste aan, deur om die veelvoudigheid en verskeidenheid in haar karakters se reagerings teen 'n oppressiewe situasie uit te wys, sowel as die unieke an veelsigtige natuur van hul situasie. Haar sterk verwerping van die idee dat Afrikaanse vroue helplose lyers van oppressiewe sosiale sisteme is, word gedemonstreer deur haar uitbeelding van die beskikbaarheid van 'n groot verkeidenheid keuses aan haar vroulike karakters, en die baie geleenthede wat hulle het om hul situasies te beinvloed, al is die omstandighede waarin hulle lewe ontsettend kompleks en moelik. Laastens, dui hierdie tesis die sosiale belangrikheid van haar teks aan, omdat dit 'n altematiewe soort optrede vir vroue wat in oppressiewe sisteme lewe illustreer, en daarom mag dit bydra tot sosiale en politiese verandering. Die tipe skrifverskafterselfdetyd 'n lewensbelangrike uitlaat vir baie Afrikaanse skryfsters wat oppressie in hul eie lewens ervaar, sowel as 'n geleendheid om hulle ervarings van oppressie in 'n meer konstruktiewe manier te analiseer en oorvertel.

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