Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Irony of the Reincarnation

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“Thus began the period of my reincarnation.” This quote that emerges throughout the novel from Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga undoubtedly serves as a luminous detail in describing Tambu’s developments and realizations through her newfound education. More importantly, however, behind the fa├žade of this supposed, glorified reincarnation, an irony exists because the very development that she is praising is the same development that will eventually rid her of her assertiveness, cultural traditions, and identity.

Certainly, Tambu does progress and mature in some ways during her time in her “new life.” First of all, this opportunity to grow intellectually gave Tambu hope for the future. She says, “I expected this era to be significantly profound and broadening in terms of adding wisdom to my nature, clarity to my vision, glamour to my person.” Additionally, Tambu gains higher self-esteem from her educational environment when she is used to being reproached and discouraged by her father. “It was surprising [. . .] I was not used to being so warmly liked,” she says, regarding her teachers and classmates. Also, she finds she can dance very well and comfortably, which gives her confidence and self-assurance.

Despite the aforementioned progress that Tambu is making, she begins to lose qualities and ingredients of self that used to define who she is. This serves as an element of irony to the luminous detail, “Thus began the period of my reincarnation,” because, although she characterizes her education and development with a positive connotation, she begins to regress. For instance, the drastic change “unnerves” her and causes her to lose her former assertiveness that had been so useful in convincing her parents to give her the opportunity to be successful and lead the life she yearned for. Tambu reflects, “I have grown much quieter and more self-effacing than usual, even for me.” She “hardly ever talks unless spoken to,” and simply “accepts” the anglicized ways she is taught without pondering whether they agree with her values or not. Also, even when Tambu blatantly states her view that she strongly disapproves of her mother and father’s wedding and that it mocks her entire family’s existence, she says, “I pretended to myself that it was a wonderful plan” because she cannot take action or debate any thoughts that are her own.

Not only has Tambu lost her assertiveness due to this so-called “reincarnation,” but she has lost her respect for the traditions and culture of life on the homestead. For example, she says that the toilet is dirty and that it disgusts her, when before she began her “new life” it was simply the way of living on the homestead and she accepted it peacefully. Also, she states, “The further we left the old ways behind the closer we came to progress,” illustrating how her perspective on the traditional ways of life has mutated into a negative, disapproving, and almost disgusted outlook on her culture. This disillusioned perspective parallels the illusion that her intellectual development is a “reincarnation,” when, in many ways, it is detrimental to Tambu’s sense of self and her identity.

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The loss that truly capitalizes on the irony of “the period of reincarnation” is the gradual but distinct loss of Tambu’s identity. She even realizes that there is something “unnatural” about her. This unfamiliar feeling is a symptom of her struggle to be a respected member of the anglicized community while her heart is fighting in the opposite direction. Eventually, despite her entrance into Sacred Heart, Tambu manages to succeed in school. She remembers all of her lessons, readings, and formulas, but ironically forgets her friends, her family, and, because this is all that has ever been precious and meaningful in her life, she forgets what is most essential in life herself.

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