Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Sally McWilliams

Committee Member

Johnny Lorenz

Committee Member

Arthur Simon


In this paper I explore how with Nervous Conditions (1988) and She No Longer Weeps (1987), Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga creates alternative literary forms in her representation of architectural, bodily and narrative spaces and their relationship to female identities. These physical spaces the women characters inhabit, resist and in which they assert their voices must be cleared of patriarchal control in order for female-centered space to be produced. Moreover, the creation of a new speech paradigm, one that affirms the female voice, is crucial to the journey towards female autonomy. Inasmuch as Dangarembga explores the ways in which physical spaces work for and against the protagonists in their search for autonomous spaces, Dangarembga is also carving out a literary space for female Zimbabwean authors and playwrights to write, publish and be heard.

As opposed to the traditional manners in which setting is used (as the backdrop of the action or the time and place in which the action of narrative occurs), the physical spaces Dangarembga constructs in Nervous Conditions and She No Longer Weeps are not static; they are sites of contestation. They are not innocent or empty, nor are they representative of the female identity. The physical and narrative spaces serve as a means through which the women work to construct their own identities and create their own material and narrative spaces in colonial Rhodesia and neo-colonial Zimbabwe, all the while confronting and resisting the oppressive forces at work against them.

The first chapter, a short biography of Tsitsi Dangarembga, provides insight into how her experiences and struggles as a Zimbabwean female author illuminate the lack of literary space, in production and discourse, afforded to Zimbabwean women writers. The following chapter titled “The Gendering of National Space” explores how colonial Rhodesia, neo-colonial Zimbabwe and their national and domestic spaces are products of colonial and post-colonial notions and practices about gender. One must consider national ideologies and how the nation produces and performs its tenets on gender before he/she considers the concrete, physical spaces that are products and producers of them. The following chapter, “Resisting Allegory,” explains the dangers of reading the experiences of Dangarembga’s female characters as allegory. Too often the nation becomes feminized in discourse and women become idealized symbols of the nation. To see the experiences, struggles and journeys of the women as primarily allegorical marginalizes them from their own spaces and experiences and puts them in paternalistic terms.

In “Physical Space and Movement in Nervous Conditions and She No Longer Weeps ” I identify and explore how the physical spaces the female characters encounter, resist and create along their identitarian journeys, spaces framed by the ideological discourses of colonial and neo-colonial Zimbabwe, influence the trajectories of both texts. Tambudzai, the narrator of Nervous Conditions, journeys far and wide through time and space in colonial Rhodesia, while Martha’s journey in She No Longer Weeps is relegated to the domestic sphere. Despite emancipation from colonial rule, Martha illustrates that women in neo-colonial Zimbabwe are struggling against growing forms and familiar faces of oppression.

The most effective strategy Dangarembga uses to create women’s space is by providing her protagonists with strong narrative voices. The chapter “Narration and the Self-Determining Female Voice” explores the tense, point-of-view and tone of Tambu’s narration in Nervous Conditions and Martha’s speech patterns in She No Longer Weeps. Following discussion of how Dangarembga’s male characters attempt to maintain dominion over the ideologically charged spaces of the home, “Female Speech Paradigms in Private and Public Spaces” argues that creating a new speech paradigm is crucial to the establishment of female-centered spaces where women can speak and be heard. The chapter “Female Bodies, Resistance and the Creation of Female-Centered Space” explores how the bodies of Tambu, her cousin Nyasha, Martha and her daughter Sarah become the sites on which the battles for female autonomy and identity act themselves out; these bodies are the means through which the women communicate their most subversive acts of resistance to male hegemony. The final chapter, “Generational Support” explores how the supporting cast of female characters in Nervous Conditions and She No Longer Weeps, particularly the protagonists’ mothers, illustrate the generational struggle toward female autonomy and the visionary nature of both texts.

The ideologically constructed spaces that exist to silence women are emptied of their power by Dangarembga’s female characters. This provides for original ways to imagine the nation, its public and private spaces, and literature that has been scripted in male discourse. Not only is female-centered space emerging, but the self-determination of Tambu, Nyasha and Martha provide an alternative manner in which women can undergo the female journey toward selfhood.

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