Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Writing Rhodesia : young girls as narrators in works by Doris Lessing and Tsitsi Dangarembga

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  • Doris Lessing and Tsitsi Dangarembga write fiction set in Zimbabwe, the former Southern Rhodesia. Although Lessing grew up as a white settler and Dangarembga, a generation later, as part of the colonized African population, the women sometimes address similar issues. Both write of young girls trying to find a speaking position; under colonialism, what they want to say cannot be said. Lessing's first-person stories differ from her more distant third-person works, which show how white settlers either refuse to recognize their own complicity within the colonial system or accept living a compromised life. Her younger narrators are as yet innocent; the stories often focus on the character's discovery of her own responsibility as a member of the white ruling class. However, these girls have varying levels of self awareness; some seem unaware of the implications of their stories, while others catch glimpses of their own complicity, yet are unable to act. Although Lessing herself is highly critical of colonialism, her stories sometimes risk textually replicating and thus reinforcing the values she criticizes. Dangarembga's first-person novel Nervous Conditions (1988) portrays Tambu, a girl from a poor African family, and her more modern cousin Nyasha. Tambu narrates the story as an adult, Although Nyasha resents colonialism and her patriarchal family, Tambu proceeds with her education, attempting to ignore the injustice around her. Because of the use of an adult narrator, the reader sees what Tambu the child cannot see. Nyasha is unable to voice her concerns; her protest surfaces as anorexia. Both Lessing's and Dangarembga's characters have difficulty speaking because colonialism does not include a space for what they want to say; even if they spoke, their words could make little difference. Lessing' s characters can "speak" only by leaving the country, as Lessing herself did. Dangarembga's Tambu may or may not have "escaped" her situation; by the book's publication, Rhodesia had overcome white rule, and it may be this political change that allows Tambu to tell her story.
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