Nervous Conditions

by

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions: Chapter Eight Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Tambu doesn't find the proposed wedding funny. She experiences panic attacks every time she thinks of Mainini as a bride, and she also experiences attacks when she thinks of Babamukuru. She's angry with him since she sees the wedding as a plan to make a joke of her parents, but Tambu believes she can't be angry with Babamukuru since he's her benefactor.
For Tambu, the issue is twofold. Unlike Nhamo, she still respects her parents and doesn't want to see them humiliated. However, she can't conceive of being angry with Babamukuru because he's so kind to her in other ways.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
To distract themselves, Tambu and Nyasha make clay pots. Nyasha takes this hobby very seriously, while Tambu welcomes it just for the distraction. However, she's unable to banish thoughts of the wedding and eventually admits to herself that she doesn't want it to happen, though she can't pinpoint why. She thinks that she should like the idea of her parents no longer living in sin, as sin is now a powerful concept in Tambu's mind after a year at the mission school. Tambu thinks that if her parents are living in sin, than she and her sisters are too. Tambu tries to tell herself that sin only affected people long ago.
When Tambu doesn't fully support the wedding after a year of learning about the horrors of sin, it indicates that she is, in important ways, not falling prey to the same things that Nhamo did. That is, she doesn't look down on her parents for not being married in the Christian sense, and she recognizes that that way of being married is just as valid as being married in a Christian ceremony.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Gradually, the relatives leave. Tambu stays at the homestead for the three weeks until term begins. She's upset that she won't be able to see Nyasha for that time, as she now relies on Nyasha to help her with her worries. Tambu feels as though she's vague, even though she also feels like she's following a clear path towards education and development of her family. Nyasha, however, has introduced Tambu to the possibility that there are other roads to take, and Tambu wants to explore those roads.
Tambu's recognition of what Nyasha is doing for her—introducing her to shades of gray and to ambiguity—shows that she really has Nyasha to thank for being able to oppose the wedding at all. Nyasha herself then becomes a symbol for independence and specifically, for independent thought.
Themes
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After waving goodbye to Babamukuru, Maiguru, and Nyasha, Takesure invites Lucia to sleep with him that night. She refuses, reminding the men of her plan to take Mainini away, but Jeremiah and Takesure only laugh at her. Tambu feels bad for Lucia, whom she recognizes is serious. Lucia knows that leaving will have consequences but isn't afraid. She's waiting for Mainini to make a decision, but because Mainini's father and husband have controlled her mind her entire life, she can't. Eventually, Mainini decides to go through with the wedding and Lucia, unashamed, moves back in with Takesure.
Jeremiah and Takesure laugh because it's unfathomable to them that a woman like Lucia would actually defy men. They're far more used to women like Mainini, who've never had the opportunity to think for themselves and are therefore easy to control. This continues to draw connections between Lucia and Nyasha, and shows that independent thought isn't actually dependent on education or Westernization.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
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Tambu is disappointed with Lucia, especially since she fears that her relationship with Takesure will only increase the amount of sin the family has. She implores Lucia to do something, but Lucia gently says that she'll leave when it's convenient. With this, life settles back to normal. Takesure gets hit by lightning one afternoon and then refuses to help Tambu fix the thatch roof of the kitchen. Lucia helps instead. When Babamukuru arrives to fetch Tambu, he compliments Jeremiah on his good hard work fixing the roof, and Jeremiah accepts the praise.
Tambu's fear of sin shows that the mission is still having an impact on her and how she thinks about the world, but there are places where she's willing to draw the line. When Jeremiah accepts the praise for Tambu and Lucia's work, it again shows that as far as he's concerned, the women of his household exist to make him look good and to benefit him; their individual contributions matter little.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Life at the mission proceeds as usual. Nyasha and Babamukuru continue to fight constantly. Next to Nyasha, Tambu looks like the perfect woman because she hardly speaks and never questions things. Babamukuru points this out to Nyasha often, but she's not offended. She doesn't understand how much Babamukuru is ashamed of having a daughter like her, and because she doesn't think she's a person to be ashamed of, she has no idea how he feels.
Though Tambu is a perfect woman according to Babamukuru, it's worth noting that she's not being a particularly engaged student. Part of learning is asking questions, which Tambu isn't willing to do because she's afraid of the answers complicating things.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
In March, Mainini comes to the mission hospital and has her baby, a healthy boy. Coincidentally, Lucia arrives on the bus a few hours after he's born, and soon the entire family arrives to celebrate. That night, Babamukuru drives everyone but Lucia home. Lucia takes the opportunity of being in the house to tell Babamukuru that Takesure isn't a good man. Babamukuru is upset that Takesure didn't leave after the meeting in January. Lucia only notes that life on the homestead makes it difficult to do useful things.
Because Mainini's baby is a boy, he will automatically be Babamukuru's favorite niece or nephew. Fortunately for Mainini, having given birth to a boy means that she'll now be more valuable to Jeremiah, which may encourage him to treat her better.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
The next day, Lucia reminds Babamukuru that she only came to the homestead to help Mainini and then suggests that if she could find a job, it would solve their problems. Babamukuru asks what kind of job Lucia could do, and she answers that she could do anything that doesn't require education. The next day, Mainini and the baby come to the mission house. Though Babamukuru insists on taking the women home, it's not until four days later that he finds the time. He tells Mainini to pack and Lucia to stay—he found a job for her cooking at the girls' hostel.
With a job, Lucia will be able to contribute better now that she seems to be a part of Mainini and Jeremiah's family. This shows that there are other ways for a woman to get ahead than just education: employment of any sort, provided they have control over their paychecks, can help empower them to support their families and control their lives.
Themes
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Lucia celebrates and sinks to her knees to thank Babamukuru for his generosity. Mainini joins and then Maiguru does, and Tambu wants to as well. Nyasha kicks Tambu under the table and tells her to not join in, but Tambu thanks Babamukuru anyway. Tambu remains impressed with Babamukuru and tells Nyasha so all evening. Nyasha explains that someone like Babamukuru is obligated to do things like find Lucia a job. Tambu tells the reader that Nyasha thought about things in a historical context and while Tambu tried to wrap her head around it, she couldn't understand that Lucia wouldn't be able to do better in life unless Babamukuru kept supporting her.
Nyasha recognizes that Babamukuru is one of a line of "good Africans" who give back to their communities by empowering women like Lucia. In other words, it falls to him to help Lucia, as the missionaries either can't or won't. Further, because Babamukuru is so successful, it's considered his responsibility to perform these services and care for others. All of this goes to show that Babamukuru isn't necessarily kind; he's doing what's expected of him.
Themes
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Related Quotes
Eventually, Nyasha and Tambu take their argument to Lucia. Lucia says that Babamukuru wanted to be asked, so she did, and now everyone is happy. She's especially proud because she's able to attend night classes and go to school for the first time.
Having access to education means that this opportunity may give Lucia more than just a job; like Tambu, she may also get access to the prestige of white culture.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Babamukuru schedules the wedding for the end of September. He extends the house to accommodate guests and names Tambu and Lucia bridesmaids. One day in August, Babamukuru fetches Mainini, Tambu, Nyasha, and Lucia to take them to the dressmaker's shop. Lucia, Nyasha, and Tambu discuss the dresses, but Mainini isn't interested. Babamukuru is shocked when he discovers what the cost will be, so he attempts to make Maiguru give Mainini her wedding dress. Maiguru is angry and finally agrees to lend Mainini her veil and oversee the purchasing of the dress fabric. Maiguru grouses that Babamukuru didn't care so much when they got married.
The attempt to make Maiguru give up her wedding dress indicates that Babamukuru is only interested in the image of the wedding, not actually doing something that's going to be meaningful for Jeremiah and Mainini. This is reinforced by Mainini's lack of interest in choosing dress fabric or patterns. She's doing it for Babamukuru because, as a married woman, she has no choice but to do what the men in her family tell her to do.
Themes
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Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
For several weeks, Maiguru forgets to purchase the cloth and finally, Nyasha heads up the expedition. When they deliver the fabric to the dressmaker, she also changes their patterns. A week before the wedding, they pick up the dresses. Tambu tries hers on and feels beautiful. Nyasha chuckles that the wedding will be sweet, but this hurts Tambu's feelings. Tambu knows that the wedding is just a ridiculous performance, and she doesn't want to be a part of it. She only half acknowledges this and tries to pretend it's not happening.
Tambu recognizes that what Babamukuru really wants is to create the illusion that his entire family is made up of good Christians like himself. In this way, he's making a joke of Jeremiah and Mainini's traditional beliefs and bullying them into a ceremony that they don't believe in and won't appreciate. All of this will also allow him to show off his wealth to the friends and family in attendance.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu knows she can't just tell Babamukuru her feelings, so she tries to tell herself that the wedding is wonderful and her parents will love it. She can't make herself believe it, however; Mainini doesn't care and Lucia doesn't either. Tambu can't sleep for nights on end and feels she has no choice but to follow through.
Remember that Tambu's idolization of Babamukuru makes her feel as though she can't go against him. This shows that such unwavering obedience can make a person compromise on their beliefs to the point of becoming ill.
Themes
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The Thursday before the wedding, Babamukuru tells Tambu that he'll take her home so she can help with preparations. She politely agrees, but she knows something is wrong with her when she doesn't fight back. She knows now that because she idolized Babamukuru, her ability to think critically was stunted, and she felt unable to say anything. Tambu thinks Mainini is right: she is unnatural, as she's willing to laugh at her parents when Babamukuru asks her to.
Tambu is remembering how she stood up to Jeremiah as a child when she wanted to go to school. She can't stand up to Babamukuru because, up to this point, he's provided her everything she wanted—namely education and proximity to white culture—that Jeremiah tried to keep her from.
Themes
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Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The next afternoon, Tambu goes home with her friends and doesn't come back to the mission until well after dark. Nyasha is asleep, and Tambu wakes up Maiguru by trying to knock on the window. Maiguru scolds Tambu, but Nyasha says nothing. The morning of the wedding, Tambu discovers that she can't get out of bed. Nyasha thinks that Tambu is sick, but Tambu knows that she just doesn't want to get up. She lets Nyasha think she's sick or paralyzed.
When Tambu feels as though she has to feign illness in order to get out of going, it shows the consequences of her obedience: she literally cannot find the words to stand up for herself and assert her independence, and it's easier to pretend she can't actually obey.
Themes
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Nyasha tries to coax Tambu out of bed, but Tambu feels herself slipping out of her body. She finds herself sitting on the foot of the bed, watching Nyasha talk to her own lifeless form. Tambu watches Maiguru walk in and then Babamukuru, who looks annoyed. Tambu feels that Babamukuru can't reach her where she is and is very pleased with herself. Babamukuru rants that Maiguru needs to get Tambu up, and that Tambu is ungrateful and spoiled. Slowly, Tambu slips back into her body and says that she doesn't want to go to the wedding.
The out-of-body experience reinforces how difficult this is for Tambu, as it brings the split she feels inside herself into reality. By stepping out of her body, Tambu is able to take pleasure in her independence and remember that it's a good thing that will get her far and, momentarily, can escape Babamukuru's wrath.
Themes
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Babamukuru rages for a while and threatens to throw Tambu out of his house if she doesn't agree to go. Tambu decides his threats don't matter; what matters more is that she's sure of her decision and isn't going. With this decision, she also knows that she's giving up her right to Babamukuru's charity. She begins to pack her suitcase until she realizes that none of the items in it are hers. Nyasha tries to soothe Tambu and assures her that Babamukuru won't throw her out. When Maiguru calls for Nyasha, she goes.
Nyasha's attempts to comfort Tambu and tell her that things will be fine show that Nyasha is able to stand up to Babamukuru in part because she trusts that he won't actually kill her or throw her out. This indicates that their relationship is stronger than one might have thought as she doesn't fear retaliation too badly.
Themes
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Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Later, they tell Tambu that the wedding was wonderful. Jeremiah and Mainini were beautifully dressed, there was a lot of food, and some people even managed to sneak in beer. Babamukuru gifted the couple their house and promised to build a second house for himself for his visits. When Tambu sees the photographs she thinks she should've gone, but takes solace in having made her decision and stood by it.
It's telling that Tambu feels so comforted by having made a decision and stuck by it. This shows her that independence isn't a bad thing, even when it's independence from Babamukuru, which will hopefully help her develop her sense of self and learn to think critically.
Themes
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The day after the wedding, Babamukuru calls Tambu to the sitting room. He calmly tells Tambu how disappointed he is. He whips her fifteen times and sends Anna on a two-week leave so that Tambu can assume her chores as punishment. Tambu performs the chores with grateful delight and feels as though they're the price of her new identity. Nyasha is angry about the severity of the punishment and wants to help, but Tambu is too afraid of Babamukuru to let her. However, Sylvester quietly helps Tambu and though Tambu suspects Babamukuru knows, he says nothing.
Sending Anna on leave with no warning is rude and suggests that the terms of her employment may not be in her best interest. While Tambu is no longer an interesting figure for Tambu, this adds more evidence to the novel's assertion that Babamukuru isn't actually someone that Tambu or the reader should idolize. He, in other words, doesn't use his power for good.
Themes
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On Saturday, Nyasha decides to help with the laundry. As they scrub the white clothes, Lucia stops by to visit with Farai. She assumes that the shirts belong to boyfriends and is very angry when she learns that Tambu is being punished for refusing to attend the wedding. She marches into the house, demands to see Babamukuru, and bluntly tells him that Tambu shouldn't be punished, especially when he never asked Tambu or Mainini if they wanted Tambu to be there. Babamukuru is uncharacteristically patient with her but insists Tambu needs to learn obedience. He notes that Maiguru would never disobey him like that. Lucia points out that wives are obliged to obey, but some unmarried women don't know how.
As far as Babamukuru is concerned, the most important thing for Tambu to learn is how to be obedient and submissive so she may grow up to be a good wife one day, like Maiguru. Again, this goes against what Nyasha insists is the role of a good student, which is to think critically and question everything. Babamukuru essentially prioritizes the patriarchal system over Tambu's education, and makes it clear that her education will only be available to her as long as she obeys him.
Themes
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Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Babamukuru finds this funny and laughs after Lucia leaves. Maiguru, however, explodes. She tells Babamukuru that she's tired of him taking her money to feed his family and throw weddings, she's tired of being a housekeeper for his ungrateful family, and she's tired of women like Lucia telling her what to do. Listening outside, Tambu and Nyasha are worried, especially when Maiguru says that she's not happy.
The discovery that Maiguru's paychecks go to feed Tambu's family reinforces the earlier clues that women exist only to serve their married families: Maiguru's desires don't matter in the slightest to her husband; she's just a tool that he can use to support his family.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
That night, Tambu and Nyasha wonder whether Maiguru will leave or not. Nyasha seems to be in awe of her mother. Surprisingly, Maiguru does leave early the next morning, and Babamukuru doesn't try to stop her. Tambu thinks Babamukuru is still hurt, but Nyasha believes he didn't think Maiguru would actually follow through. Nyasha also isn't bothered much by Maiguru's departure, as she's excited for Maiguru to find freedom and doesn't believe she's being abandoned. She tells Tambu that she feels trapped by Babamukuru, just like Maiguru does, and now that Maiguru has gotten out, she knows that doing so is possible. However, they do believe Maiguru will return to her life at the mission and feel discouraged by that knowledge.
The suggestion that Nyasha would feel abandoned certainly comes from Tambu, who still on some level believes that wives should serve their families unquestioningly. Nyasha's ability to think outside of this system indicates that she's able to comfort herself by relying on theory and her extensive education. This essentially allows her to think about Maiguru's departure conceptually rather than personally, which means that Maiguru becomes a symbol of freedom and independence.
Themes
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Babamukuru does his best to pretend that nothing is wrong. On Thursday, Chido calls with news that Maiguru is at her brother's home. Nyasha is upset that Maiguru went to a man and dithers over whether to tell Babamukuru. Feeling she has to, she waits up for him that night and passes on Chido's message. Babamukuru drives away minutes later and returns with Maiguru in the morning. Maiguru smiles more and seems more sensible, but Nyasha struggles: she wishes Maiguru had had more time away, but she's secretly glad her mother is home.
After Maiguru's return, Nyasha finds that her delight in the theoretical boons that Maiguru would receive by leaving aren't enough to make her wish entirely that Maiguru were still gone. Nyasha is, essentially, still human and loves her mother, which colors how she thinks about both Maiguru and the theory of female emancipation.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon