Nervous Conditions

by

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions: Chapter Four Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Tambu can barely describe her feelings as she gets into Babamukuru's car. She feels as though she has everything laid out before her and needs only to care about Mainini and to show her sisters that they too can escape circumstances and do well. Tambu expects to find a well-kept version of herself at the mission, one who doesn't have to deal with smoky kitchens or trips to Nyamarira for water. She believes that she'll develop in such a way as to make Babamukuru proud, which she believes is the best way.
Because Babamukuru is the one responsible for giving Tambu this chance, she feels she has no choice but to idolize him and do exactly as he tells her to do. At this point, this isn't an issue for her as she believes Babamukuru can do no wrong, but the fact that she's willing to subsume her identity to become what he wants her to be foreshadows a grim future.
Themes
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu remembers her first car ride to sell her corn and thinks about what life will be like at the mission. She wonders if she'll sleep with Nyasha or with Anna, Maiguru's house girl. Tambu is uncomfortable with the possibility of sleeping with Nyasha, as Nyasha is morose, and Tambu disapproves of her. She thinks that Nyasha has no right to be so unhappy and ungrateful. Regardless, Tambu believes her blankets will be fluffy, and she won't have chores before school. Her books will live on a bookcase, her clothes will stay clean, and she'll have access to a tub.
The fact that Tambu can consider the possibility of sleeping with Anna indicates that she doesn't think of herself as being particularly deserving. It also suggests that Tambu doesn't see herself as being much different from Anna, given that Anna is likely also from a poor family and is in Babamukuru's service to help raise her family up out of poverty.
Themes
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Despite having heard stories about the grandness of Babamukuru's house, Tambu is still shocked when they turn up the drive. She thinks of her own home as being grand, as it has a living room, windows, and two bedrooms. Babamukuru's house is so large, though, that Tambu doesn't recognize it as a house. It's white, which Tambu later learns from Nyasha is because early settlers believed that the paint kept houses cooler. In the surrounding town, missionaries live in other white and colorful houses, while educated Africans live in unpainted brick buildings.
The white house reinforces Babamukuru's status as a powerful and educated man, while the other educated Africans that live in unpainted brick houses suggests that Babamukuru is an outlier. For Tambu, this tells her that Babamukuru is even more powerful than she ever imagined—no other black men can hope to match him, and white missionaries can't either.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tambu's spirits begin to fall when she notices a smaller house by the grand one; she fears she won't get to live in the big house. Then, she discovers that the second "house" is a garage for the cars. This is disturbing for Tambu, who fears that Babamukuru is wealthier and more educated than she thought was possible. She begins to feel depressed. She reasons that she's only here because Nhamo died and because Babamukuru is a kindhearted relative, and decides that she's too provincial to live here anyway.
Tambu hadn't understood just how wealthy a person can be, which is a side effect of growing up in such poverty. She essentially will go through her own version of culture shock as she moves to the mission, just because of the stark difference in income between Babamukuru and her family at home.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Tambu descends into self-pity and then worries about it, but nothing can lift her spirits. Then, as she follows Babamukuru to the house, two huge dogs appear out of nowhere and bark. Tambu yelps as Anna comes around the corner of the house, explaining that the dogs are tied. She shows Tambu into the back door, and Nyasha immediately jumps on Tambu with hugs and kisses. Tambu is surprised at this enthusiasm and listens to Nyasha talk about the cake she's baking for Chido. As she does, Tambu inspects the kitchen.
Notice that Anna greets Tambu warmly, and that Tambu doesn't mention Anna using an honorific—this indicates that Anna hasn't yet assumed her role as a servant to Tambu in addition to the rest of the household. This helps to smooth Tambu's transition into the house, as it allows her to think that things won't be so different after all.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Though Tambu thinks at the time that the kitchen is grand, Tambu the narrator explains that the kitchen betrayed that Babamukuru and Maiguru were on a budget. The linoleum was old, the stove had only three plates, and a pane of glass in a window was missing. The paint wasn't coordinated, and the sink was dull. Later, Tambu discovered that this was because Maiguru likely couldn't afford a gentle cleaner that would keep the sink brilliant.
Again, it's telling that only the mature Tambu who narrates can make these sharp observations; the young Tambu is still experiencing shock at her new surroundings. The older Tambu's observations suggest that despite the trappings of power and wealth, Babamukuru isn't as well off as Tambu thinks he is.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Anna shows Tambu to the living room to wait for Maiguru, who is resting. Tambu hopes Maiguru isn't ill and sits on a sofa. Tambu takes in the glamour of the room, which far surpasses both the kitchen and the dining room. She thinks about the pretty china cups she saw in the dining room and hopes she'll never have to use them. Later, she's thrilled to discover that they have that effect on everyone.
The hope that Maiguru isn't ill because she's lying down betrays Tambu's provincial roots; in her world, the only reason to lie down during the day is for illness, as there's too much work to do to take time for resting. This again shows Tambu that Maiguru lives a very different and more Western life.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Overwhelmed, Tambu tries to keep herself from getting distracted like Nhamo did. She tries to ignore the glamour and instead, thinks of Mainini and her sisters. Tambu begins to judge Nhamo less harshly, as she sees how the grandness seduced him.
By starting to empathize with Nhamo, Tambu shows that she is capable of thinking critically. However, she didn't idolize Nhamo, which is what allows her to do this here.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu the narrator says that the situation was far more dangerous than the reader might imagine; the true issue was that she viewed Babamukuru as a god. Because Babamukuru was a god to her, his house was heaven, and Tambu was therefore at risk of forgetting how everyone else lives. She believed the lack of dirt was proof that the house was heaven, but knows now that even that was an illusion: the buses outside left a thin layer of dirt over everything.
The dirt from the buses, like the dull sink and the peeling linoleum, betray that Babamukuru and Maiguru's wealth is a show as much as anything else. In reality, they're at the mercy of the colonial system that keeps them down, just as their beautiful home can't escape the thin veneer of dust.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Tambu jumps when she hears a shrill siren go off. She stands up and looks out the window and watches students stroll around outside. Anna explains that it's the school bell. Maiguru appears and greets Tambu strangely with a high-five. Tambu sinks to her knees and greets Maiguru respectfully, but Maiguru asks her to sit on a chair so they can have tea. Anna brings in the tea, and Tambu smiles at the tea sieve. Maiguru explains what it is and says the tea wouldn't be drinkable without it, but Tambu thinks it's just interesting. Tambu struggles to decide what to eat, as she's never had so much choice in sugary treats. Before this, she'd only had cake at Christmas and Easter when Babamukuru brought cake. Maiguru invites Tambu to eat as much as she likes.
The tea sieve acts as another symbol for the Westernized life that Babamukuru and Maiguru live, as it's something that would be seen as a luxury in Tambu's life on the homestead. The sugary cookies and cakes also make it clear that she's in an entirely different world. Because of these shocking differences, Tambu falls back on being respectful and deferential in order to cope. This is all a symptom of her sense that she's undeserving and unworthy—the only way she can feel deserving of the cookies is to be obedient.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu takes a small biscuit, which seems to worry Maiguru. She offers sodas and Tambu tries to reassure her by taking a gulp of tea, but is surprised that the tea is so hot. Nyasha bursts into the living room and offers a simple "hello" when Maiguru tells her to greet Tambu. Nyasha explains she already greeted Tambu and then leaves to clean up. Tambu finds Nyasha's behavior rude and embarrassing.
Tambu's embarrassment on Nyasha's behalf shows again that she still adheres to traditional ways of doing things and believes that Nyasha's behavior is unacceptable. Tambu's own sense of obedience keeps her from acknowledging why Nyasha might behave like this.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Maiguru gives a little laugh and says that Chido and Nyasha are too anglicized and are struggling to learn how to act at home. She explains that they're trying to teach the children proper manners, but it's taking time. Finally, Maiguru leads Tambu into the hall and knocks on a door before opening it. Nyasha is inside on one of the two beds, engrossed in a novel. After a minute, Maiguru asks what Nyasha is reading. Nyasha lifts her book, and Maiguru insists it's inappropriate.
Maiguru's explanation indicates that the family's time in England wasn't an entirely good thing, as it's apparently why Nyasha is so rude. It's worth noting that while Maiguru implicates Chido as well, he doesn't suffer nearly the way Nyasha does—further proof that the colonial system punishes women more than men.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
They argue for a moment, and then Nyasha pointedly ignores Maiguru. Maiguru motions to the other bed and tells Tambu that she'll sleep there. Tambu is worried. Part of her feels intrigued by Nyasha, but the other believes that Nyasha isn't good for her. Tambu fears that Nyasha will ruin her life plan. As Tambu's anxiety ramps up, she blames it on Nyasha's rudeness. Maiguru shows Tambu her clothes and toiletries. Tambu is especially taken with the two casual dresses and the underwear. Leaving the room, Maiguru asks Nyasha to help Tambu get settled.
Choosing to blame her anxiety and her fear on Nyasha shows that what Tambu fears at this point is freedom and independence. Nyasha represents a lifestyle in which it's unthinkable to be so deferential to respectful, which goes against everything Tambu has been taught. Because Tambu sees deference as the key to her future, Nyasha then becomes the enemy.
Themes
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon