Nervous Conditions

by

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Nervous Conditions can help.

Nervous Conditions: Chapter Nine Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One day late in the term, the teachers send students outside to study for their upcoming examinations. While Tambu and her classmates are outside, the Catholic nuns arrive. Tambu and her friends know that the Catholic church is superior to their own Protestant one because the nuns dedicate their lives to serving God, so they're very disappointed to see that the nuns look exactly like their Protestant missionaries. The nuns do smile beautifully at the children as they perform a dance and a play, and Tambu recites a poem at record speed.
Notice that the Catholics are better because they devote themselves to God more fully than the protestants, not because they do anything else better or differently. This speaks to the power of God to influence how individuals like Tambu and her friends think; their time at Sunday school has made them believe that their goal should be to be as close to God as possible.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Then, the nuns ask the students to sit for a test of "general knowledge and general ability." The students find this very unfair. After the test, the nuns speak to the students one by one and ask them questions about their parents and friends. Later, Tambu learns that the nuns came to recruit students for their own mission school. A few girls know how the Catholics operate: after a certain level the nuns persuade students to join the order by offering scholarships, so many girls join but then get pregnant to avoid actually taking vows.
The exchange of scholarships for new novices in the order shows another way that white settlers try to colonize the natives: by making them involved in the Church like this, it makes them complicit in the colonial system and even makes sure that they promote the system, just like Babamukuru does as the headmaster of the mission school.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Despite the rumors, everyone wants to go to the Catholic school. It's a prestigious multiracial girls' school with beautiful uniforms. The school is offering two places for all the African girls Tambu's age in the country. Because Tambu has been unwittingly "preparing" for the test for two years, thanks to Nyasha's extensive library and interesting thought experiments, she's accepted and offered a scholarship.
The fact that Nyasha essentially prepared Tambu to do well on this test does raise the question of why Nyasha herself wasn't accepted. This suggests that Tambu is better at existing in the colonial system, if only because she doesn't find it as oppressive as Nyasha does.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu is thrilled, but Nyasha is disappointed. She insists that being educated at the Catholic school would assimilate Tambu into their culture. Tambu believes she's just being jealous when she says that the mission school is better, as it's common knowledge that the European schools have better teachers and equipment. Tambu believes that she won't forget the wedding, Nhamo, and the latrine, as those things are evidence of the burden of womanhood that crushes Mainini. Tambu believes going to the school will lighten those burdens.
Tambu's insistence that she won't forget Mainini's burdens of womanhood does indicate that she hasn't yet forgotten her mother and where she came from, as Nhamo did. However, this also proves one of the novel's main points: that one's gender is inescapable and will color everything a person does and how they're treated. In other words, Tambu can't forget because she's female.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire Nervous Conditions LitChart as a printable PDF.
Nervous Conditions PDF
Babamukuru agrees with Nyasha: he cites the fact that he needs to provide for Dambudzo, the only boy in Tambu's family, and insists that spending too much time with white people is bad, citing Nyasha as an example. He says that the mission will best prepare Tambu for marriage, which makes Tambu lose interest. He asks Maiguru if she has anything to add and surprisingly, she does. She doesn't believe that Tambu will be corrupted by the school and points out that twenty years ago, when she was at school in South Africa, everyone said that the women were loose because they were prejudiced against educated women. Today, she says, she doesn't even know what loose even means as it refers to so many evils, but that Tambu is decent and that won't change.
The note that Babamukuru is now obliged to support Dambudzo's future education reinforces that Tambu was merely a second choice—and is now even a third choice—to receive an education because she's female. When Maiguru stands up to Babamukuru, she does so by pointing out that he, like every other man in the world, vilifies women for being female. By standing up for Tambu, Maiguru ensures that Tambu will have experiences that she didn't and may be able to go further in her quest for emancipation than Maiguru did.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Babamukuru takes Tambu to the homestead for Christmas vacation the next day. He doesn't stay to discuss the Catholic school. Tambu waits impatiently for Christmas so they can discuss her schooling, but unfortunately, nobody comes to stay: Maiguru refuses to cook for two dozen people again, so Babamukuru drives to the homestead daily. Mainini is secretly thrilled, as she doesn't want to share her house or her Dover stove.
For Mainini, acquiring Maiguru's Dover stove is a way for her to feel superior over her sister in law, given that the stove is only used to cook special meals and was only used when Maiguru was around. This again shows that there's more ways for women to become powerful than through education.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
On New Year's Eve, Babamukuru and Jeremiah discuss Tambu's future. Babamukuru weighs the pros and cons but finally says that Tambu should go. Tambu feels dizzy and numb; this will be a step away from poverty, but also from her beloved river Nyamarira. She tells herself that the cost will balance, and it'll be worth it to buy her sisters dresses and make sure that Mainini is plump again.
When Tambu mentions Nyamarira, it again shows that she hasn't forgotten Mainini or her promise to remain grounded unlike Nhamo. Notice too that she wants to become educated to support her family—she's bought into the vision of what proper womanhood looks like.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tambu loses herself in daydreams about her pretty new uniform and runs to tell Mainini. She finds Mainini in the kitchen, cooking on the hearth in spite of the Dover stove. Tambu shares the good news, but Mainini sighs bitterly. She asks if Babamukuru is trying to separate her from her children and send them to slaughter. She also says that if she were a witch, she'd curse Babamukuru.
The choice to not use the Dover stove and to use the hearth instead shows that for Mainini, her sense of superiority that she gains from the stove comes from just having it—having that symbol of whiteness and wealth—and doesn't depend on actually embracing what it stands for.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Over the next few days, Mainini deteriorates. She barely eats and doesn't wash, and Dambudzo develops diarrhea. Worried about his son, Jeremiah takes the bus to the mission and comes home believing that Mainini is bottle feeding Dambudzo and not sanitizing the bottles properly. He suggests getting a medium, but Tambu refuses as she's afraid that Mainini will actually curse Babamukuru. Eventually, Jeremiah sends for Lucia. Lucia ignores Takesure and sets to work setting Mainini right.
Again, it's telling that Jeremiah is more worried about his son than his wife—it shows how everyone is encouraged to prioritize men and boys, even within a marriage. Tambu's fear that Mainini will curse Babamukuru shows that she hasn't yet given up on her traditional beliefs, given that she thinks they're valid and reasonable to worry about.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
First, Lucia walks Mainini to Nyamarira. To make Mainini get in the water and wash, she puts Dambudzo on a boulder in the river and threatens to leave him. Mainini wades in, washes herself and her baby, and Lucia washes their dresses. The women then have to sit and wait for the dresses to dry, during which time other happy women stop to chat and visit. In the evening, Lucia cooks a meaty stew just for Mainini, and the women sleep together in the kitchen. Lucia stays for two more days to feed and talk with Mainini and then heads back to the mission. Mainini seems fully recovered after a week.
By making Mainini participate in daily life, Lucia reminds Mainini of what her role is as a wife and a mother: to love, nurture, and care for her children, and to care for herself well enough that she'll be able to do that. Mainini's return to wellness indicates that there's comfort in being reminded of what her version of womanhood looks like, even if Tambu looks down on it.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
In the third week of January, Babamukuru refuses to fetch Tambu, so she takes the bus to the mission. Tambu has only one night at the mission before going to Sacred Heart. Tambu is impatient to talk with Nyasha, who is still in class when she arrives. However, by early evening, Nyasha hasn't come home. Tambu runs to the netball field where she sees her friends playing. They all watch her coolly and ignore her, and Tambu doesn't understand why. They only talk to Tambu when she fails to make a goal. However, one of Tambu's friends rudely says that she's wasting their time with the game, since they don't play netball at Sacred Heart.
Tambu's friends are clearly jealous that she gets to go to the Catholic school; her inability to recognize this outright only reinforces that she's still a naïve child at this point. Notably, Tambu's excitement about school means that she no longer recognizes that there are limits to her education and what she can accomplish as a woman. As far as she's aware, she's going to succeed now because and in spite of her gender.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Several of the other girls ask Tambu to write and ask her to not forget them. Tambu wonders why everyone thinks she's going to forget them as she wanders through the school to look for Nyasha. She finds her in her classroom, studying, and Nyasha barely greets Tambu. Tambu sits down and waits. Finally, Nyasha says that it's been good having Tambu around and that she'll miss her. They head home for supper in silence.
What everyone else realizes is that the Catholic school is a shiny new thing for Tambu, which means that the mission will soon look drab and boring in comparison. These are the consequences that Nyasha spoke about earlier, and now, Tambu has the mission as well as the homestead to potentially forget.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Babamukuru isn't in a good mood. He takes offense to Nyasha's late arrival, accuses her of spending time with boys, and won't allow her to skip dinner. Nyasha eats a few bites, but Babamukuru insists she eat all of it. Nyasha shovels her food into her mouth and Babamukuru excuses her. A few minutes later, Tambu excuses herself and waits in the bedroom, listening to Nyasha gagging in the bathroom. When Nyasha comes into the bedroom, she admits that she made herself vomit and doesn't know why. Nyasha says that Babamukuru might be right to dislike her, but she can't bring herself to give into him.
Nyasha clearly has an eating disorder, which allows her to control one aspect of her life when the rest of it seems so out of control. Her admission that Babamukuru might be right to dislike her indicates that her sense of self-worth is starting to crumble, and she's taking Babamukuru's criticisms to heart, which is perhaps contributing to her disordered eating.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu puts her arm around Nyasha as Nyasha talks on. She laments that Tambu is leaving, as now, she won't have anyone to laugh about Babamukuru with. She says that she tries to see things from his point of view, but she can never make herself be good and obedient for long.
Nyasha appears to be trying to turn herself into someone she isn't in Tambu's absence. Her failure to be obedient and good suggests that trying to be obedient when one is naturally independent can be extremely dangerous.
Themes
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon