Nervous Conditions

by

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions: Chapter Seven Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On December 23, Babamukuru, Maiguru, Nyasha, and Tambu go to the homestead for Christmas. Chido gets out of going. Nyasha pouts about having to go, which makes Tambu fear another bloody scene. Maiguru tries to talk to Nyasha, but Nyasha insists that family isn't important since Thomas and Tete Gladys aren't coming for Christmas. Maiguru is sharp with Nyasha and looking back, Tambu believes that this is because Maiguru didn't want to go either.
The older Tambu's belief that Maiguru didn't want to go either suggests that Nyasha isn't the only one who struggles to deal with what the patriarchal system insists is the correct way for women to behave. Maiguru has no choice but to go with Babamukuru, which makes it even harder to make Nyasha go.
Themes
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Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Babamukuru insists that Nyasha has to go and everyone prepares for a fight. Surprisingly, Nyasha agrees and the family heads off with Anna and as much food as will fit in the car. Maiguru grumbles that a half an ox is too much meat. Her grumbling at Babamukuru is unusual, so Tambu wonders if he actually did buy too much meat. Maiguru says that her issue is that when Babamukuru provides so much food, everyone expects her to cook and serve it. Babamukuru chuckles, says that Maiguru has Nyasha and Tambu to help, and then happily reminisces about his boyhood.
When Babamukuru brushes Maiguru's concerns off, it shows that he doesn't think much of what's required of women at a family gathering like this. As far as he's concerned, Maiguru occupies a place of honor since she's the most senior wife on the property, while all she sees is that she has more responsibility and burdens than she ever wanted.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
The homestead looks rundown. The thatched roofs are falling in, there are holes in the walls, and the once sanitary latrine is coated in excrement. Tambu asks Mainini a few days into the visit why she doesn't clean the toilet, but Mainini shrugs and tells Tambu to clean it. Tambu does with Nyasha's help, but they use the bushes anyway.
The state of the homestead reminds the reader of how poor Tambu's family is. It became clear when Tambu lived at home that Mainini was tired and overworked; without Tambu to help, it's likely just too much for her to handle.
Themes
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
When Babamukuru's car rolls up outside the house, only Rambanai and Netsai greet their visitors. Netsai explains that Mainini is lying down, while Jeremiah and Takesure are out. Babamukuru is shocked; he apparently asked that Takesure and "that girl," Lucia, leave the homestead a while ago. Lucia herself appears and explains that Takesure and Jeremiah are drinking. Babamukuru ignores her, but Lucia continues. She asks where Babamukuru wants her to go and laughs about going anywhere with Takesure.
It's worth noting that Lucia never suffers beatings or even much pushback from Babamukuru throughout the novel, even though she's just as vocal about her desires as Nyasha is. This likely has to do with Lucia's age (she's over 30) and possibly, the fact that she's uneducated and is therefore unthreatening.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
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Tambu wishes Lucia would be quiet, as her situation is serious: Tambu's maternal grandparents have always been very poor, and it didn't help matters when Mainini got pregnant and went home with Jeremiah. This meant that Mainini's parents couldn't claim a high bride price for her, and Lucia was deemed a witch for not also marrying. Nineteen years later, after Nhamo's death and yet another miscarriage, Mainini asked that Lucia come to the homestead to help. At the same time, Babamukuru sent Takesure to the homestead. He has two wives already and isn't finished paying off either, but he doesn't like being married and doesn't want to work. Soon, Lucia was pregnant with Takesure's baby.
The way that Tambu tells the story, both Lucia and Takesure come off as lazy and unmotivated. While Takesure's later actions confirm this assessment of him, Lucia simply looks like a woman who wants to control her life and has made the best of her situation. However, when Tambu seems to take issue with Lucia's role in this, it shows that Tambu still takes the patriarchal system seriously and will act in ways that perpetuate it.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Lucia insisted that the baby is Jeremiah's, which Jeremiah says isn't true: he waited to have sex with Lucia until after she was pregnant. Regardless, he still thinks it'd be wonderful to take Lucia as a second wife, as she's bold and spirited. He thinks he's powerful enough to control her, given that he already broke Mainini's spirit. He attempted to make this case to Babamukuru and cited that if Lucia's baby is a boy, it'd be very good. Babamukuru, however, wouldn't hear of Jeremiah having two wives and living in that kind of sin. He insisted that Takesure and Lucia leave, and Jeremiah, fearing Babamukuru, agreed to make them. Lucia's presence is proof that Jeremiah didn't obey Babamukuru.
Jeremiah's willingness to take Lucia as a second wife indicates that no matter how much he respects Babamukuru, he's in no way a Christian. This explains some of why Babamukuru sees Jeremiah and his family as the weakest link of the extended family: he doesn't fully buy into the same ideals (like the colonial system, working honestly, or education) that Babamukuru does.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Lucia greets Maiguru warmly and then leads her to the house, while Babamukuru unlocks the trunk. He imperiously asks Lucia to help carry things and to be respectful, but Maiguru brushes off his reproach. They all carry provisions inside, and then Mainini calls out from the bedroom. Tambu goes to her and tries to deal with Mainini's displeasure that Tambu didn't greet her first thing. She asks the polite questions about Mainini's health and wonders how she can behave so differently with Mainini than she does with Babamukuru and Maiguru. She wonders briefly if she'll start standing up to Babamukuru like Nyasha, but pushes the thought away.
When Tambu begins to notice the differences between speaking with Mainini and speaking with her aunt and uncle, it shows that her time at the mission is making it so she has to start code switching when she returns home. In other words, Tambu behaves in a more Western manner when she's at the mission, but knows she needs to revert to a very traditional way of being when she comes home. This shows her that she is changing, even though she vowed not to.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Babamukuru and Maiguru enter the room. The adults greet each other, and Mainini makes rude comments about believing that her in-laws wouldn't come. When Mainini notices that Maiguru is sitting on the floor, she sends Tambu to fetch a chair. Nobody wants to sit on it but finally, Nyasha moves to the chair. Everyone scolds her for not properly greeting Mainini, so she gets down to hug her aunt. Mainini teases her about her full breasts and asks when Nyasha is getting married. The adults talk about Nyasha's future, which annoys Nyasha. Finally, Lucia interrupts and begins the formal greeting process.
The choice to move to the chair is extremely rude on Nyasha's part, as it elevates her higher than anyone else in the room. Acquiescing and properly greeting Mainini shows that Nyasha is capable of choosing her battles and being obedient, though her displeasure with the marriage talk suggests that she's still not sold on a traditional image of womanhood as sold to her by these family members.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tete Gladys and uncle Thomas surprise everyone by deciding to come for Christmas after all, which wreaks havoc with the sleeping arrangements. The eight unmarried women end up sleeping together in the tiny outside kitchen while the married couples take private rooms. Tambu explains that the holiday wasn't truly a holiday: there were 24 people to feed, fetch water for bathing, and do laundry for. Tete Gladys, being a patriarchal relative, isn't expected to help, and four of the thirteen women are under age four, so it falls to Maiguru, Nyasha, Tambu, and the three house girls to do all the work.
It's worth keeping in mind that for this holiday, the fact that Maiguru, Nyasha, and Tambu are all educated or are being educated doesn't excuse them from work. The only thing that gets a woman out of work is being patriarchal, which indicates that in this system, men inherently have more power than any woman can hope to gain through other means.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Mornings begin with heating water for the adults to wash, which takes hours. Then, they cook breakfast and boil tea on Maiguru's Dover stove. After cleaning up, the girls have to fetch water from Nyamarira. When the girls get home, it's time to cook the next meal or wash dishes. Maiguru works constantly, as, being the senior wife, it's her responsibility to make sure that the food lasts for the full two weeks. This means that she has to ration out the meat, which is only a problem because it won't all fit in the small refrigerator. It starts turning green after a few days. When Tete Gladys insults Maiguru's cooking, Maiguru begins cooking a special pot of refrigerated meat for the patriarchal family members.
Tambu never mentions that Maiguru also eats the special refrigerated meat; this shows again that in this situation, she's trapped by the fact that she's not a blood member of Babamukuru's family. This tells all the women that men are better and more powerful, while women are powerless and must be obedient at all times. The only way that Maiguru can feel superior is by using her Dover stove, which, thanks to her time in England, she likely finds easier to use than the hearth.
Themes
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Just after the new year, Babamukuru calls a family meeting to discuss the issue of Takesure and Lucia. It includes only the patriarchal family members and Takesure. Babamukuru begins by going over the facts. He then asks Takesure why he didn't leave after he was told to do so, and Takesure says he would've left if Lucia hadn't refused to go with him.
Because Lucia isn't invited to this meeting, she doesn't have the opportunity to defend herself or tell her side of the story. This gives Takesure the opportunity to shift all the blame onto her, showing again that as a man, he has all the power.
Themes
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Meanwhile, the women and children sit in the outdoor kitchen, furious. Mainini rants that the patriarchs are going to make it seem like Lucia impregnated herself on purpose and says it's unfair not to include Lucia. Patience agrees and Lucia, boiling with rage, tries to get Maiguru to take a side. Maiguru sidesteps and refuses. Tambu notes that none of the women could recognize that by taking these extreme sides, their fear of the situation and of their differences make it even harder to relate to each other.
Maiguru's refusal to take a side likely comes from feeling put upon and being forced to deal with Babamukuru's family when she doesn't want to. In other words, she is likely angry at the patriarchy as well, but in a different way than Mainini and Lucia are. It's also worth noting that the novel uses "patriarchy" to refer to the male family members, not to the societal construct as a whole.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Maiguru distantly says that the matter doesn't concern her, as neither Lucia nor Takesure are her family. Mainini asks why Maiguru is even in the kitchen if she's not going to side with the women, but Maiguru reminds Mainini that she invited her. She insists that Lucia and Takesure will have to deal with the consequences and excuses herself to go to bed. After Maiguru leaves, Mainini sneers that Maiguru is proud, unfeeling, doesn't care for Tambu and killed Nhamo.
The belief that Lucia and Takesure aren't family shows that marriage in this culture doesn't actually bring women into a man's family. This is another way of disempowering women, as it also appears to deprive them of their own birth families while also denying them power in their married families.
Themes
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Lucia tries to calm Mainini, but Mainini won't have it. Mainini insists that Lucia doesn't know how to restrain herself, since she slept with Takesure and Jeremiah. Then, Mainini insists that the women only listened politely to Maiguru because she's educated and rich. Mainini says that she also has a mouth and she won't be quiet, and accuses Maiguru of being a witch and stealing children. Mainini turns on Tambu and says that if Tambu is too good to eat vegetables or use the latrine, she can go to Maiguru and eat meat.
Mainini doesn't believe that she and Maiguru have anything in common, which means that the women can't work together to achieve a degree of power over Babamukuru. When she also turns on Tambu, she shows that she thinks the true culprit is education as it allows an educated person to discredit people who aren't.
Themes
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Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Lucia manages to convince Mainini to go to the house to listen in on the meeting, and the two of them leave. Patience follows and Tambu wants to follow, but she's afraid of seeming disloyal to Nyasha. Nyasha is gone, and Tambu doesn't know when she left the kitchen, but she's glad to not have to explain her mother's words. Later, Nyasha insists that both Mainini and Maiguru are suffering, though Tambu insists that Maiguru can't suffer.
Again, Tambu fully buys into the patriarchal system that says Maiguru's duties of feeding everyone are an honor: in her mind, there are no downsides to being Babamukuru's wife. This blinds her from seeing the other ways that a person can suffer and narrows her point of view.
Themes
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Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Maiguru passes through the meeting and Babamukuru gives her permission to continue through to the bedroom. The rest of the women gather and whisper outside. Takesure resumes his tale and says that Lucia refused to leave with him. Lucia tries not to laugh. Babamukuru takes Takesure seriously until Takesure accuses Lucia of bewitching Jeremiah's children. Lucia stomps into the room, calls Takesure a fool, and grabs him by both ears.
When Lucia inserts herself into the meeting, it shows that there are ways for women to gain power over men—they just have to insist on being listened to, as Lucia does. Though this should offer some hope for Nyasha, it's worth keeping in mind that Nyasha is still young and marriageable, and therefore her obedience is valuable.
Themes
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Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
With Takesure's head held at waist height, Lucia addresses Babamukuru. She asks if Takesure is truly a man when he spews this nonsense, and makes Takesure admit that he's never seen her practicing witchcraft. Throwing Takesure back on the sofa, Lucia says she didn't leave because Jeremiah is a terrible husband to Mainini. She says he wants everything but doesn't want to work for it, and she couldn't bear to leave her sister with him. Lucia says she's going to leave and take Mainini with her, and refuses to stay and talk about it.
As far as the reader has seen, Lucia's accusations against Jeremiah are true: Jeremiah doesn't have to work hard or be kind to keep Mainini under his thumb, and Babamukuru is around to provide for his children. This shows how this patriarchal system doesn't force men to be kind or reasonable people, but rewards them anyway.
Themes
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Back outside, Tambu worriedly tells Lucia that if she takes Mainini, Tambu will have to come back to the homestead. Lucia laughs and assures her this will pass. In the house, Babamukuru reprimands Jeremiah for making such a mess. Tete Gladys suggests that this would all be fixed if Jeremiah would behave sensibly. Takesure suggests medicine while Jeremiah lists the problems of the entire family and suggests they hire a medium to drive out the evil.
Again, Jeremiah's suggestion of a medium indicates that he's not a Christian at all. Because of his poverty and his lack of education, local religion holds way more sway for him than God does. Notably, Gladys, the sole woman present, has the most no-nonsense solution, but also the one that seems the least likely to happen.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Babamukuru is incredulous and disappointed that Jeremiah would make such a sinful suggestion. Calling the room to attention, Babamukuru says that he has a solution: the issue is that Jeremiah and Mainini are living in sin, so he wants to throw a church wedding for them so they can be married before God and stop God from punishing the family.
Babamukuru's anger shows that he also expects obedience from his male family members, not just Nyasha and Tambu. With this, it shows how Babamukuru's education allows him to feel superior to everyone else, male or female.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
The next morning, Tambu shares everything she heard with Nyasha. Nyasha is pleased for Lucia and amused about the wedding. She asks about the ceremonies that Jeremiah proposed, but Tambu can barely describe them since they don't perform them anymore. Tambu tells the reader that she saw this as progress, but Nyasha doesn't see it the same way. Nyasha makes comments about the horrors of people becoming colonized and their debate ends. Tambu carries breakfast into the living room, where Gladys and Maiguru are giggling about Babamukuru's reaction to Lucia inserting herself. Gladys asks whether a wedding or a cleansing is a better cure for Jeremiah's self-indulgence and dissolves into laughter.
The inability to explain the cleansing ceremonies that the medium would perform indicates that Tambu is losing touch with her traditional roots—which is something that's happened thanks to the family's relationship to education, missionaries, and religion. This again shows that one of the main consequences of colonialism is that native people are coopted into a system that vilifies their traditional beliefs and then makes them forget those beliefs by never allowing the traditions to happen.
Themes
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