Nervous Conditions

by

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions: Chapter Six Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One of the most shocking things about the mission is the number of white people. They're all missionaries, and therefore different than the "wizards" that Tambu's grandmother experienced. These ones want to give and spread God's light in Africa, not steal emeralds. Tambu says that the natives treated the missionaries like deities. Today, she says, there are fewer white people and they're expatriates, but they're treated much the same since they're still white.
With this assessment, Tambu indicates that no matter what kind of white people come to Rhodesia or Africa as a whole, they're still considered superior to the black natives. This is a consequence of colonialism, and the school system allows them to teach children to think this way.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
As a teen, Tambu likes the missionaries much better than she liked Doris. However, some of them are very strange: they speak Shona more than English, and a few of them have children who grow up speaking Shona and learn English in school. The majority of missionaries, however, send their children to the Government school in town. This presents other issues, as the missionaries pray against the government.
The government at this point has declared itself independent, but has done so keeping a white government. Knowing this, Tambu says that the missionaries actually want Rhodesia to be led by the black natives, not the white settler minority. Regardless, both the missionaries and the settlers are part of the colonial system.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
One of Nyasha and Tambu's missionary friends, Nyaradzo, has two older brothers. They attend a special school in Salisbury where, purportedly, both black and white children can go. However, there are more white than black students, as the fees are so high for black children. Most students at the mission, except for Nyasha, want to go to schools like this. While Nyasha and Tambu agree that there would be more "life" in the form of cultural activities, Nyasha remains firm in her belief that "life" would come with consequences. Fortunately for her, Babamukuru can barely afford to send Chido, so sending her is out of the question. Tambu secretly wants to go to a multiracial school.
The high fees for black children is a way for the white people in charge of the school to be able to say that they support black education and will allow black natives to be educated—if only they can overcome barriers that, for many, are impossible to overcome. The consequences that Nyasha fears are presumably assimilation, which suggests she has more respect for traditional ways of life than she's let on.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Chido goes to school with Nyaradzo's brothers. Nyaradzo's father arranged for Chido to take the entrance exam and drove him to Salisbury himself. Chido, being a promising and peaceful boy, was given a scholarship. Nyasha believes that Nyaradzo's father pulled strings to make this happen.
The fact that Chido got the scholarship because he's peaceful suggests that those at the school believe that he'll peacefully uphold the colonial system, even if they educate him in it.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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During Tambu's first year at the mission, Nyasha sits her first set of public exams. The exam would screen her out of the school system, though she doesn't have to worry much since Babamukuru is the headmaster. Nyasha maliciously threatens to fail her exams to make Babamukuru look bad, but she works harder than ever at studying and grows thin and drawn. When Tambu talks to her about it, Nyasha confesses that she's nervous and afraid. The only one who isn't worried about Nyasha is Babamukuru, who thinks her constant studying is proof that there's hope for her. Nyasha passes, though they don't learn this until after the Christmas holidays.
When Nyasha takes these exams so seriously, it suggests that, like Tambu, she sees education as her ticket out of the less savory parts of her life. Doing well on her exams is a way to curry favor with Babamukuru and, for a while, appear as though she's a good daughter. The fact that Babamukuru is happy about Nyasha's studying reinforces how much stock he puts in education, since he seems unaware of how ill the exams make her.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu is very excited for Christmas, as Babamukuru is allowing her to stay at the mission for a few days and then accompany his family to the homestead. This means that she'll get to spend time with Chido, who is handsome and kind. By the time Chido arrives home from school, Nyasha is sleeping and eating again, and they're all looking forward to attending the school Christmas party. The evening gets off to a bad start, however, when Nyasha is ready first, and Babamukuru doesn't recognize her. He thinks that her dress is too skimpy and only backs down when Maiguru admits that she bought it for Nyasha.
Though Tambu never describes Nyasha's dress, it's likely too Western for Babamukuru's taste, which only reinforces for him that Nyasha isn't a good girl in the traditional way he'd like her to be. With this, Babamukuru tries to make Nyasha fit into a very narrow definition of what a good woman is, while Nyasha attempts to expand the definition and take control of it.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Chido, Tambu, and Nyasha giggle all the way to the school hall. Tambu isn't excited for the dance; it's loud and hot, and she still doesn't love dancing. She spends the first ten minutes feeling anxious until she finds her friends. Dancing safely in a group, Tambu begins to feel the music and discovers that she's a good dancer. She shows off for her friends and then dances with everyone she can. By ten o’clock, Tambu is exhausted and relieved when Chido says it's time to go. Nyasha is reluctant, and her dance partner walks her home, the two of them dancing the entire way. At the top of the drive, her date remembers a new dance he has to teach her.
When Tambu discovers that dancing isn't so bad, it suggests that she's also becoming more anglicized and in tune with Western ways of doing things, though her desire for an early night shows that she's still in tune with traditional conventions of what time a girl should be home. Notice too that she's willing to listen to Chido and respect his authority; this implies that she knows she's expected to listen to male family members.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Chido and Tambu wait for Nyasha for a while before slowly walking down the drive. Chido insists that they can't go inside because Babamukuru is still awake, so they peek in the window. They come face to face with him, and he ushers them inside. Chido tries to say that Nyasha is talking with friends and will come soon, but Babamukuru walks out of the house. Tambu and Chido race to their rooms. Ten minutes later, Nyasha walks into the bedroom and starts to change.
All three teens know that Babamukuru won't be happy with Nyasha, as they recognize that staying out late to spend time with a boy isn't something that a conventionally good girl would do. When Chido and Tambu run away, it suggests that they fear Babamukuru more than even Nyasha does, even when they're not the ones in trouble.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Babamukuru comes in a few minutes later and wants to know why Nyasha was out so late. When she says she was talking to friends, he catches her in the lie and says that she was out with a boy. Nyasha doesn't immediately back down and admits that he was teaching her a new dance. This shocks Babamukuru, and he asks Tambu to leave the room, but Tambu can feel the atmosphere growing dangerous. She wakes up Maiguru and when they return to the bedroom door, they find Chido there as well. He whispers that Nyasha is a fool for standing up to Babamukuru.
Tambu sees in this situation that Nyasha is the exact opposite of her: in addition to behaving in this uncouth and Western manner, she's also willing to boldly stand up to male family members who, under normal circumstances, would require the utmost respect. The sense that the atmosphere is dangerous indicates that this time, Nyasha has crossed a line and will pay the price.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Inside the room, Babamukuru accuses Nyasha of being indecent, but she refuses to cave. She says that whatever Babamukuru is accusing her of, she did it. This makes Babamukuru even angrier. Nyasha insists that because she doesn't worry about her behavior, he doesn't need to worry either. Chido tries to step in, but Babamukuru accuses him of letting Nyasha act like a whore. Nyasha asks calmly why she should worry about what others say when her own father calls her a whore. Babamukuru strikes her across both cheeks and sends her flying onto the bed. He says he's going to teach her a lesson so she won't disgrace him.
Nyasha's insistence that Babamukuru doesn't need to worry, since she's not concerned shows that Nyasha desperately wants to be in control of her life and her body. Babamukuru's violence is then an attempt to seize control of his daughter's body, thereby subjecting her to a patriarchal system in which her desire for bodily autonomy is nothing more than a dream.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Nyasha backs away, begging Babamukuru to not hit her. Babamukuru hits her again and Nyasha punches back. With this, Babamukuru throws her to the floor, hitting her and banging her head into the floor, while Nyasha screams and fights. Maiguru and Chido try to pull Babamukuru off of Nyasha, but he insists he'll kill Nyasha and then hang himself. He threatens to kill her if she doesn't go away. Silently, Nyasha walks outside. Tambu follows her and they sit by the servants' quarters. Nyasha smokes a cigarette.
Although Babamukuru is concerned that Nyasha's perceived promiscuity is going to make him look bad, he's not at all worried that beating or even killing her will have the same effect. This shows that there's a major double standard at play, where women are punished for minor infractions while men can literally get away with murder.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Tambu thinks that Babamukuru's behavior is shockingly similar to Nhamo's treatment of her: both she and Nyasha are victimized only because they're female. Tambu thinks that even heroes like Babamukuru do this, and even though Nyasha is too strong-willed and disrespectful, she's still in trouble merely because she's female and therefore inferior. Tambu the narrator says that if she'd been more independent, she might've come to a conclusion but instead, she didn't want to think too hard. She was afraid that she'd discover that she didn't recognize herself, so she tries to be as good as possible to stay on track.
Earlier, Nhamo made sure Tambu knew she didn't get to go to school just because she's female. This allows Tambu to see that her gender is what people see before anything else, and that men will persecute her for it no matter what she does. This is also why Babamukuru beats Nyasha despite her good grades; her grades aren't good enough to outweigh her improper behavior elsewhere.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Tambu can't understand why Nyasha feels so threatened at the mission and suggests that she wait until she's older to fight. Nyasha believes she'd forget what she's fighting for if she waited. She says that she was comfortable in England, and that's turned her into a whore now. She thinks that she needs to make sure she's adjusting to the right things, and says she's done being inferior and good.
Nyasha believes that she's simply acting in a way that's more English, which doesn't do her any favors in Rhodesia. This begins to show how damaging the colonial system can be, as it punishes Nyasha for engaging with it to this intense degree.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Chido joins the girls and calls them back inside. He puts out Nyasha's cigarette and begs her to not upset Maiguru anymore. Nyasha asks if anyone cares about her needs, but Chido says that she's the daughter. When Tambu and Nyasha get back to the house, Nyasha walks right past Maiguru's outstretched arms.
Chido's insistence that Nyasha is the daughter again puts Nyasha in her place: as a woman and as a child, her needs literally don't matter. All that matters is her unflinching obedience.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Nyasha spends the next week alone and withdrawn, while Babamukuru spends the week out of the house. He lectures Nyasha and gives her fourteen lashes. Tambu worries about Nyasha, as she senses that Nyasha isn't just sulking because she didn't get her way. Tambu doesn't quite understand why Nyasha is upset, as she has a very clear view of right and wrong thanks to Sunday school, but she's worried that Nyasha is retreating and detaching from the world.
Tambu's mention of taking the teachings from Sunday school very seriously doesn't help her critical thinking skills, as she implies that she's learning that things are black and white there. Nyasha, on the other hand, recognizes that Babamukuru can be both a generous benefactor and a horrible father, whatever the church might say about him.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Maiguru sees this as well but doesn't know what to do. One day, as she and Tambu eat lunch alone, she tells Tambu that Babamukuru was waiting up to let the dogs out on the night of the dance. She insists he wanted to make sure they were home, and now, Maiguru says she's afraid because his and Nyasha's feelings are so intense. That night, Tambu talks at Nyasha in the dark and tells her about her cornfield, Jeremiah and Nhamo, and what Maiguru said. Nyasha insists that she's not a plaything for Babamukuru to control. When Nyasha starts to cry, Tambu climbs into bed with her.
While it's possible that Babamukuru genuinely cares about the wellbeing of his children and Tambu, he clearly struggles to make this known in a way that doesn't alienate his charges. This suggests that he's a victim of the patriarchal system as much as Nyasha is, as he's also deprived of a loving relationship with his daughter due to what the system requires of him.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Nyasha starts her period the next day, nine days early, and tells Tambu that she wishes she'd had sex. The girls giggle. Tambu worries for Babamukuru now that Nyasha is better, though she admires Nyasha's resilience: Tambu believes that if she'd hit Jeremiah, she would've killed herself.
The admission that Tambu would've killed herself for hitting her father shows the profound power of the patriarchal system: it makes women feel unable to stand up for themselves and unworthy of life when they do.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon