Nervous Conditions

by

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions: Chapter Ten Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Tambu feels the same kind of excitement on the day that Babamukuru drives her to Sacred Heart as she did on her first day at the mission. She feels as though things are coming together and she's entering a world where her burdens will be light. Maiguru and Nyasha also accompany Tambu to school, which annoys Babamukuru. Maiguru bakes a beautiful chocolate cake and on the way to Sacred Heart, she insists they stop so she can buy Tambu snacks. Tambu and Nyasha laugh that the food will make her fat, even though they don't actually find it funny.
Laughing about getting fat is especially unfunny given Nyasha's eating disorder, which is already affecting her weight. For Maiguru, buying snacks is an acceptable way to show Tambu that she supports her and wants her to do well, thereby creating a sense of community and sisterhood centered around education.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
The grounds are expansive and green, with trees and a pond filled with real goldfish. Dozens of fancy cars wind their way up to the roundabout by the dormitories. Nyasha notices that the finery is a lot for Tambu, so she delicately asks if this is the right place. Babamukuru snaps at Nyasha.
The finery that Tambu describes makes it clear that Sacred Heart is a school where extremely rich students go; this certainly makes Tambu feel even more of an outsider than she did when she first arrived at the mission.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tambu, Babamukuru, Maiguru, and Nyasha join the throng of students and parents. Tambu is disappointed to see that the only other black people are porters. A nun greets them at the door and leads them to the room where the African students live. Though large, the room isn't big enough for the six beds in it. The nun can't remember whether Nyasha or Tambu is attending. Tambu wishes she were wearing her uniform, but because she's getting hers secondhand, she doesn't have it yet. Babamukuru asks why there are six beds when students are supposed to sleep four to a room, and the nun proudly explains that they have more Africans than usual this year.
The segregated dorm rooms reminds the reader that at places other than the mission school, Rhodesia has instituted its own version of apartheid. The nun's pride that they have six students and inability to see that the housing situation is racist and dehumanizing speaks to the success of the segregation, as she's able to believe that they're doing a good thing by having black students at all.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Babamukuru and Maiguru make Tambu's bed while Tambu unpacks. Then, they say goodbye. Babamukuru is brisk, Maiguru is cheerful, and Nyasha seems determined to be happy. The girls promise to write and visit.
This tense but civil goodbye is a testament to Babamukuru's power to control his family members. Nobody thinks to step out of line and recognize that this situation is difficult for all of them.
Themes
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
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As the term progresses, Tambu barely notices that Nyasha doesn't visit. She throws herself into her studies. The white students take a while to warm up to Tambu but fortunately, the library is huge and welcoming. Tambu spends much of her time reading and doesn't miss home.
When Tambu doesn't miss Nyasha, it suggests that she's getting a lot of what Nyasha gave her from the library and from her classes. This suggests that now, Nyasha is the one who is unnecessary, just like Tambu felt at the beginning.
Themes
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Nyasha writes often. Her letters are long and entertaining, consisting mostly of family news and school gossip. She doesn't write about herself much until several weeks later, when Tambu receives a serious letter. Nyasha writes that she misses Tambu and has no friends at school, as they think she's a snob and too smart. To cope she's dedicating herself to her studies, which seems to please Babamukuru. Nyasha also writes she's trying not to anger Babamukuru, and he regularly refuses to let her visit Tambu.
Again, when Nyasha makes Babamukuru happy by throwing herself into her schoolwork, it shows that Babamukuru prioritizes education over anything else—even his daughter's health and emotional wellbeing. This is, again, because he sees that her value to him comes from her ability to make him look good in the future.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu feels bad and vows to write, but she never does. Nyasha writes another bubbly and happy letter that mentions she's started a new diet that will make her svelte and sensuous. Tambu receives few letters during the second half of term but it doesn't worry her. Before she knows it, Babamukuru picks Tambu up at the end of term. He refuses to talk at all on the way to the mission. Nyasha looks very thin when Tambu arrives. Tambu goes to the homestead the next day and at the end of the holiday, goes straight back to Sacred Heart. Because of this, she doesn't see Nyasha until August.
It's telling that Tambu isn't concerned by Nyasha's new diet; it suggests that even though Tambu was worried when she was at the mission last, she isn't taking Nyasha's eating disorders seriously. However, she's able to feel this way because she, like Nyasha, dedicates herself to her studies, which suggests that education can help someone escape from all sorts of ills or unpleasant thoughts.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
In August, Nyasha is skeletal and frail. She barely acknowledges Tambu and remains absorbed in her books. At dinner, she drinks two glasses of water and devours her food as fast as she can. Babamukuru and Maiguru look relieved, but Tambu hears Nyasha vomiting later. Afterwards, Nyasha returns to her books. She wakes Tambu up early in the morning to help her with a math problem she can't solve. She'd made a silly mistake and laughs, saying she's not concentrating hard enough.
The relief that Babamukuru and Maiguru feel indicates that they also don't take Nyasha's eating habits seriously and possibly, don't know that she's throwing everything up. Her inability to solve this math problem suggests that her lack of nourishment is affecting her mental functioning, which means that even Babamukuru should be concerned—she can't do well in school without proper nutrition.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Babamukuru wants to take Tambu to the homestead the next day, but Tambu feels she can't leave Nyasha and needs to refuse Babamukuru. She telephones his office, but he doesn't answer. Tambu makes plans to confront him directly, but knows she can't follow through. At lunch, Nyasha refuses to leave her room, which angers Babamukuru. Maiguru comforts Babamukuru, and they say that it's not so serious, since Nyasha eats at supper. Tambu knows the situation is very serious and manages to ask Babamukuru if she can stay to be with Nyasha. Surprisingly, he agrees. Tambu believes it's proof that Babamukuru is good.
Again, the fact that Tambu struggles to do the right thing and tell Babamukuru about the seriousness of Nyasha's disordered eating speaks to just how strongly Tambu idolizes him. She doesn't want to tell him that he's not actually in charge of his world and can't control Nyasha, as that might jeopardize Tambu's place of relative safety. This is all reinforced when Tambu believes that Babamukuru allows her to stay just so that he can be kind.
Themes
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Nyasha becomes weaker every day. She studies fourteen hours per day, weaves when she walks, and wakes Tambu up at night with questions about homework. One evening, Nyasha passes out onto her dinner plate. Believing she's making a scene, Babamukuru sends her to her room.
Here, Babamukuru gets angry with Nyasha because she's not conforming to his idea of what she should be like. This is because he's seeing that he can't control all the women around him.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Late that night, Nyasha wakes Tambu up, asks to get into bed with her, and when Tambu moves over, Nyasha declines—she just wanted to see if Tambu would let her. Nyasha sits on her bed and becomes agitated. She says that "they" have done this to her and to everyone else, and they've taken everyone away as well. Growing angrier, she says that "they" have deprived everyone of their identities and make them grovel. Tambu touches Nyasha, which sends her into a fit of rage. Babamukuru and Maiguru come running as Nyasha shreds her books, breaks things, and then suddenly calms down. She asks Maiguru to hold her and says that she's not one of them, but she's not like her parents either. The next morning, Nyasha tells Tambu that she has more rage inside her and needs to go somewhere safe.
The "they" that Nyasha talks about are presumably white settlers and colonizers. Her rant then becomes about the consequences of colonialism, which has made Nyasha unrecognizable and shameful to her parents, yet has denied her access to being truly white or European. This alienation is what she sees as the true crime of colonialism: because of it, Nyasha exists somewhere in between black and white and just as Tambu cannot find that gray space in between the two poles, Nyasha can't pick a side.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Babamukuru drives Nyasha into Salisbury the next morning on the advice of Maiguru's brother. Maiguru's brother makes Nyasha an appointment with a psychiatrist, but the psychiatrist insists that Africans don't become ill with Nyasha's symptoms, so she must be faking it. Babamukuru is ready to go home, but Maiguru's brother insists they stay. They find another psychiatrist who checks Nyasha into a clinic to rest for a few weeks. Maiguru stays, but Babamukuru drives back with Tambu to drop her off at the homestead. The drive is silent.
When the psychiatrist insists that Africans can't develop eating disorders, he essentially refuses to acknowledge that Nyasha has developed a "white" disorder. This is another way in which the racist colonial system punishes black natives and tries to make them seem less than human: by insisting they don't get sick the same way that white humans do.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
At the homestead, Mainini snorts that it's the "Englishness" that's done this to Nyasha, and it's liable to kill all of them. Tambu knows that Mainini believes she's a victim as well. Tambu takes these words to heart and wonders for a few days if she's being careful enough not to succumb to whiteness and prosperity. Her fear turns into guilt and she has nightmares about Nhamo and her cousins. Tambu is finally able to push the thoughts away and return to Sacred Heart, happy about her education.
Mainini likely isn't wrong; Nyasha's exposure to Western culture has made her, in a number of important ways, more English than African. This is why she suffers from a disease that, according to psychiatrists, African people don't suffer from, and this is why she seeks to break out of the black and white systems in front of her.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tambu the narrator says that she was able to push the thoughts away then, but before too long, her mind began to question things and refuse to be brainwashed. Eventually, Sacred Heart no longer looked like her ticket to a better life. The process has been long and difficult and led her to write this story.  
When Tambu realizes that Sacred Heart was an arm of the colonial system that sought to bring Tambu into the fold, it shows that she does learn how to think critically and accept that not all education is good.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon