Nervous Conditions

by

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions: Chapter Three Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Babamukuru arrives in a cavalcade of cars. Netsai, Tambu, and their cousin Shupikai watch the cars approaching from miles away. When the cars get close enough, they run to the cars and dance and sing. Tete Gladys and her husband are in the first car; then Babamukuru; then Thomas and his wife, Patience. When the cars reach the yard filled with celebrating relatives, Jeremiah jumps out of the car and announces Babamukuru's return, and after getting out of her car, Tete Gladys praises Babamukuru.
Babamukuru's arrival allows the reader to glimpse some of the traditional customs and begin to parse out the hierarchy of Tambu's family. The fact that everyone praises Babamukuru reinforces his status as the patriarch, while also suggesting that at this point, the rest of the family values and thinks highly of his education.
Themes
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Men vs. Women Theme Icon
When Babamukuru steps out of the car, aunts and uncles drown him in hugs and pats. He eventually steps in the house with his siblings and other paternal aunts, while other female relatives remain outside. Maiguru is the last one inside and looks no different than when she left. Nyasha, however, looks very English: she's wearing a tiny dress that barely covers her thighs and looks concerned. Tambu turns away, disgusted by Nyasha's inappropriate dress. She can't pinpoint why she also dislikes Chido, but she dislikes Nhamo when he takes the cousins for himself to speak to in English. Neither cousin will speak to Nhamo, but the whole thing irritates Tambu to no end.
The hierarchy is especially apparent here when paternal relatives are allowed inside, unlike maternal relatives. Note that Tambu isn't even allowed inside—though she's connected to the patriarchy through her father, as a woman, she's not actually afforded any prestige. However, Tambu's disgust at Nyasha's dress suggests that despite her progressive ideals and desire for education, she is at heart very traditional and has definite ideas about how a woman should look.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu decides that the event is ruined because she wasn't allowed to go to the airport and resume her relationship with Chido and Nyasha. She feels as though this is what Mainini was talking about when she mentioned the burden of womanhood. Tambu is afraid, as she now sees that there are forces beyond her control that can stop her education and keep her from her cousins. She flounces to the kitchen to think. She wonders if she likes either cousin or Babamukuru, and wonders if they changed or if she did. Deciding that these thoughts are dangerous and unwise, Tambu begins preparing part of the meal.
At this point, Tambu recognizes that she's being denied opportunities because she's female and for no other reason. This is what Mainini was talking about, and this throws another wrench in Tambu's desire for education: it impresses upon her that she might not able to overcome all her obstacles because she's female. Her decision to put these thoughts aside shows that she already has a tendency to be obedient.
Themes
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Related Quotes
The other women are pleased when they discover Tambu cooking. Tambu feels superior because she believes Nyasha wouldn't be able to cook such a feast. She realizes that she felt excluded by her cousins, which is a dangerous feeling—being excluded means she isn't necessary, while cooking makes her feel utilitarian and useful. She and the women cook ten gallons of sadza and a small pot of rice on Maiguru's Dover stove for Babamukuru. The women dish up dinner for the patriarchal relatives.
By finding solace with other women, Tambu is able to reaffirm her connection to her gender, even if she also recognizes that it might be her undoing. Essentially, she already exists in gray areas even if she won't admit it. The Dover stove here represents Babamukuru's prestige and Maiguru's prestige through association.
Themes
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
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Before the relatives can eat, Tambu has to carry a water dish for the relatives to wash their hands. She doesn't like this, as she has to know what everyone's status is. Tambu makes many mistakes and Nyasha tries to smile in solidarity. Tambu finds it insulting and ignores her. She's even more upset when Chido, Nhamo, and Nyasha wash—she believes they should be eating in the kitchen with the women.
Again, Tambu's sense of being insulted when her brother and cousins wash suggests that she relies heavily on some traditional customs and believes that it's important to uphold them, something that will later come into conflict with her desire to consider things like Nyasha.
Themes
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
In the kitchen, the women and children eat what's left of the meal. There's little meat left, but since they don't often get meat anyway, they don't complain. At the house, everyone is extremely happy even without alcohol, as Babamukuru doesn't drink. Tete Gladys begins dancing in the yard and soon, other family members follow. Though Tambu no longer dances like she used to as a child, as she attracts negative attention now as a teen, she invites Nyasha to dance. When Nyasha looks confused, Maiguru explains that Nyasha and Chido no longer understand Shona well.
The lack of meat for the women and children reinforces the power and prestige of the patriarchal family members. Tambu's assertion that nobody complains indicates that the women in her family are accustomed to this kind of treatment and therefore, it seems normal to them. This begins to show how old power structures become normalized, making it hard for someone like Tambu to recognize what's going on.
Themes
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Tambu is offended; she never expected her cousins to change so much, and she can't fathom what it means to forget the Shona language. She remembers all the fun she used to have with Nyasha and Chido and feels they've turned into strangers. Suddenly sad, Tambu implores Maiguru to ask them to dance. Though the conversation is in English, Tambu can tell that Nyasha wants to dance but that Maiguru is forbidding her. Eventually, this attracts Tete Gladys's attention, and she tells the children to dance. Chido declines politely, but Nyasha seems to simply turn herself off. Tambu is extremely disappointed.
Forgetting the Shona language makes it clear that Chido and Nyasha are anglicized beyond anything Tambu thought possible. Her sadness and anger about this suggests that one of Tambu's main issues going forward will be to reconcile her Western education with her traditional customs and even her language.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Babamukuru stays up most of the night talking about his concerns regarding the family's development—he's come to the conclusion that the other branches of the family aren't secure. Everyone listens, as Babamukuru inspires confidence and obedience. He suggests that at least one member of each branch be educated and tells Jeremiah not to be silly when Jeremiah suggests that all the children receive an education.
Jeremiah's suggestion betrays that he mostly wants to impress Babamukuru; he's not interested in thinking critically. This begins to cast him as a changeable and easily influenced person, as making Babamukuru happy will mean that Babamukuru will continue to support him.
Themes
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Babamukuru says the real problem is with Jeremiah's branch, as Tete Gladys and Thomas's families are well provided for. He recalls receiving a letter from Jeremiah in 1962 about not having enough money for school fees, but says he was pleased that Jeremiah sent Tambu and Nhamo back to school. He struggles to remember Tambu's name. The family praises Babamukuru's kindness, and then Babamukuru continues: he believes that the best thing to do is to bring Nhamo to the mission, where he can develop his talents. Gladys is on her feet celebrating in an instant, and they all praise Babamukuru.
Forgetting Tambu's name indicates that Babamukuru doesn't actually care much about particulars or about women; for him, Nhamo is the true star simply because he's male. Notice too that Jeremiah doesn't ever share that Tambu raised her school fees herself. By taking credit for her hard work, he shows again that Tambu is nothing more than a means to a future profit and in this case, a tool to earn praise from his wealthy, successful brother.
Themes
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Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Jeremiah tells Nhamo the plan the next day. Nhamo feels extremely important and tells Tambu about it as she waters vegetables with water from Nyamarira. He insists that there's nobody else to go to the mission and speaks horribly about Jeremiah. He's also excited to wear shoes and use silverware. Tambu is extremely jealous and finally shouts that during their visit, Babamukuru and Maiguru ate with their hands. Nhamo insists that they eat with silverware and individual plates at home. Tambu says that Nhamo will still be Jeremiah's son and should be grateful, but Nhamo just says he was meant to be educated, and that girls don't go away to school.
When Nhamo doesn't help with the watering, it allows him to make himself look even more masculine and important, as watering vegetables is women's work. His taunts also show that he's more than willing to put women down to make himself feel and look better. Meanwhile, his excitement about silverware and shoes shows that he already idealizes Western culture, which suggests that he's already primed to stop taking pride in his family and the homestead.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tambu throws a rock towards Nhamo but misses. She begins to charge him, but he runs away, laughing and taunting her. Tambu explains that while she now knows that plenty of people felt the same way Nhamo did, at the time, she simply thought that Babamukuru was a god who had defied the wizards of her grandmother's stories, while the wizards crushed Nhamo and Jeremiah. She can't imagine Babamukuru bullying anyone the way that Nhamo and Jeremiah bully Tambu and Mainini. Tambu is really only angry because Nhamo insisted there was more to his special treatment than just being older and more advanced academically.
Note that Tambu believes that through a good, proper education—which she seems to feel Nhamo didn't get—a man will be able to rise above bullying and become godlike in his own right. This is why she says that the wizards crushed Nhamo and Jeremiah; education wasn't able to show them the error of their ways when it comes to women, while in the case of Babamukuru, Tambu thinks that education is why he's so kind and generous.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu ignores Nhamo for a while after that. Mainini is very upset about it, especially since she's pregnant with Rambanai and has already lost four babies. Some people believe that this is her sister Lucia's fault, as she's unmarried, almost past her prime, and could give Jeremiah more children. Her mother's plight almost makes Tambu stop ignoring Nhamo, but she's saved when Babamukuru comes to fetch him.
The way that gossips characterize Lucia shows that women are victimized regardless of whether someone buys into colonial ideals or traditional ones, given that it's apparently Lucia's status as a bad woman that's causing Mainini problems.
Themes
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Nhamo's absence also means that when Babamukuru comes to visit on the weekends with Nyasha, Tambu is able to try to be friends with Nyasha. Tambu is unsuccessful, as Nyasha refuses all invitations to play or pound maize. Tambu feels that Nyasha grows dimmer every time she sees her, and she feels that England changed her. One day, Nyasha behaves especially horribly: she refuses sour milk after asking for it. Jeremiah and Mainini are vocal about how horrible she is when Babamukuru isn't around.
Notice that Tambu believes Nyasha is just behaving badly for entertainment or because of her time in England. It's worth considering that poor Nyasha is likely experiencing major culture shock after being in England for five years and is struggling to adapt to a place that now feels strange and distant.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
When Nhamo returns home after the first year of school, he's different: he no longer remembers the Shona language. He speaks to Mainini in incorrect Shona and in broken English to Jeremiah. However, when something important comes up, Nhamo inexplicably remembers Shona long enough to resolve the matter. This alarms Mainini, who believes he's possessed. Jeremiah insists he's just educated like Babamukuru. Mainini confesses that she wants Nhamo to be educated, but she also wants to talk to him.
Jeremiah's ability to speak English with Nhamo suggests that he also had some education as a child. This is likely why Tambu places so much emphasis on trying and taking opportunities: her father's laziness likely tells her that if someone only works hard, unlike him, it's possible to become like Babamukuru.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
This distant and superior Nhamo is the Nhamo they expect home in 1968. When he doesn't arrive, Mainini is upset and declares that he'd never come home if he didn't have to. The family eats dinner, and then they hear a car. It's Babamukuru, looking old and tired. Maiguru is with him, but Nhamo isn't. Mainini starts to shriek and falls, accusing Babamukuru of bewitching and killing Nhamo.
The decision to accuse Babamukuru of killing Nhamo betrays that Mainini no longer believes in the power of education to lift up her children. Now, she sees it as something that turns her children into Westernized strangers and can even kill them.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Once they get Mainini into the kitchen, Babamukuru tells them what happened. Nhamo complained of a pain in his neck a few days ago; suspecting mumps, the doctor kept Nhamo overnight for observation. Babamukuru interrupts his story to ask Jeremiah if he received the messages he left at the Council offices. Jeremiah didn't get them. Continuing, Babamukuru says that the next day, Nhamo’s health went sharply downhill, and then he died.
Babamukuru's aside about the messages left at the offices is another way for him to make Jeremiah look checked out and irresponsible and, hopefully, inspire him to do better. For Mainini, this story impresses upon her that Babamukuru and the doctors at the mission aren't to be trusted with her children.
Themes
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Babamukuru comforts Jeremiah with Christian platitudes, but Jeremiah insists that they must be overwhelmed with jealous spirits. He leaves to tell the neighbors and let them spread the news. Tambu finds that she's not sad about Nhamo; she's mostly sad for him because his life had been so worth living.
Tambu's emotional response implies that like Nhamo, she prioritizes education and Western ideals: his death is only a tragedy because he was living a Western life, not a traditional and impoverished one.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
They bury Nhamo the next day. After a while, Babamukuru brings up the plight of Jeremiah's branch of the family. He suggests that Tambu come to the mission to be educated so she can support them until she marries. Mainini is stricken with grief; she doesn't want another of her children sent to a place of death. Tambu goes to the mission anyway.
The fact that Tambu only gets this opportunity because Nhamo died reinforces her inferiority as a young woman. Further, this opportunity has little to do with her and everything to do with helping her family, again minimizing her personhood and desires.
Themes
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Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon