Nervous Conditions

by

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions: Chapter Two Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Stepping back in time, Tambu explains how they got to the point where she hated Nhamo. He begins school at age seven, while many other kids didn't begin for another year or two. Babamukuru, however, forces Jeremiah to send Nhamo early. Tambu starts the next year. Unfortunately, despite fair rains, the crop that year is poor, and there's no money for school fees. With Babamukuru in England, there's no chance of asking him for money.
When Tambu isn't able to go to school because of a poor crop, it illustrates the extent of her family’s poverty, as well as their dependence on traditional ways of making money, like farming. This in turn keeps them from being able to become successful in any way, as they can't get ahead through farming and also can't educate their children to get ahead in that way.
Themes
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Tambu asks her family members about the events surrounding Babamukuru's departure for England, as she doesn't remember it. Babamukuru purportedly didn't want to leave the mission, as he'd already left his mother once and by that time had two children. The question of going centered around them, though Babamukuru felt he couldn't say no—doing so would've annoyed the missionaries who helped him get so far already. They even offered Maiguru a scholarship to study as well. Eventually, they decided to go and take Chido and Nyasha with them for five years. Jeremiah worried about having to provide for himself, while Mainini hoped that it would make Jeremiah more responsible at last.
The belief that Babamukuru couldn't say no because he needed to appease the white missionaries indicates that Babamukuru isn't actually as powerful as Tambu would like to think. He's at the mercy of the colonial system and must continue to keep the more powerful white people happy if he wishes to maintain his own semblance of power. Jeremiah's worries show that Babamukuru is the one who supports his family, which he does because he's the patriarch and feels obligated to do so.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
At that time, Nhamo knew lots of things: he knew he was going to study like Babamukuru, and that it was his responsibility to educate or care for his sisters. When Jeremiah and Mainini told him there was no money for school fees, he cried. Mainini began selling boiled eggs at bus stops and managed to keep Nhamo in school, which angered Tambu. Jeremiah told Tambu that she shouldn't mind not being in school, since she'd never be able to feed her husband books.
When Mainini takes matters into her own hands, it shows two things. First, it indicates that at this point, she believes that education is the way out. Second, it suggests that she's more independent than Tambu gives her credit for, as she knows she can't rely on her husband to come up with the money.
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Tambu thought that this was silly, as Maiguru was educated and didn't serve Babamukuru books for dinner. She went to Mainini and spat that Maiguru was a better wife because of her education, but Mainini calmly insisted that womanhood is a heavy burden. She explained that Tambu needed to learn to carry the burdens of blackness and womanhood with strength. Tambu couldn't make sense of this, as Babamukuru was black and successful, and Maiguru was a woman and successful. These conclusions reached, Tambu announced that she'd go to school.
Though defeatist, Mainini's counsel shows that she has a firm grasp of the systems at play in Rhodesia: she knows that as a woman, she and Tambu are at the mercy of the powerful men around them, while the colonial system will punish them for being black. Tambu's assessment of Maiguru allows her to believe that education is the cure for all her problems.
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Jeremiah refused to work and earn the school fees himself, but Tambu had a plan: if he'd give her corn seed, she'd grow corn and raise the fees herself. Jeremiah laughed, and Mainini suggested they allow Tambu to do this, as she'd just learn to fail. Tambu spent the next few months tending her crop, just as her grandmother taught her when she was little.
Tambu's desire to earn the money herself shows the strength of her convictions: she believes fully that education will save her, as well as that she can overcome the barriers set out because of her gender if she does it herself and doesn't defer to men.
Themes
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In addition to teaching Tambu how to grow corn, Tambu's grandmother also taught family history. She moved to the area after getting married. However, "wizards" came from the south and forced people from the land. Eventually, they came upon the sandy homestead. Tambu's grandfather went to a wizard's farm to work, was a slave briefly, and then escaped to the southern gold mines while Tambu's grandmother and her children were thrown off the homestead. Her husband died, leaving her with six children. She walked with her children to the home of the "holy wizards," who took in nine-year-old Babamukuru and educated him. He worked hard and eventually earned a scholarship to South Africa. The message was to endure and obey, and Tambu lapped it up.
While Tambu notes that there's a difference between "wizards" (settlers) and "holy wizards" (missionaries), she doesn't pick up on the fact that her grandmother still calls all white people wizards—something that suggests that they're all part of the same colonial system, even if some appear to be kind. However, because the so-called holy wizards save Babamukuru, educate him, and turn him into the successful patriarch he is today, Tambu is able to overlook this and only see the power of education.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu tended her cornfields and completed all her other chores. Mainini began to discourage Tambu to prepare her for failure, and Nhamo didn't help either. He told her that she couldn't go to school because she's a girl. After this, Tambu stopped feeling much concern for Nhamo.
Nhamo's assessment, while rude, isn't wrong either: during this time, it was mostly boys who attended school when black children attended at all, as their education was more valuable to their families.
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Late in February, as Tambu's crop ripened, the cobs began to disappear. Nhamo asked her what she expected. Tambu decided to go to church on Sunday, craving the games and the friendship. She met up with her friend Nyari, who insisted she missed Tambu—but enjoyed it when Nhamo brought her corn. Tambu immediately raced to Nhamo, tackled him, and was stopped by Mr. Matimba when she tried to tackle him again. Mr. Matimba chastised the watching children and sent them away.
The fact that Nhamo is sabotaging Tambu makes it clear that he's not just casually sexist and antagonistic; his belief that Tambu shouldn't go to school is strong enough to embolden him to make it even more difficult for her to go. Tambu's choice to tackle Nhamo illustrates her fighting and independent spirit, which isn't dampened because of her gender.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Tambu told Mr. Matimba the whole story. He suggested that Tambu sell her corn to Whites in town and offered to take her with him on Tuesday. Jeremiah was incensed and tried to forbid Tambu, but Mainini refused to stand with him: she pointed out that if he didn't let her go, she'd resent him for not letting her help herself.
When Mainini stands up to Jeremiah, it suggests that she also takes Babamukuru's story to heart and believes that Tambu should be given access, even if she's going to fail. Again, though defeatist, this indicates that Mainini believes in her daughter.
Themes
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
On Tuesday, Tambu climbed into the truck with Mr. Matimba. He explained to her why the bumps on the road felt bumpier in a car and why he drove on only one side of the road. When they started up into the mountains, she commented that the white people must've been strong to build such a road. Mr. Matimba noted that the black people actually built the road, and it was an awful job. At the pass, he pointed out Umtali. Tambu was terrified when they entered real traffic and encountered stoplights.
Mr. Matimba is certainly a part of the colonial education system as a teacher, so it's telling that he implies that white people forced black natives to do the nasty work of building the road. This suggests that even though one goes through the education system, they can learn to think critically about the systems around them.
Themes
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Finally, they got out of the car and stopped on a corner. Tambu arranged her corn as Mr. Matimba tried, in English, to flag down an old white woman. Tambu tried not to act disgusted at the sight of the woman's skin. The woman, Doris, took issue with the child labor she was witnessing and insisted that Tambu needed to be in school. Tambu understood almost none of this given her rudimentary grasp of English, but after Mr. Matimba spoke, Doris gave him paper money and chose a few cobs.
Tambu's disgust at Doris's skin reminds the reader that because she's been raised in a rural area, she hasn't had a lot of contact with white people. This offers some explanation for why Tambu doesn't think critically about the colonial system; it effectively doesn't exist for her because she doesn't see white people promoting the system at all.
Themes
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Mr. Matimba helped Tambu pack up and explained that he'd told Doris that Tambu was an orphan trying to pay her way through school. Doris gave Mr. Matimba ten pounds towards the cause. When Tambu suggested she'd keep the money at home, Mr. Matimba suggested they give it to the headmaster for safekeeping and then deduct her school fees out of it yearly. Nobody at home believed Tambu earned ten pounds, so Jeremiah went to see the headmaster. When Jeremiah learned Tambu was telling the truth, he insisted the money belonged to him. The headmaster pointed out that it was Tambu's.
The suggestion to keep the money at the school suggests that Mr. Matimba is aware that he's getting into a tricky situation with Jeremiah by helping Tambu; because Jeremiah doesn't see Tambu as an individual and instead sees her as future income, he doesn't believe she should have access to the money. This argument shows how the colonial system does in some ways deprive men of power.
Themes
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Finally, they called in Mr. Matimba. He pointed out that someday, Tambu will be able to earn more than ten pounds per month if she's educated. Jeremiah spat that he'll lose it all when Tambu marries, but Tambu went to school for the next two years, and Babamukuru returned from England during her second year.
Jeremiah's anger shows again that he sees Tambu as a means to an end: Tambu will earn him money later when she marries, while her education will only benefit her husband. This shows how the traditional systems allow men to exploit their female family members.
Themes
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In the lead-up to Babamukuru's return, Jeremiah manages to come up with a significant sum of money through begging to throw a party. Nhamo gets to accompany Jeremiah to the airport and makes a big deal of this honor. Though their travel plans are simple in theory—a bus and then a train—everything is complicated by the fact that the buses often don't arrive when they're supposed to.
Coming up with the money through begging offers more reasoning why Jeremiah should support Nhamo's education over Tambu's: Nhamo will be obligated to care for his father into adulthood, which would allow Jeremiah to continue to not work.
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Tambu desperately wants to be a part of the travel preparations, and Jeremiah eventually tells her to stop wanting so much, as it's natural for her to stay home and help Mainini with the preparations. This and his other assessments of what's natural annoy Tambu, and she decides that there's no reason to try to please her father since he can't be pleased anyway. This makes Jeremiah even angrier, as he feels she's trying to emulate Nhamo and is becoming a useless woman. Eventually, he leaves her alone.
The decision to disregard what Jeremiah says continues to build up Tambu as an independent woman who's unwilling to listen to authority figures. However, Tambu will later insist that her desires are childish as she doesn't understand why Jeremiah wants her to be a certain way or the struggles she'll face by standing up to him.
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