Nervous Conditions

by

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Mainini Character Analysis

Mainini is Tambu's mother. She's been married to Jeremiah for nineteen years, since she was fifteen, and Tambu believes that this is one of the reasons—alongside crushing poverty and Jeremiah's overbearing nature—that Mainini is spiritless. However, Tambu's assessment isn't entirely true. Though Mainini is often tired, exasperated, and picks her battles carefully, she does stand up to Jeremiah and makes her opinions known to the men around her. Tambu's assessment likely comes from Mainini's defeatist nature; when Tambu is a child, Mainini counsels her to learn to carry the "burden of womanhood" so that she can more easily make sacrifices and care for her future husband and children. She also laments the burden of being black, which suggests that she's more aware of the colonial system's effects than Tambu gives her credit for: under white colonial rule, black Rhodesians were denied access, respect, and prestige. Though Mainini is initially enthusiastic about Babamukuru's desire to educate Nhamo, she soon sees that education and exposure to white culture fundamentally changes a person. She's hurt when Nhamo "forgets" Shona and won't speak to her anymore, and when he dies, she believes that Maiguru cursed him. This is why she also isn't happy when Babamukuru decides to take Tambu to the mission, as she fears Tambu will suffer the same fate. Mainini suffered several miscarriages and lost several babies under a year old over the course of her marriage, so she's especially distraught when she becomes pregnant while Tambu is at the mission school. Though her pregnancy is difficult, she gives birth to a healthy baby boy in March. Not long after, she agrees to go through with Babamukuru's proposed wedding even though she doesn't see the point. After Nyasha is hospitalized, Mainini ominously says that "Englishness" will kill her and Tambu, indicating that Mainini isn't sold on the Western version of success that her children experience at the mission.

Mainini Quotes in Nervous Conditions

The Nervous Conditions quotes below are all either spoken by Mainini or refer to Mainini. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Lynne Rienner Publishers edition of Nervous Conditions published in 2004.
Chapter One Quotes

Perhaps I am making it seem as though Nhamo simply decided to be obnoxious and turned out to be good at it, when in reality that was not the case; when in reality he was doing no more than behave, perhaps extremely, in the expected manner. The needs and sensibilities of the women in my family were not considered a priority, or even legitimate.

Related Characters: Tambu (speaker), Mainini, Jeremiah, Nhamo
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Two Quotes

"When there are sacrifices to be made, you are the one who has to make them. And these things are not easy […] As if it is ever easy. And these days it is worse, with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other."

Related Characters: Mainini (speaker), Tambu, Jeremiah, Nhamo
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Seven Quotes

Although she had been brought up in abject poverty, she had not, like my mother, been married to it at fifteen. Her spirit, unfettered in this respect, had experimented with living and drawn its own conclusions. Consequently, she was a much bolder woman than my mother […].

Related Characters: Tambu (speaker), Mainini, Lucia
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

But the women had been taught to recognize these reflections as self and it was frightening now to even begin to think that, the very facts which set them apart as a group, as women, as a certain kind of person, were only myths; frightening to acknowledge that generations of threat and assault and neglect had battered these myths into the extreme, dividing reality they faced, of the Maigurus or the Lucias.

Related Characters: Tambu (speaker), Mainini, Maiguru, Lucia, Patience
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

"Because she's rich and comes here and flashes her money around, so you listen to her as though you want to eat the words that come out of her mouth […] I am poor and ignorant, that's me, but I have a mouth and it will keep on talking, it won't keep quiet."

Related Characters: Mainini (speaker), Tambu, Maiguru, Lucia, Patience
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Eight Quotes

Naturally I was angry with him for having devised this plot which made such a joke of my parents, my home and myself. And just as naturally I could not be angry with him since surely it was sinful to be angry with Babamukuru.

Related Characters: Tambu (speaker), Babamukuru, Mainini, Jeremiah
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Nine Quotes

How could I possibly forget my brother and the mealies, my mother and the latrine and the wedding? These were all evidence of the burdens my mother had succumbed to. Going to the convent was a chance to lighten those burdens by entering a world where the burdens were light.

Related Characters: Tambu (speaker), Nyasha, Mainini, Nhamo
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Nervous Conditions LitChart as a printable PDF.
Nervous Conditions PDF

Mainini Character Timeline in Nervous Conditions

The timeline below shows where the character Mainini appears in Nervous Conditions. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Introduction
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...his education, and Tambu wonders why she can't be educated. Her parents are dismissive, and Mainini, Tambu’s mother, tells her that she needs to learn to carry the weight of womanhood... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
...cousin Nyasha reject her father's controlling nature, which leaves her struggling with dangerous eating disorders. Mainini suggests that Nyasha is plagued by "Englishness," though Tambu persists in her studies. (full context)
Chapter One
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
...the story isn't about Nhamo's death as much as it's about her and Lucia's escape, Mainini and Maiguru's entrapment, and the many rebellions of her cousin, Nyasha. (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
In the evening, Mainini goes to her vegetable garden and Tambu returns to the homestead. She expects to find... (full context)
Chapter Two
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women 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... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter Three
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Men vs. Women 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... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Once they get Mainini into the kitchen, Babamukuru tells them what happened. Nhamo complained of a pain in his... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter Four
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...as though she has everything laid out before her and needs only to care about Mainini and to show her sisters that they too can escape circumstances and do well. Tambu... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...getting distracted like Nhamo did. She tries to ignore the glamour and instead, thinks of Mainini and her sisters. Tambu begins to judge Nhamo less harshly, as she sees how the... (full context)
Chapter Five
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
With so much food at hand, Tambu becomes plump and begins to menstruate. Mainini had already given Tambu reusable napkins. However, Tambu finds that washing them is embarrassing and... (full context)
Chapter Seven
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Men vs. Women 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... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Lucia tries to calm Mainini, but Mainini won't have it. Mainini insists that Lucia doesn't know how to restrain herself,... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Lucia manages to convince Mainini to go to the house to listen in on the meeting, and the two of... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
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... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter Eight
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...doesn't find the proposed wedding funny. She experiences panic attacks every time she thinks of Mainini as a bride, and she also experiences attacks when she thinks of Babamukuru. She's angry... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...sleep with him that night. She refuses, reminding the men of her plan to take Mainini away, but Jeremiah and Takesure only laugh at her. Tambu feels bad for Lucia, whom... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
In March, Mainini comes to the mission hospital and has her baby, a healthy boy. Coincidentally, Lucia arrives... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
The next day, Lucia reminds Babamukuru that she only came to the homestead to help Mainini and then suggests that if she could find a job, it would solve their problems.... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Lucia celebrates and sinks to her knees to thank Babamukuru for his generosity. Mainini joins and then Maiguru does, and Tambu wants to as well. Nyasha kicks Tambu under... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...to accommodate guests and names Tambu and Lucia bridesmaids. One day in August, Babamukuru fetches Mainini, Tambu, Nyasha, and Lucia to take them to the dressmaker's shop. Lucia, Nyasha, and Tambu... (full context)
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...is wonderful and her parents will love it. She can't make herself believe it, however; Mainini doesn't care and Lucia doesn't either. Tambu can't sleep for nights on end and feels... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...ability to think critically was stunted, and she felt unable to say anything. Tambu thinks Mainini is right: she is unnatural, as she's willing to laugh at her parents when Babamukuru... (full context)
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
Later, they tell Tambu that the wedding was wonderful. Jeremiah and Mainini were beautifully dressed, there was a lot of food, and some people even managed to... (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Independence Theme Icon
...bluntly tells him that Tambu shouldn't be punished, especially when he never asked Tambu or Mainini if they wanted Tambu to be there. Babamukuru is uncharacteristically patient with her but insists... (full context)
Chapter Nine
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
...and the latrine, as those things are evidence of the burden of womanhood that crushes Mainini. Tambu believes going to the school will lighten those burdens. (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
...refuses to cook for two dozen people again, so Babamukuru drives to the homestead daily. Mainini is secretly thrilled, as she doesn't want to share her house or her Dover stove. (full context)
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
...balance, and it'll be worth it to buy her sisters dresses and make sure that Mainini is plump again. (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tambu loses herself in daydreams about her pretty new uniform and runs to tell Mainini. She finds Mainini in the kitchen, cooking on the hearth in spite of the Dover... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Colonialism Theme Icon
Over the next few days, Mainini deteriorates. She barely eats and doesn't wash, and Dambudzo develops diarrhea. Worried about his son,... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
First, Lucia walks Mainini to Nyamarira. To make Mainini get in the water and wash, she puts Dambudzo on... (full context)
Chapter Ten
The Limits of Education Theme Icon
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... (full context)