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The title refers to the emotions of the characters and their reactions to questionable behavior or ideals.
The title of Dangarembga's novel alludes to the effect colonization has on the minds of her characters. Tambu is anxious about what it means to be educated, and after leaving for the mission, she is pulled between her Shona roots and her colonial schooling. Tambu's nervous condition manifests itself when she refuses to attend her parents' wedding. She feels anger towards Babamukuru for categorizing her parents as sinners, and she is simultaneously embarrassed as well. However, she cannot express her frustration out loud because she is so grateful to Babamukuru. Meanwhile, Nyasha's nervous condition is more obvious : she develops severe anorexia. Nyasha has not been raised in the Shona culture like Tambu has, so all she knows is the English way. Returning to Rhodesia makes Nyasha feel like an outsider, alone and adrift. Her condition worsens after Tambu, her closest confidante, leaves for convent school. Meanwhile, Ma'Shingayi suffers from depression. She believes that "Englishness" is the root of what killed her son and took her daughter away from her, and she could not stop it.