"Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables."
This is how Tambu's father responds when she complains that the the family is raising funds to send her brother, Nhamo, to school. This is an example of Jeremiah's traditional Shona belief that women do not need to be educated. It represents the patriarchy that Tambu faces on her quest towards empowerment. Meanwhile, her aunt, Maiguru, is educated and has no use for her degree because colonial society expects her to be a devoted wife and mother.
"This business of womanhood is a heavy burden."
Tambu's mother explains to her daughter that, "when there are sacrifices to be made, you are the one who has to make them." This point of view demonstrates the generational gap between mother and daughter. Ma'Shingayi has accepted her fate as a servant to the men in her life, Tambu wants more. Tambu thinks she is worth more than just being a bearer of a burden, and this drives a wedge between her and her mother.
"When I was in England I glimpsed for a little while the things I could have been, the things I could have done if - if - if things were - different - But there was Babawa Chido and the children and the family. And does anyone realise, does anyone appreciate, what sacrifices were made? As for me, no one even thinks about the things I gave up."
This is Maiguru's uncharacteristically bitter response to Tambu when she is surprised to learn that her aunt holds a Master's Degree. As a woman, Maiguru has had to sacrifice the opportunities she earned by educating herself. No one in Tambu's village knows or cares about Maiguru's education, but they show all due respect to her husband, Babamukuru, who has the same amount of education as his wife. This divide demonstrates the deep-rooted gender inequality in both Shona and colonial society in Rhodesia during this time.
"You can't go on all the time being whatever's necessary. You've got to have some conviction, and I'm convinced I don't want to be anyone's underdog. It's not right for anyone to be that. But once you get used to it, well, it just seems natural and you just carry on. And that's the end of you. You're trapped. They control everything you do."
Nyasha says this to Tambu after Babamukuru calls Nyasha a whore for lingering at the end of the driveway with Andy after the Christmas dance. Nyasha seems to be referring to patriarchy as "they". Nyasha's fight with her father creates a major rupture in their relationship as he cannot accept her disrespect. This scene also reveals Nyasha's disappointment with her mother, Maiguru, for being her husband's "underdog."
"I am only saying what I think, just like she did. She did tell us, didn't she, what she thinks, and did anyone say anything! No. Why not? Because Maiguru is educated. That's why you all kept quiet. 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. But me, I'm not educated, am I? I'm just poor and ignorant, so you want me to keep quiet, you say I mustn't talk. Ehe! I am poor and ignorant, that's me, but I have a mouth and it will keep on talking, it won't keep quiet."
This is part of Tambu's mother's tirade in reaction to Maiguru's dismissal of the issue of Takesure and Lucia living on the homestead. The other women in the family ask Maiguru to intervene but she claims that because she was not born into this family, so it is not her business and she goes to bed. Ma'Shingayi's vocalizes her resentment of Maiguru's education and wealth. She recognizes her own poverty and lack of education as the reasons she has had no voice. In this way, there is a hierarchy within the patriarchy of the Shona society - women who are educated get more respect, while poor housewives like Ma'Shingayi are at the bottom of the totem pole.
"It's bad enough when a country gets colonized, but when the people do as well! That's the end, really, that's the end."
This is Nyasha's reaction to Tambu when Tambu suggests that Christianity is "evidence of the nature of progress" from Shona traditions. Jeremiah has suggested a cleansing with a witchdoctor and sacrificial ox to cure the family of its misfortunes, but Babamukuru has insisted that the source of their trouble is the fact that Jeremiah and Ma'Shingayi have been "living in sin" and are still not married officially, "before God." Nyasha's reaction demonstrates her awareness of the effects of colonialism; she is scolding Tambu for embracing the colonial mindset that Christianity is "progress," rather than an equally absurd replacement for the Shona traditions.
"I'm sorry, Babamukuru, but I do not want to go to the wedding."
These words mark Tambu's first time standing up for what she wants, speaking out against her uncle. She has become so anxious about the impending wedding between her parents that she cannot get out of bed the morning she is supposed to leave for the homestead. So she tells Babamukuru what she wants, and is punished for it by fifteen lashes and two weeks of taking over Anna's maid duties. But she is proud of herself and feels emancipated, since she spoke up and didn't have to attend. Her decision not to attend her parents wedding comes from her anger at Babamukuru for blaming her parents unofficial marriage for the family's bad luck, and is compounded by her embarrassment about Babamukuru labeling her parents as sinners.
"Don't you remember, when we went to South Africa everybody was saying that we, the women, were loose. It wasn't a question of associating with this race or that race at the time. People were prejudiced against educated women. Prejudiced. That's why they said we weren't decent. That was in the fifties. Now we are into the seventies. I am disappointed that people still believe the same things."
This is Maiguru's defense of Tambu's right to attend the convent school after being selected out of all her classmates. Babamukuru is surprised that his wife speaks up, but she is empowered by the act of walking out on her husband for five full days. Maiguru's defense of women's education is part of the reason Tambu is allowed to go to convent school. It also shows that Maiguru has become a more vocal decision maker in the family.
"You will eat that food. Your mother and I are not killing ourselves working just for you to waste your time playing with boys and then come back and turn up your nose at what we offer. Sit and eat that food. I am telling you. Eat it!"
This is Babamukuru's threat to Nyasha when she refuses to eat dinner after returning home from school forty-five minutes late. In response to his threat, Nyasha gobbles down all the food on her plate maniacally, then goes to the bathroom and vomits. It is the beginning of her bulimia. This quote marks Babamukuru's attempt to control his daughter; her eating disorder represents a way to try to gain control over her life she feels as if her father won't let her.
"The problem is the Englishness, so you be careful!"
Tambu's mother uses "Englishness" as an explanation for Nyasha's dangerous eating disorder, as if anglicization is a disease. She sees Western education as the root of all Babamukuru's children's troubles, and becomes depressed when she imagines her own daughter suffering the same fate. Mama's anxiety represents a postcolonial viewpoint that Western culture degrades African values.
Nervous Conditions Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Nervous Conditions is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Nyasha’s anorexia is a symbol of her assimilation into European culture. Black women in Africa were encouraged to have more weight which was favored for marriage. Nyasha however is a product of European culture and her anorexia is a symbol of...