Nervous Conditions

Nervous Conditions Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6 - 7


Although Tambu had once thought of white people as repulsive (an opinion she hated to have), she learns to admire the white people who live and work at the mission, and makes friends with one girl in particular, Nyaradzo. Nyaradzo has two older brothers, Brian and Andy, who attend secondary school in Salisbury. When Chido is old enough, Babamukuru sends him to the school in Salisbury as well, which has a mostly white student body. Meanwhile, Nyasha is studying for her Form Two examinations, even though it is likely that she will pass because she is the headmaster's daughter. Determined to succeed, she works so hard that she is loses weight rapidly (this is also due to Nyasha's eating disorder, but Tambu does not understand that yet). Nyasha passes at the top of her class, thanks to all her hard work.

During the holidays, Chido comes back from boarding school in Salisbury, and he, Tambu, and Nyasha attend a student Christmas party. Babamukuru is furious with the way Nyasha is dressed to go to the event, but Maiguru defends her daughter's attire. Tambu is anxious about going to the Christmas dance, as she rarely attends social events, but once she finds her friends and starts to dance, she relaxes and has fun. Andy, one of Nyaradzo's older brothers, walks home with Chido, Tambu, and Nyasha, and stays to flirt with Nyasha at the end of the driveway. Chido and Tambu try to sneak indoors without being seen but are caught by Babamukuru, who has waited up for them. He goes to the end of the driveway to fetch Nyasha and sees her talking to Andy.

Babamukuru and Nyasha have a terrible fight and Tambu, not knowing what to do, wakes up Maiguru. Tambu, Maiguru, and Chido watch as Babamukuru calls Nyasha a whore and hits her twice. The second time, she hits him right back in the eye. Babamukuru attacks his daughter violently and she continues to fight back, while Maiguru pleads with her husband that if he must kill someone to kill her instead. She and Chido pull Babamukuru off Nyasha and hold him so he cannot kill her. Nyasha and Tambu retreat to the servants quarters and Nyasha smokes a cigarette. Tambu reconsiders the unyielding respect she used to have for her uncle. Chido brings the girls back inside and Maiguru tries to hug Nyasha, but she ignores her mother.

For a week after the fight, Babamukuru stays away from the house and Nyasha retreats into herself. She stops eating again, so Tambu has lunch alone with her aunt. Maiguru confesses the pain she feels when she sees Nyasha and Babamukuru fighting. Tambu feels closer to Nyasha than ever and climbs into bed with her that night to cuddle until they fall asleep.

Babamukuru, Maiguru, Nyasha, and Tambu return home to the village before Christmas. Chido doesn't accompany them because he has been invited to a friend's ranch for the holiday, and Nyasha resents having to go. On the drive, Maiguru complains that they have brought too much food, and now she will have to "end up slaving for everybody" cooking all of it. Tambu looks at her former home through different eyes. She is suddenly aware the squalor she used to live in. She cleans the latrine because it is too filthy to use, and even then it is not clean enough. To Babamukuru's chagrin, he discovers that Jeremiah has left the homestead with Takesure (his distant cousin) who is staying at the house with Lucia (Tambu's mother's sister), despite Babamukuru's order for the couple to leave.

Lucia is pregnant with Takesure's child. Takesure already has two wives who live elsewhere, which is why Babamukuru does not approve of him living in the homestead. Jeremiah had agreed to send both Takesure and Lucia away, but he has clearly not done so. Netsai reports that, in addition, Tambu's mother is pregnant and has been ill and unable to work for some time. However, when Tambu visits her bedridden mother, she observes that her mother actually looks quite strong.

Thomas and Gladys show up unexpectedly with their family, which upsets the sleeping arrangements in the small house. All the unmarried women end up sleeping in the kitchen together for the two-week visit. There are twenty-four people in the homestead, and the women are saddled with unending housework in order to take care of all the men and children. The rationing of food becomes impossible, and, despite Ma'Shingayi's best efforts, the meat that could not fit in the refrigerator turns green. However, she refuses to throw away the rotten meat, so the women have to eat it while the men feast on the refrigerated portion.

Just after New Year's Day, Babamukuru calls the men into a meeting to determine the fate of Takesure, and the women listen at the door. A battle ensues between Lucia and Tambu's mother, who believe that Babamukuru is wrong to demand that Lucia and Takesure leave. Maiguru claims that since she was not born into this family, it is not her concern, and refuses to stick up for Lucia. After Maiguru leaves, Ma'Shingayi goes on a hysterical tirade about the injustices of her life. She is furious with Maiguru, whom she believes killed Nhamo. She accuses her sister-in-law of "stealing other people's children because she could only produce two of her own, and you can't call those two people." She accuses Lucia of having sex with Jeremiah and Takesure at the same time, and curses Tambu for following Maiguru around like she can do no wrong.

Lucia overhears Takesure accusing her of witchcraft to Babamukuru during the counsel meeting, so she storms in and tweaks his ear, defending herself. She says, "I shall leave this home of yours, Babamukuru, and I shall take my sister with me." She claims that the reason she refused to leave earlier was because she had to defend her sister against Jeremiah. After Lucia leaves in a huff, Jeremiah suggests bringing a witchdoctor into the house to perform a ceremony and rid the household of evil. Babamukuru is incredulous at this suggestion. He believes that the family's misfortunes are the result of Jeremiah and Ma'Shingayi never having an official wedding and "living in sin." The next morning, Tambu overhears Tete Gladys and Maiguru laughing about how ridiculous the men are.


Tambu's perspective continues to expand as a result of living at the mission. She had once only seen white people as colonizers, as her experience was limited to the white man and woman who gave her money on the street but would not buy her mealies. At the mission, Tambu interacts with white people on a different level. They are her classmates, her neighbors, and while the divide between the races still exists, it is much more subtle than it was when Tambu lived in the village. However, as she narrates this section of the story, Tambu looks back and comments sarcastically, "We treated [the white missionaries] like minor deities. With the self-satisfied dignity that came naturally to white people in those days, they accepted this improving disguise." In this way, Dangarembga shows how deeply racism and colonialism is engrained in Rhodesian society, on every level. Nyasha sees this and, at the end of Chapter 7, urges Tambu not to think that the Christian way is necessarily the most progressive way.

Meanwhile, through the conflict between Babamukuru and Nyasha, Tambu becomes acutely aware of the fact that while her uncle supports women being educated, he still has certain antiquated expectations of a woman's role in society. Nyasha is the unfortunate victim of her father's duality - she has a hard time shedding the social freedoms she became accustomed to in England and he punishes her for it. When he sees Nyasha speaking to Andy after the dance, Babamukuru hits his daughter to "teach her a lesson," but she is obstinate and hits him right back in the eye, saying, "I told you not to hit me." Tambu is a bystander, watching Babamukuru "condemning Nyasha to whoredom, making her a victim of her femaleness." While Tambu consoles Nyasha, she also comments that had she been the one to strike her own father, she would commit suicide out of shame. Tambu is not as worldly as her cousin, and therefore, cannot understand Nyasha's instinct to lash out against authority.

Tambu experiences the results of her upward mobility when returns to her old home after living at the mission. For the first time, she is disgusted by the squalor, describing the caving-in roof and filthy latrine (which she cleans herself with Nyasha's help). Ma'Shingayi sees the difference in Tambu and resents her daughter's new, haughty attitude. During her tirade, she accuses Tambu of being judgmental. Meanwhile, Tambu herself has no idea how much she has changed.

The disparity of wealth also affects the relationship between Maiguru and the other women in the house. The other women (Ma'Shingayi and Lucia, especially) think that Maiguru thinks she is better than the rest of them because she is educated. Looking back, Tambu comments on how the women should have come together to stand up against the oppressive patriarchy instead of allowing their insecurities to divide them. She comments, "what was needed in that kitchen was a combination of Maiguru's detachment and Lucia's direction." However, she understands why that could not happen, finding it "frightening to acknowledge that generations of threat and assault and neglect had battered these myths into the extreme, dividing reality they faced."

Like Nyasha, Lucia is outspoken and the men consider her rude for standing up to herself. She bosses around the lazy Takesure and claims that her sister needs protection against Jeremiah, who is abusive. Because of her outbursts, Lucia is labeled a witch. Ultimately, this section of the novel addresses the deep-seated gender inequality in 1960s Rhodesia. There are both men and women who believe deeply in a system of patriarchy - the men silence their female counterparts, and some of the women believe that they should be silenced. However, it is women like Nyasha, Lucia, and to some extent, Maiguru, who are attempting to make strides.