Nervous Conditions


  • Tambu: Jeremiah and Mainini's daughter. Tambu is the novel's main character and narrator of the story. Her desire for an education and to improve herself seem strong enough to overcome just about anything. She is very hard on herself, and always strives to do her best and make the correct decisions.
  • Nyasha: Tambu's first cousin, Babamukuru and Maiguru's daughter. Her desire to be independent gets her into a lot of trouble, including numerous arguments with her father. Her time in England showed her a different life, and she is having trouble assimilating back into Rhodesian society, suffering from some kind of eating disorder.
  • Babamukuru: Tambu's uncle, and the head of her family. He is married to Maiguru and has a daughter, Nyasha. His actual name is never mentioned in the novel; he is only referred to by clan names in the Shona language. Tambu always calls him "Babamukuru", which means "father's older brother"; Tambu's father's generation call him "Mukoma", which means "oldest brother". A well-educated man, he is the dean of the missionary school. As head of the family, he feels responsible for the rest of his extended family; he also regards them as insufficiently hard-working, which makes him rather authoritarian towards them. By contrast, he shows subservience to the people who helped him get his education.
  • Maiguru: Nyasha's mother. Maiguru is a well-educated woman who is forced to be reliant on her husband, Babamukuru. She is frustrated because while she has the potential to provide for herself, she is prevented from doing so by patriarchial forces.
  • Chido: Babamukuru and Maiguru's son. Because Chido is Babamukuru's son, he received a good education, but he succumbed to the customs of the white colonists.
  • Jeremiah: Babamukuru's brother and Tambu's father. Jeremiah received very little education and is barely able to provide for his family. He acts grateful to Babamukuru for the education he provided his children with.
  • Lucia: Mainini's sister. Lucia stays relatively unknown during the course of the novel. She is believed to have had many affairs with wealthy men. She is a very independent woman, and is determined to educate herself and not fall into the normal roles of women in her society.
  • Mainini: Tambu's mother. After Nhamo's death, when Tambu goes to the mission, she becomes very resentful of Babamukuru for taking another one of her children to his school.
  • Nhamo: Tambu's brother. As the eldest son in the family, Nhamo is chosen to go to the mission school. After being at the school, he feels he is superior to the rest of his family, and takes no part in their daily tasks. Eventually, he starts going home from the mission less and less until his death.

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