Nervous Conditions Summary and Analysis
Nervous Conditions Summary and Analysis
The narrator, Tambudzai, Tambu for short, begins this story at the end: “I was not sorry when my brother died. ” That happened in the year 1968, and the first chapter sets the context for that event. Nhamo, Tambu’s brother, is introduced as proud; he is too proud to walk home from school, although Tambu sees the walk as holding endless possibilities for inspiration. Thus, their contrasting outlooks on life are introduced. In anecdotal style, Tambu looks back at the year 1965, when her father decided that Nhamo would go to the mission school and live with Babamukuru, Tambu’s uncle.
She remembers how her father was always grateful for the generosity of his brother, who had educated himself and thus found financial success. After living with his uncle for a few years, Nhamo became embarrassed by “all this poverty, in a way that it had not done before. ” Chapter 2 continues Tambu’s memories of how her brother became educated in place of her; he began school when he turned seven. She also remembers when Babamukuru went to England, when she was only five years old. He and his wife, Maiguru, moved there with their children, Nyasha and Chido for five years.
Without Babamukuru’s generosity, the narrator’s family struggled and her mother was forced to sell boil eggs to passengers at the bus terminus. Tambu did not understand why they were only concerned with raising enough money to send her brother to school, not her as well. When she complains to her mother that her father does not prioritize her education, her mother answers, “This business of womanhood is a heavy burden. ” Tambu remembers her grandmother, with whom she used to work in the fields until the day her grandmother died.
The values of her grandmother’s generation are clear: “life could be lived with a modicum of dignity in any circumstances if you worked hard enough and obeyed the rules. ” Tambu learned from her grandmother about how their land was taken from them and how her grandfather had escaped from slavery. Tambu put those lessons to use and worked hard to cultivate a small plot of land, growing cobs of maize, which she calls mealies, to sell. But one day at school, she discovered that her brother, Nhamo, was stealing her mealies and giving them away to children at Sunday school.
She loses all respect for her brother that day, charging at him and attempting to kill him. Their fight is broken up by the Sunday school teacher, Mr. Matimba. Mr. Matimba advises Tambu to sell the mealies to the Whites, who would probably buy them for as much as sixpence a piece. Despite protests from her father, Mr. Matimba picks Tambu up in his truck and drives her to town one Tuesday to sell the maize.
The first white couple they approach demonstrates the attitude of whites toward blacks in Rhodesia: “Come now, Doris,” says the husband to his wife, “It’s none of our business,” when the wife scolds Mr. Matimba for putting a little girl to work selling mealies. They do not buy any, but Doris hands a wad of money to Mr. Matimba anyway, after he lies to her, telling her that Tambu is an orphan. Under Mr. Matimba’s advice, Tambu gives the money to the school headmaster to keep safe, so that she can use it to pay her school fees for the next few years. Despite her father’s protests and attempts to get the money for himself, the headmaster keeps the money and uses it to help Tambu in her education.
Thus Tambu’s father is further characterized as short-sighted and unconcerned with the well-being of his daughter. When Babamukuru and his family returned from England, Nhamo and his father take the trip to meet them at the airport and Tambu and her mother scramble to find the provisions for a feast. Analysis The theme of education as a possibility for lifting oneself and one’s family out of poverty, opening new opportunities, is introduced in the first chapter in the context of Nhamo’s schooling.
Tambu remembers her father’s decision to take advantage of Babamukuru’s kindness and generosity with his money and knowledge. Although Babamukuru seems to have remained humble and helps with the physical labor on the homestead whenever he comes to visit, education affects Nhamo differently; he resents the poverty he was raised in. In contrast, the narrator’s mother has little pride, but still understands the importance of education; she boils eggs and sells them to passengers at the bus terminus in order to keep her son in school.
As the narrator describes the scene in 1968 when her brother did not return home from school on the bus as expected, the theme of gender inequality is introduced. Nhamo never carried his own luggage, but expected the women in his family to serve him. He is generally “unpleasant” as a person, but his expectations and actions reflect the Shona society in which he was raised. As Tambu says, “the needs and sensibilities of the women in my family were not considered a priority, or even legitimate.
In contrast, Englishness saves Maiguru to some extent, at least in Tambu’s young eyes. She “was driven about in a car, looked well-kempt and fresh, clean all the time. ” But Nhamo tells his sister that she cannot study, that “It’s the same everywhere. because you are a girl. ” The theme of racial inequality is introduced subtly in the beginning of Chapter 2, when Tambu narrates that seven is “the age at which the Government had declared that African children were sufficiently developed cognitively to be able to understand the abstractions of numbers and letter.
The tone of her language is resentful; obviously, seven is old enough, but the Government has low expectations for African children. The narrator is weighed down, as her mother puts it, both by “the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other. ” When Mr. Matimba takes Tambu into town for the purpose of selling the maize she has grown on her garden plot, they end up begging for a handout instead. Their interaction with an elderly white couple, Doris and George, demonstrates the inequality they face as “kaffers. “
Black people who gather to watch Doris hand Mr. Matimba a wad of money are of mixed opinions: some think that blacks should not accept handouts, since “what is good is not given,” as one black onlooker puts it, but others claim that whites “could afford to be, in fact ought to be, generous. ” The generational gap between Tambu and Nyasha and their parents, let alone their grandparents, is a constant theme that is introduced in the second chapter. Tambu’s mother and grandmother do not complain about the hard labor they endure; her grandmother “had been an inexorable cultivator of land, sower of seeds adn reaper of rich harvests until, leterally until, her very last moment.
Her grandmother tells her “history lessons” while they work in the fields together, with this message: “endure and obey, for there is no other way. ” But it is through her grandmother that Tambu learns about her uncle’s prosperity; Babamukuru became successful because his mother sent him to the mission school. Eventually he earned a scholarship to South Africa because he worked so hard: “he was diligent, he was industrious, he was respectful. ” The narrator absorbs those lessons and uses the plot of land that used to be her grandmother’s to turn into her own vegetable garden.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 2 October 2016
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