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Nervous Conditions | Study Guide

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Chapter 4

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 4 of Tsitsi Dangarembga's novel Nervous Conditions.

Nervous Conditions | Chapter 4 | Summary



Babamukuru arrives to drive Tambu to the mission. She steps into the car "as a peasant"—wearing ragged clothes, dirty skinned, and ignorant of the world—and vows to leave that person behind, saying, "At Babamukuru's I expected to find another self, a clean, well-groomed, genteel self." She can barely concentrate on the drive, dreaming of what life on the mission will be like, not wanting to get her hopes up based on the stories Nhamo told her about Babamukuru's wealth. She hopes she'll share a room with Anna, Babamukuru's maid, rather than Nyasha because she feels they have more in common. Given all of Nhamo's bragging while he lived on the mission, Tambu should have been prepared for its splendor, but she can barely fathom the luxury. Initially, she mistakes a small building for Babamukuru's house, but it turns out to be the garage. So much of Babamukuru's wealth surprises Tambu. It's as if she is stepping into a new universe, with a European kitchen, luxurious furnishings, and running tap water.

Whatever excitement Tambu felt during the drive falls away as she walks through Babamukuru's fine home, which she compares to a palace. Overwhelmed, she wonders why she ever thought her "otherworldly relations" could live with someone as "ignorant and dirty as [herself]." Inside the house, Nyasha greets Tambu with a warm hug, but rushes back to the kitchen to finish baking a chocolate cake for Chido who returns to boarding school the next day. Maiguru rests in the bedroom, so Tambu sits patiently in the living room waiting for someone to tell her what to do next. She thinks about her mother and sisters back on the homestead, whose lives will be greatly improved by Tambu's education. "Babamukuru was God," she decides when considering his philanthropy, "therefore I had arrived in Heaven."

Maiguru rouses and welcomes Tambu into the dining room. Anna places a variety of baked goods, sweets, and hot tea on the table. Maiguru tells Tambu to eat whatever looks pleasing to her, but acting unimpressed and not wanting to look greedy, Tambu takes only one cookie that "did not even have cream in the middle." Anxious, Maiguru lists off a variety of other sweet treats, eager to please her niece. Nyasha flits briefly into the room before rushing off to her next project, embarrassing Maiguru who chides, "They are too Anglicised." After the snack, Maiguru takes Tambu to Nyasha's bedroom, where she will also sleep. Nyasha sprawls on her bed, reading a D.H. Lawrence novel, which Maiguru finds scandalous. Seeing the obvious disrespect Nyasha has for her mother, Tambu worries that "Nyasha would not be good for [her]."


Tambu experiences duality for the first time in this chapter. Even before arriving at the mission, she creates a new identity for herself. The Tambu with "black callouses on [her] knees," "scales on [her] skin that were due to lack of oil," and "dull tufts of malnourished hair," will be left behind forever. At the mission waits "another self, a clean, well-groomed genteel self." Tambu leaves behind ignorance and poverty to embrace education and riches, but she also leaves behind cultural traditions, as British customs will be practiced at the missionary school. Although Tambu heavily criticized Nyasha for adopting British culture in her language and dress, she doesn't yet realize she will be asked to do the same if she wants to thrive in her new environment. Having no concept of the correct way to behave with "upper-class" people like Maiguru, Tambu naturally assumes she should pretend as if nothing impresses her, and that she needs nothing, not wanting to appear greedy. By eagerly pushing aside her impoverished identity, which Maiguru knows would be impressed with the fancy snacks and sweet treats (they shared a feast together only a week earlier), Tambu leaves herself in an awkward, uncomfortable position. Hungry and eager to try the new snacks, Tambu gives in to her feelings of inferiority. Rather than let the overwhelming fear destroy her, she ignores it and chooses to remain "as aloof and unimpressed as possible."

This section also gives insight into Tambu as an adult narrator. When she arrives at the mission as a teenager, Tambu feels overwhelmed by the grandeur of Babamukuru's home, which seems so fancy, "not even the Whites" could afford their luxury. However, in the years that have passed since her arrival, she has learned "to curb excesses and flights of fancy" to realize that the house was simply that—a house. The narration provides dual perspectives on Babamukuru's wealth: descriptions from Tambu the starry-eyed teenager, and descriptions from a more emotionally reserved adult Tambu who recognizes that "the cooker only had three plates, none of which was a ring," "the kettle was not electric," and "the linoleum was old, its blue and white pattern fading to patches of red where the paint had worn off." This duality suggests that Tambu makes another great leap in maturity, moving so high up the social ladder that Babamukuru's seemingly opulent home now appears mediocre. The adult Tambu also gives readers a peek into the influence of colonialism on mission grounds, which affected the way Babamukuru's home was built and painted, suggesting a grasp of colonial history that would have been completely foreign to a teenage Tambu.

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