Nervous Conditions | Study Guide

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions | Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Tambu discusses the white people who run the mission, calling them "holy" and "deities," yet she finds herself unable to worship them as wholeheartedly as other black people do. The missionary family Tambu likes best is the Baker family. They have three children, who are good friends with Nyasha and Chido. The Bakers send their daughter, Nyaradzo, to the mission school but send their sons, Andrew and Brian, along with Chido, to a fancy boarding school. When the boys return to the mission for a school holiday, the children all attend a local dance together. The girls have recently completed their end-of-term exams, which Nyasha studied for incessantly. Maiguru rewards her with the dress of her choice for the dance, but Babamukuru finds it inappropriate.

Despite Nyasha's deflation over her father's reaction the dress, the girls attend the dance eagerly, laughing and joking the whole way there. They have a wonderful time at the dance. Tambu learns that she has excellent rhythm and everyone appreciates her moves. On the walk back home, Andrew Baker teaches Nyasha new dance moves that she's eager to master. Although Chido tries to hurry Nyasha along, Nyasha remains determined to stay a while longer with Andrew. Chido and Tambu head to bed, assuming their parents are already asleep, but they find Babamukuru waiting up for them. Outraged that Chido would leave Nyasha unattended with a boy, Babamukuru waits angrily for Nyasha to return. He confronts her as soon as she walks through the door, demanding to know what she was doing. Characteristically, Nyasha refuses to be meek in her father's presence and defends herself, which outrages him further. He calls her a whore, to which Nyasha responds, "Now why ... should I worry about what people say when my own father calls me a whore?" Chido and Tambu try to diffuse the rising tension, but Babamukuru silences them. He beats Nyasha, which wakes Maiguru, who pleads with Babamukuru to kill her instead. "You must learn to be obedient," Babamukuru roars. In defense, Nyasha punches him in the face and scrambles away. Babamukuru threatens to kill her and hang himself, and says, "We cannot have two men in this house." Catching and beating Nyasha again, Babamukuru spits on her crumpled body before letting her walk away.

Nyasha sneaks to the garage to smoke a cigarette, and a traumatized Tambu follows. Nyasha complains that she has become exactly what her parents wanted, but they hate her for it. Chido and Maiguru arrive to tend to Nyasha's wounds. Tension fills the house for a week following the fight, with Nyasha and Babamukuru completely avoiding each other. Tambu treats Nyasha tenderly, and Nyasha later reveals that Tambu's kindness saved her life.

Analysis

The fight between Babamukuru and Nyasha stands as a metaphor for the battle between old-world (Shona) and new-world (British) influences. Although he has a Western education, Babamukuru derives all his power from the traditional Shona patriarchy. While at mission school, he learns that education is the best way to escape poverty, which explains his support for female education; yet, he expects his educated family to continue abiding by traditional Shona roles, most notably Maiguru as the attentive wife and Nyasha as the demure daughter. Nyasha, on the other hand, has never been raised with traditional Shona ideals, and her Western education prepared her to be an independent, strong-willed woman who cares about the larger world. Nyasha refuses to limit her world to the expectations of any man, even her father. The novel is set in the 1960s, an era of "free love," civil rights, and a strong feminist movement. Nyasha would have been exposed to all of this while living in England, even if it seems foreign in Rhodesia. In England, she likely wouldn't have thought twice about learning dance steps from Andrew Baker, yet on the mission, her parents expect her to behave like a chaste daughter and "good Christian."

Through education, Babamukuru evolves out of poverty, described as "cultivatable, in the way the land is," yet he seems genuinely surprised that his daughter would also evolve to fit her new surroundings. After an education in England, Nyasha refuses to let colonialism or patriarchy define her. To Babamukuru, gender equality and mutual respect have no place in his home. He worked hard to become head of the patriarchy and no one, especially not his daughter, will challenge his power.

In the easiest way possible, Babamukuru degrades his daughter by calling her a whore. This insult alone shows how little Babamukuru respects women and how Rhodesian society views female sexuality. The greatest insult to a woman is to suggest that she enjoys sex. Later in the novel, Lucia is called a witch because she sleeps with multiple men, and even at the end of this chapter Nyasha admits that she didn't have sex with Andrew but wishes she had: "Honestly, even on my wedding day [my parents] will be satisfied only if I promise not to enjoy it."

After witnessing the fight, Tambu, still steeped in traditional culture, claims that if she had been the one to fight her father, she would hang herself in shame afterward. While horrified by Nyasha's lack of respect, her view of Babamukuru as a man who needn't bully because he has so much power, begins to crack. She also realizes that all women, no matter how wealthy or educated, are victims to the brutal patriarchy: "I didn't like ... the way all the conflicts came back to this question of femaleness."

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