Nervous Conditions | Study Guide

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Everyone prepares to return to the homestead for Christmas, except Chido who chooses to vacation with the Baker family instead. Nyasha tries to convince her family to let her stay home during the holiday, but Babamukuru and Maiguru refuse. They pack the car full of enough food to feed the entire extended family and drive home. Maiguru complains that a side of ox is too much food, and that she doesn't want to spend the whole holiday catering to Babamukuru's family, but her complaints are ignored. Tambu hasn't been home in a few months, and the poverty shocks her. Her mother hasn't cleaned the latrine since Tambu left, and no one has cared for the hut, leaving gaping holes in the roof and walls for rain to seep through. No one comes to welcome Babamukuru home, as they usually do, because Father has left on a mysterious errand and Mother, pregnant again, is resting in the bedroom.

The children arrive, happy to see Tambu, as well as Tambu's aunt, Lucia. Babamukuru appears upset to see Lucia, questioning why she remains on the homestead after he sent her away. Tambu explains that Lucia, Mother's younger sister, is believed to be a loose woman, or even a witch, for being beautiful and unmarried. Lucia moved to the homestead to care for Mother during her pregnancy, but immediately began having an affair with Father. She also began sleeping with Takesure, Babamukuru's cousin, whom Babamukuru sent to help Father care for the homestead. Babamukuru had ordered Lucia off the homestead upon learning she was pregnant, but she refused to leave.

Inside the house, Mother weakly welcomes the new arrivals. Tambu inquires about her mother's health but finds it difficult to make conversation with her. For her part, Mother frets about Babamukuru and Maiguru seeing her lying down and worries that they don't have anywhere comfortable to sit in the bedroom. When Mother compliments Nyasha on how she has matured into a beautiful young woman, Babamukuru mutters that his daughter is not the type to "bring us a son-in-law," a comment Nyasha ignores.

As Christmas approaches, the rest of the extended family arrives, leaving 24 people to cater for. Due to hierarchical rules, the men don't partake in any of the chores, and many women are also exempt. This means Maiguru, Nyasha, Tambu, and Lucia are left to do all the chores for the entire extended family. They walk to the river and gather enough water for everyone to bathe, warming the water over the fire individually. They prepare breakfast, wash up the dishes, prepare lunch, clean, prepare dinner, wash the toilets, refill the water tanks, and clean again. On their feet the entire day, the women collapse into bed each night. Maiguru portions the meat meticulously to ensure there is enough for everyone at each meal, refusing to throw away meat, even after it spoils and turns green.

After the meal one evening, the family elders meet to discuss what should be done about Lucia and Takesure. Father and Takesure blame Lucia wholeheartedly for their dalliances with her, claiming she bewitched them. Maiguru refuses to offer her opinion, which leaves the other women to ridicule her for being "proud." Mother and Lucia argue about when one should be allowed to voice their opinion and when one should be silent. When Tambu tries to defend Maiguru, Mother lashes out and calls Tambu ungrateful. Hearing the men disparage her in the next room, Lucia bursts in to defend herself. She grabs Takesure by the ears and makes him recant calling her a witch. She speaks to Babamukuru plainly, telling him what he already knows: Jeremiah fails to provide for his family, mooching off Babamukuru's generosity and drinking whatever is left over. Despite Babamukuru's requests, she cannot leave her pregnant, depressed sister in his care. She agrees to leave the homestead forever if she can take Mother with her. In the end, Babamukuru allows Lucia to stay, but states that Mother and Father must have a proper church wedding to rid themselves of sin.

Analysis

The powerful character of Lucia is introduced in this chapter. Lucia comes from the same impoverished, uneducated background as Tambu's mother, yet she serves as a role model for the women around her. Lucia follows her desires, regardless of behavioral expectations within the patriarchy. Gender roles demand that women remain chaste until marriage, and once wed, relinquish power to their husbands. Lucia never marries and therefore never lives as a dutiful wife. She enjoys sex and seeks it out with any partner that strikes her fancy. To Western readers, it seems inappropriate that she would bed her brother-in-law, yet Shona culture allows for men to take multiple wives, particularly child-bearing women. Men are drawn to Lucia like moths to a flame. Tambu says her father is drawn to her because having "proved his mettle by dispiriting [her] mother, [he] was excited by the thought of possessing a woman like Lucia." This suggests that even Shona men admired outspoken, thoughtful women, just not when they challenged their self-ordained male power.

In this chapter, Lucia stands up directly to the patriarchy by interrupting their meeting, physically assaulting Takesure, and speaking plainly about why she stayed on the homestead despite Babamukuru's request that she leave. Because the men cannot argue with Lucia's logical explanation, they continue to cast her as a magical being that bewitched them into bed, although their arguments fool no one. Winning over the patriarchy by being allowed to stay on the homestead, Lucia continues wielding her power by treating men (Takesure and Jeremiah, especially) however she pleases. Unlike Mother, whose mind belonged "first to her father and then to her husband," Lucia has no difficulty rejecting Takesure's advances and making her own future. When she feels the "appetite" for men again, however, she returns to Takesure's bed because "a woman has to live with something ... Even if it's only a cockroach." Like Nyasha, Lucia never apologizes or explains her behavior.

Lucia's powerful independence is directly contrasted by Maiguru's simpering domesticity, particularly considering that they were raised by the same iron-fisted father. Despite not wanting to cater to Babamukuru's enormous family over the holiday, she spends every hour of the day working like a slave for the 24 people on the homestead. Despite her hard work, the elders criticize her for serving them spoiled meat, suggesting she has lost her domestic touch while living in England.

Finally, this chapter highlights how much Tambu has changed since moving to the homestead. She, like Nhamo in Chapter 1, feels desperately embarrassed by the poverty in which her family lives. She judges her mother for failing to clean the latrine and wonders why anyone would choose to live in squalor. Despite Tambu's clearly forming opinions, the reader is not privy to her thoughts on the patriarchal speeches given during the discussions about Lucia. She simply records them for the reader, but her personal feelings will become clear in the novel's remaining chapters.

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