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Nervous Conditions | Study Guide

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Chapter 8

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 8 of Tsitsi Dangarembga's novel Nervous Conditions.

Nervous Conditions | Chapter 8 | Summary



In the following days, Tambu struggles with the news of her parents' church wedding. She feels angry with Babamukuru for putting her parents in a position that will make them a laughing stock, but she doesn't want to disrespect Babamukuru by suggesting so. Nyasha and her family return to the mission soon after Christmas, leaving Tambu alone on the homestead. As soon as Babamukuru leaves, Tambu's family relaxes, with Takesure immediately trying to lure Lucia back to his bed. Tambu works diligently to repair the holes in her family's roof and walls. When Babamukuru arrives to bring her back to the mission, he compliments Father on the hard work he has done, and no one corrects him.

Back at the mission, life progresses as normal, although Tambu notices the great distance forming between Babamukuru and Nyasha. He appears to grow more disappointed with her each day. Nyasha continues to question the world and her role in it, which annoys her father. Mother arrives at the mission hospital to give birth to a son. Lucia arrives soon after to care for her. When Mother and baby are cleared to return to the homestead, Lucia asks Babamukuru to help her find a job on the mission. A few days later, he announces that Lucia can work in the kitchen, helping prepare school meals, and attend night classes in the evening. At the news, the women fall to their knees praising Babamukuru. Tambu moves to join them, but Nyasha kicks her and whispers, "Don't you dare."

Tambu's parents' wedding approaches and the women spend all their free time preparing for it. Maiguru mutters that the wedding will cost far more than her own wedding did. Maiguru forgets multiple times to pick up the fabric for the bridesmaid dresses, and allows Nyasha to take over the menu plans. Through it all, Tambu fights feelings that her parents have been reduced to "the level of the stars of a comic show, the entertainers." She wonders why she feels strong enough to stand up to her parents but not to Babamukuru, even when he asks her to make a mockery of her own family.

On the day of the wedding, Babamukuru tells Tambu he expects her ready to depart in 30 minutes, but she refuses to get out of bed. She has an out-of-body experience in which she stands at the end of her bed, watching Babamukuru shout at her, but refusing to comply with his orders. Paralyzed and mute, Tambu cannot respond physically because "it was easier to lie there on [her] back." Enraged, Babamukuru threatens to throw Tambu out of school should she continue to disobey him, so she calmly begins packing her bags. Before she leaves, Nyasha whispers that Tambu shouldn't worry, Babamukuru won't actually throw her out.

When they return from the festivities, Babamukuru gives Tambu 15 lashes for her disobedience, and forces her to perform the maid's duties for two weeks. When she hears about the punishment, Lucia leaps to Tambu's defense and confronts Babamukuru. Maiguru agrees that the punishment is too harsh, which infuriates Babamukuru. In that moment, Maiguru seems to realize that Babamukuru doesn't respect her, so she packs a bag and leaves him. She returns shortly after, having spent a few days visiting Chido at the boarding school. When she returns, she no longer dotes on Babamukuru, no longer calls him silly terms of endearment like "Daddy Pie" or "Daddy Dear," and she creates clear boundaries of acceptable responsibilities.


Female characters in the novel continue to challenge the patriarchy. Lucia's surprise request starts a ripple effect that reverberates through the rest of the female characters. When Lucia arrives at the mission asking for a job, Babamukuru is eager to reestablish himself as the powerful patriarchal head. Lucia appears to be manipulating Babamukuru's desire to gain her independence. While other female characters (Maiguru and Nyasha) enter a power struggle to fight the patriarchy, Lucia manipulates Babamukuru's role, casting herself as desperate without him, to gain exactly what she wants. When he provides, the "traditional" women—Maiguru, Lucia, Mother—literally fall to their knees in gratitude for his generosity, while Nyasha and Tambu remain standing. The scene further highlights Tambu's internal conflict because her initial reaction is to kneel, but Nyasha stops her.

Tambu's duality reaches a critical point in which her two identities—traditional and educated—come into conflict over Babamukuru's imposed church wedding. Tambu wants to be respectful of Babamukuru's wishes and grateful for the opportunities he has afforded her, but she cannot ignore how his ridiculous wedding request will make her family look. The Christian missionaries have shaped Babamukuru's morality, which leads him to judge Father and Mother as "living in sin," which doesn't sit well with Tambu. She recognizes the value of Shona relationships and believes the wedding will make "a mockery of the people I belonged to and [place] doubt on my legitimate existence in this world." The cultural divide—or duality—Tambu feels manifests itself in an out-of-body experience. Her Shona identity refuses to get out of bed to make a mockery of her parents, while her cultured "mission" self stands by the bedside watching Babamukuru's rage. Babamukuru threatens to throw Tambu out of school, which doesn't happen, but even if it had, Tambu notes the punishment would have been "the price of my newly acquired identity." When Nyasha left the homestead after Christmas, Tambu watched her longingly, thinking, "I wanted to go with her. I did not want to be left behind." This statement's meaning is twofold: she doesn't want to be "left behind" to live in squalor when a better life exists on the mission, but she also realizes she doesn't want to be "left behind" from Nyasha's social evolution. Tambu's rejection of Babamukuru's god-like power suggests she will also evolve past the patriarchy.

Nyasha's character changes little in this section, but Babamukuru's reaction to her grows more serious. After being swayed by Lucia's powerful arguments in the previous chapters, Babamukuru can no longer ignore Nyasha's Western interests and "disrespectful" loss of tradition, such as questioning his authority, speaking back, and ignoring his direct orders. The interaction with Lucia proved to Babamukuru that women are capable of exerting their power in the world, and as the reader will remember from Chapter 6, Babamukuru cannot have "two men in the house."

Finally, after witnessing Nyasha, Lucia, and Tambu stand up to Babamukuru, Maiguru also seeks her "emancipation." Unhappy about the balance of power in her marriage, Maiguru stands up for herself, speaking plainly to her husband. She leaves to show Babamukuru what life would be like without her, forcing him to appreciate her contributions. She will no longer cater to his extended family on holidays, for example.

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