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Nervous Conditions | Study Guide

Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Nervous Conditions | Quotes


All this poverty began to offend him, or at ... least to embarrass him.

Tambu, Chapter 1

Tambu describes the changes Nhamo underwent after attending the mission school. Like his cousins, Nhamo favors educated white culture to his native Shona culture, ignoring his cultural heritage to better assimilate to "white" life.


He was doing no more than behave, perhaps extremely, in the expected manner.

Tambu, Chapter 1

After starting school, Nhamo feels superior to the rest of the family, particularly his female family members. He orders them around and beats them when they disobey. While this behavior seems outrageous to many Western readers, it represents the strong patriarchy of Shona culture, in which men are viewed as superior to women.


Can you cook books and feed them to your husband?

Father, Chapter 2

Father's response to Tambu's request to go to school highlights the Shona patriarchy that assigns women the sole purpose of being wives and mothers. Tambu's personal dreams of education have no value in Father's traditional mindset.


Let her try. Let her see for herself that some things cannot be done.

Mother, Chapter 2

Mother encourages Father to let Tambu grow maize, knowing that she will fail to raise enough money for tuition. Mother knows personal failure goes hand-in-hand with womanhood and she wants Tambu to learn this painful lesson early on. This line motivates Tambu to succeed.


Babamukuru, I knew, was different. He hadn't cringed under the weight of his poverty.

Tambu, Chapter 3

While Babamukuru rose above his poverty to become wealthy, he struggles from terrible nerves and pressure to keep his entire family afloat financially. Tambu doesn't yet understand how Babamukuru's rise to power affected his relationships with his wife and daughter, who suffer under his authoritarian control.


They are too Anglicised.

Maiguru, Chapter 4

Maiguru blames British influence for her daughter's lack of traditional respect, not recognizing her daughter's unique struggles in feeling as if she doesn't belong in either culture.


Nyasha was my first love-affair.

Tambu, Chapter 5

The bond between Tambu and Nyasha is so intimate and strong, Tambu compares it to a love affair. Nyasha is completely foreign and fascinating to Tambu, and she teaches Tambu a completely new way of looking at the world.


What it is ... to have to choose between self and security.

Maiguru, Chapter 5

Maiguru utters this line when discussing her Master's degree and how she never sees any of her earnings. Like many women living under patriarchal rule, Maiguru had to choose between following her dreams (self) and financial stability with a husband (security).


We cannot have two men in this house.

Babamukuru, Chapter 6

During his violent fight with Nyasha after the dance, Babamukuru likens her to a man because she dares to exert her own will and opinion. Outraged by Nyasha's "disrespectful" belief that her opinion matters, Babamukuru would rather kill his daughter than have his authority challenged.


The victimization, I saw, was universal.

Tambu, Chapter 6

After witnessing Babamukuru's horrific treatment of Nyasha after the dance, Tambu realizes that all men, no matter how great, feel superior to women. At the same time, all women—rich or poor, educated or illiterate—suffer under patriarchal rule.


She is vicious and unnatural. She is uncontrollable.

Takesure, Chapter 7

When discussing his affair with Lucia, Takesure blames Lucia completely, comparing her to a witch he had no power to resist. Despite knowing Jeremiah is a lazy husband and Takesure a lustful man, the patriarchy requires blame for their missteps to be placed on the woman.


I'm sorry, Babamukuru ... but I do not want to go to the wedding.

Tambu, Chapter 8

Standing up for herself for the first time ever, Tambu rejects Babamukuru's authority, recognizing him as a fallible person whose authoritarian beliefs cause people pain, as she feels the church wedding makes a mockery of her parents. It is the first time Tambu exercises her personal will—like Nyasha often does—to claim control of her own life.


I am not happy. I am not happy any more in this house.

Maiguru, Chapter 8

Inspired by Tambu standing up to Babamukuru, Maiguru also stands up to her husband and states plainly that she does not appreciate his strict rules about gender roles, and that she feels unappreciated and disrespected. After she leaves Babamukuru briefly, she returns to a new level of respect and equality in the home.


It would be a marvelous opportunity ... to forget who you were.

Nyasha, Chapter 9

Nyasha recognizes how the convent school will change Tambu by teaching her that her traditional Shona culture is inferior to British culture. Nyasha fears Tambu will lose touch with her culture and family, much like she did herself.


I won't grovel, I won't die.

Nyasha, Chapter 10

During her emotional breakdown at the end of the novel, Nyasha laments her losses due to colonization, which forces her to grovel for white attention—as her father has done—in order to thrive.

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