English Literature Novel: Nervous Conditions

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Analysis of BABAMUKURU

He has the most authority within his family as he is educated and intelligent. While the book's point of view is female, he enacts the pressures and duties of men trying to raise their families, whilst shaking off poverty. He uses his job as headmaster to avoid emotional intimacy with the women in his home. He feels that it is his duty to provide his extended family with an education.

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Analysis of MAIGURU

She is complex, often contradictory and worries about her children living with both Western and African traditions. Only at the end does she realise how the cultural pressures have affected them. She is highly educated and does not appreciate being seen as a traditional housewife. She represents the subtle, emerging voice of a feminist dissent, who is ahead of her time and tries to enact gradual change.

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Analysis of NYASHA

She is highly intelligent and perceptive. She is a product of two worlds, England and Africa. Tambu admires her ability to see conflict as an opportunity to increase her understanding of the world. The elements that define her eventually become the source of her ultimate breakdown and she starts to resent her outspoken nature. This transformation leads to self-hatred, and develops an eating disorder. She becomes a symbol of the pressures to embrace modernity and self-improvement.

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Analysis of TAMBU

There are essentially two Tambu's in the novel, and the narrator successfully builds tension between them. She explores her own conflicted perceptions, reexamining her old ones, making dual perpectives on events. She tries to represent herself in many ways, but underneath she is a hard-working girl, desperate to succeed. She conveys the challenges faced by women in Africa in the 1970s and her understanding grows throughout the novel.

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Tambu was born a girl and and therefores faces a disadvantage as males dictate the future of the family. All of the family's resources are put in to Nhamo to prepare him for leading the family, but when he dies it is tragic as there is no boy to replace him. Tambu takes his position although she recieves prejudice. Gender inequality plays a key role in all the female character's lives. It is used to kill ambition and dicourages women from speaking out for what they believe.

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The essential action of the novel involves Tambu's experiences in a Western-style educational setting, and how she knows that the only way of getting her family out of poverty is by having this education. They fear that this new dominating culture may eventually eliminate their native culture of Rhodesia. The characters lives are full of elements which reflect African and colonialist ways. Some of the characters struggle to manage the two different influences that shape their lives.

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As Tambu becomes more established in her life at the mission school, she begins to embrace beliefs and attitudes which are different from her traditional upbringing. Nyasha tells Tambu that accepting all progressive ideas could lead to trouble regarding tradition. In the novel there are conflicts between the characters that who have based their beliefs on both colonialist and traditional ways.

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Motif analysis: GEOGRAPHY

As the novel goes on, Tambu becomes more and more physically detached from the homestead. She starts at the homestead, then when she starts the local school she has to walk a long way for lessons. Then she goes to the first city she's ever seen to sell green corn. She then joins the mission school, meaning she barely returned home, and then the convent school. In the end she learns that she has only herself to rely on.

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Motif analysis: EMANCIPATION

Rhodesia's citizens struggle to assert their identity as people while still under British control. Tambu sees her life as a gradual process of overcoming limitations. When she first leaves for the mission school, she sees it as temporary emancipation, but later on her growing knowledge and evolving perceptions become a form of emancipation from her old way of thinking. It becomes more than a release from poverty or restriction, it becomes the equivalent of freedom and personal liberty.

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In the novel there are many differing interpretations of behaviour. For Tambu, her two worlds, the mission and the homestead, are often opposed, forcing her to divide her loyalties and complicating her sense of who she is. 

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Symbol analysis: TAMBU'S GARDEN PLOT

Tambu's garden plot represents both tradition and an escape from that same tradition. It is a direct link to her heritage and the essential ability to be able to live off of the land. At the same time, the garden represents hopes for the future, as Tambu grows and sells vegetables to pay for her school fees.

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Symbol analysis: THE MISSION

For Tambu the mission is a representation of all of her hopes and ambitions. It represents a portal to a new world and how her life is turning away from the poverty that has marked her life. The mission sets Tambu on the path to becoming the strong, articulate adult she is destined to become.

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Symbol analysis: THE OX

Babamukuru brings an ox for the family to eat during celebration. This represents his family's status. The family are greatful for the meat but resentful about the display of wealth. The ox is a symbol of the great divide that exists between the educated branch of the family and those who have been left to s. Also, Maiguru is strict about the distribution and after a few days the meat goes bad. The ox then suggests that her education and comfortable lifestyle have made her an ineffective power.

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Quote analysis: "I was not sorry when my brother d

The novel begins with this confession from Tambu. She had a bad relationship with her brother as he represented everything she was denied. He was allowed an education because he is the eldest son, it had nothing do to with intelligence. When he returned to the homestead he was a changed person and did not help his family and was spiteful towards Tambu - she barely knew him anymore. When he died she was offered everything that he had, and her life took a turn for the better.

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Quote analysis: "and these days it is worse, with

These words show the harsh reality faced by many African women. She is arguing that being black and female is a double burden and that it is impossible to overcome them. What makes her and Tambu different, is that Ma'Shingayi advises Tambu to passively accept the conditions that keep her down, rather than to be strong and rebel against them. Ma'Shingayi is a prime example of how reality and beliefs grown increasingly conflicted in the novel.

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Quote analysis: "What it is," she sighed, "to have

After Tambu has questioned Maiguru about her past and her education, Maiguru's words summarise the sacrafices she's had to make to follow the more traditional notion of a woman's role in society. She tells Tambu about how there were many possibilities in England, and how there she would have been free of the gender restrictions. She also bears her burdens in silence. Nyasha sees this as a costly compromise to her mother's dignity and honour.

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Quote analysis: "It's bad enough... when a country

Tambu has become seduced by her exposure to the colonialist-influenced 'new ways'. Without colonialism, Babamukuru and his family would not have the opportunities they experience in the novel. Nyasha is an example of this quote - her observations foreshadow her breakdown and how colonialism affects the African people and their identities.

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Quote analysis: "Quietly, unobtrusively and extrem

When she goes to the convent school she starts to question what it has cost (her sense of self, her mother). Her use of the word brainwashed is denoting a shift in her thinking. She seems to be speaking for Nyasha who is depressed. Tambu decides to no longer be passively influenced by the people and institutions around her. This evolution of perception and thought allows Tambu to resolve the often contradictory forces that have unsettled her throughout her life.

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