Last Updated on November 15, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1468
Tambu is the narrator and protagonist of Nervous Conditions and the oldest daughter of Ma’Shingayi (called Mainini) and Jeremiah. Tambu is an intelligent and hardworking girl whose early feminist sensibility shapes her psyche. Tambu begins her account with the startling admission that she does not feel sorry when her brother Nhamo dies, revealing her honesty as well as the complex relationship she had with her patriarchal brother.
Troubled by the way girlhood robs her of options, Tambu develops a sense of resourcefulness, as when she sells corn to fund her schooling in the village. Although she has an uneasy relationship with her father, Tambu is shown to be respectful toward her elders on the whole. Knowing that hard work and education are her routes out of a circumscribed life and poverty at the homestead, Tambu tries to present an idealized front before Babmukuru, her father’s older brother and the most educated person in the Sigauke clan. After Nhamo passes away, Tambu is chosen by Babamukuru to study in Umtali, much to her delight. Tambu immediately begins to distance herself from her village and her mother, whom she views as an anxious victim.
However, as the novel unfolds, Tambu’s perspective becomes more nuanced. She begins to question her own compliance in what she describes as a “long and painful process.” She realizes that Babamukuru, too, has feet of clay and that education does not equal a liberal sensibility. Through her deep friendship with her troubled cousin Nysha and her evolving relationships with her mother and aunts, Tambu begins to understand that women’s emancipation is as much about sticking to one’s sisters and roots as it is about seeking a Western education.
The older brother of Tambu’s father, Jeremiah, and the patriarch of the Sigauke clan, Babamukuru is a conscientious man who considers it his duty to emancipate his rural family from a life of poverty. Ambitious and diligent like Tambu, Babamukuru himself studied at the Umtali mission school and won a scholarship for further studies in South Africa, after which he went to England to earn his master’s degree. When the novel opens, Babamukuru has just returned from England with his wife, Maiguru, and their two children, Nysha and Chido, to take up a position as the headmaster of the mission school.
Babamukuru’s arrival at the homestead is nothing short of a royal reception, highlighting the tremendous respect he enjoys in his clan. However, his decision to further educate Nhamo rather than Tambu reveals his innate gender bias. Although Tambu initially idolizes Babamukuru, she begins to see the flaws in his character once she comes to live with him after Nhamo’s death.
The most problematic aspect of Babamukuru’s nature is his treatment of his daughter, Nyasha. In one incident, he repeatedly strikes her, calling her a “whore” because she stayed out late after a party. Tambu notes,
How dreadfully familiar that scene had been, with Babamukuru condemning Nyasha to whoredom, making her a victim of her femaleness . . .
Babamukuru is by no means a wholly negative figure, however; he displays great generosity toward his family, always arriving at the homestead carrying gifts ranging from detergent to the side of an ox. In fact, as Nyasha observes, Babamukuru himself is a victim of colonization, “trapped” by the need to be a perfect, “civilized” African.
"What it is,” she sighed, “to have to choose between self and security.”
This statement by Maiguru encapsulates her character. The educated wife of Babamukuru, Maiguru has to maintain the ideal of a supportive Christian “helpmeet.” Yet Maiguru is also an intelligent woman with a master’s degree in philosophy, bristling under a domineering husband and a deeply...
(The entire section contains 1468 words.)
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