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Significance Of The Title Through Argument

The significance of the title, Nervous Conditions, can be seen throughout the novel, including the very first paragraph. One recurring event that displays this significance is the arguments between Nyasha and her father, Babamukuru. Each and every time Nyasha begins to disobey her father, not only do the characters in the story begin to feel nervous but we, the readers, do as well. Tsitsi Dangarembga is able to achieve this through the way Tambu describes Babamukuru through out the book. Because of Tambu’s detailed descriptions of Babamukuru, the reader knows that anyone who does something against his strong values, or what he says in general, will anger Babamukuru. This knowledge allows the reader to know that the second Nyasha acts in a way that is against what Babamukuru values in a decent girl or woman, his anger will take over.

The main argument between Nyasha and Babamukuru, which sets the tone for all of the following arguments, begins on page 114, when Babamukuru asks Nyasha why she came home so late from the dance. As Nyasha talks back to her father more and more, the anxiety begins to build. When she exclaims, “I wasn’t doing anything wrong!” (115), Babamukuru becomes furious and the situation becomes nerve racking for everyone involved. After this exclamation, Tambu describes the conditions:

The atmosphere in that room was growing hostile, the communication tangential. Voices were rising and threatening to break. Scrambling out of bed I knew I had to do something, because you could see that they were out for each other’s blood. I woke up Maiguru, did not have to explain much because we could hear them accusing each other and retaliating, condemning bitterly and stubbornly resisting, all the way down the passage. Maiguru climbed out of bed, and put on her dressing-gown and slippers, muttering all the while about her nerves and how the inmates of her house would be the death of her…(115)

This last passage exhibits the nervous conditions of this argument and situation, bringing in the significance of the title. The first sentence directly reveals the anxiety of the moment, but the language that is used, such as scrambling out of bed and muttering all the while about her nerves, gives even further insight into the mood from Tambu and Maiguru, who are not actually apart of the conflict. Dangarembga even has Tambu include that Maiguru was complaining about her nerves.

Though there are many arguments that follow this one, the language that Tambu uses to describe this particular situation, and the dialogue between Babamukuru and Nyasha, reveal the significance of the title, Nervous Conditions.

What is civilization?

The novel, Nervous Conditions, is a story filled various topics ranging from gender issues, educational barriers, and post colonial tension. A theme that was commonly found throughout the whole text, no matter where Tambu lives, is the idea of civilization and whom is civilized or not. Who determines this and what are the qualifications? The definition of civilized is “marked by well-organized laws and rules about how people behave with each other; polite, reasonable and respectful; pleasant and comfortable” (Merriam Webster). When Tambu arrives back home during Christmas she claims,

“you couldn’t blame [Chido] really for not wanting to go home, because he was too old now – we all were, and too civilized too – to be amused by eating matamba and nhengeni, and by trips to Nyamrira” (122).

In the beginning of the novel, Tambu is angry with her brother, who had an opportunity to get an education. When her brother came home, he brought foreign items, such as plastic bags and condiments, but the longer he is educated away from home the more he changes. The novel takes place in a period after the Unilateral Deceleration of Independence and before Zimbabwean independence. During this time, Rhodesians (as the country was called before 1980) struggled with finding an identity. The black Africans tried to gain power in the government, but the white minority gained power. The white Europeans brought colonization and the idea of civilization as a way to separate themselves from the natives and a way to make the natives feel inferior.

By the time that Tambu comes home for Christmas, she recognizes that she has changed too. As her cousin reflects on England influencing her behavior, Tambu is influenced by white education, including the social and economic qualities of those being educated.

Tambu’s mother gets very upset upon the return of her extended family, claiming that all the women sided with Maiguru because she is “educated….because she’s rich and comes here and flashes her money around” (142). Tambu’s mother feels as if the rest of the family views her as “poor and ignorant” (142) therefore she cannot have a voice or an opinion. She roots this is Maiguru’s “white ways” (143) which view Ma’Shingayi’s lifestyle as uncivilized, such as not brushing their teeth, having a dirty toilet and eating vegetables instead of meat (143). Ma’Shingayi feels that she cannot provide for her daughter anymore and that the way of life that colonizers brought, the civilized way of living, is the way that Tambu prefers.

An article, entitled “Sources of African History”, comments that “ ethnohistorians working in Africa today need no longer accept the generalization of early nonprofessional historians that most African tribes were essentially the same: uncivilized and anarchistic, with no centralized government.” What does it mean to be uncivilized and who are we do judge?


Mulira, James. “Sources of African History.” Current Anthropology 20.1 (1979): 227-29. JSTOR. Current Anthropology. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.