full title · Nervous Conditions
author · Tsitsi Dengarembga
type of work · Novel
genre · Feminist bildungsroman
language · English
time and place written · Early 1980s, Zimbabwe
date of first publication · 1988
publisher · The Women’s Press, London
narrator · Tambu
point of view · The narrator, Tambu, speaks in the first person, subjectively interpreting and filtering the events and developments that occur around her through her own thoughts, opinions, and biases.
tone · The tone, implied by the manner in which Tambu chooses to tell her story and describe the lives of the people who make up her world, is biased. The narrator is not wholly unreliable, as she objectively relays events and simple observations, but her perspectives and interpretations are frequently flawed.
tense · Past
setting (time) · 1960s and 1970s
setting (place) · Rhodesia
protagonist · Tambu
major conflict · Tambu struggles against the poverty and lack of opportunity that mark her world at the homestead. Once at the mission school, she is impeded by the societal bias against women and the sacrifices she must make in order to please her uncle and fulfill his expectations of her.
rising action · After Nhamo dies, Tambu is offered his place at the mission school. Babamukuru exerts more and more influence on the family’s actions and decisions, eventually declaring that Tambu’s parents must be formally married in a Christian ceremony.
climax · Tambu resists her uncle in refusing to attend her parents’ wedding. Maiguru leaves her husband after realizing she is not taken seriously as a viable economic force in the family.
falling action · Tambu is punished and realizes she must take control of her own destiny and make her own way, winning a scholarship to the convent school.
themes · The pervasiveness of gender inequality; the influence of colonialism; tradition vs. progress
motifs · Geography; emancipation; dual perspectives
symbols · Tambu’s garden plot; the mission; the ox
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