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


 · Nyasha and Chido returning from England, having lost most or all of their native tongue, Shona, foreshadows the same linguistic dislocation that occurs to Nhoma and then to Tambu.
 · Nhamo’s growing dislike of returning home for vacations foreshadows the growing gulf that develops for Tambu between life at the mission school and life at the homestead.