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Nervous Conditions

Main Ideas

Symbols

Main Ideas Symbols

Tambu’s Garden Plot

Tambu’s garden plot represents both tradition and escape from that tradition. On one hand, it is a direct link to her heritage, and the rich tradition has guided her people, representing the essential ability to live off the land. It is a direct connection to the legacy she inherits and the wisdom and skills that are passed down from generation to generation, and Tambu fondly remembers helping her grandmother work the garden. At the same time, the garden represents Tambu’s means of escape, since she hopes to pay her school fees and further her education by growing and selling vegetables. In this sense, the garden represents the hopes of the future and a break with the past. With a new form of wisdom acquired at the mission school and the power and skills that come with it, Tambu will never have to toil and labor again. Her mother, however, must water the valuable and fertile garden patch despite being exhausted from a long day of work.

The Mission

For Tambu, the mission stands as a bright and shining beacon, the repository of all of her hopes and ambitions. It represents a portal to a new world and a turning away from the enslaving poverty that has marked Tambu’s past. The mission is an escape and an oasis, a whitewashed world where refinement and sophistication are the rule. It is also an exciting retreat for Tambu, where she is exposed to new ideas and new modes of thinking. The mission sets Tambu on the path to becoming the strong, articulate adult she is destined to become.

The Ox

In the family’s lengthy holiday celebration, the ox represents the opulence and status Babamukuru and his family have achieved. Meat, a rare commodity, is an infrequent treat for most families, and Tambu’s parents and the rest of the extended clan willingly partake of the ox. At the same time, they secretly resent such an ostentatious display of wealth, since the ox is a symbol of the great gulf that exists between the educated branch of the family and those who have been left behind to struggle. Maiguru closely regulates the consumption of the ox and parcels out the meat over the several days of the family’s gathering. Eventually the meat starts to go bad, and the other women chide Maiguru for her poor judgment and overly strict control of its distribution. At that point, the ox suggests Maiguru’s shortcomings and how, in the eyes of the others, her education and comfortable life have made her an ineffective provider.