Comparative Analysis of 'Nervous Conditions' and 'Breath, Eyes, Memory'

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About this sample


Words: 648 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Apr 21, 2022

Words: 648|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Apr 21, 2022

The novels Nervous Conditions and Breath, Eyes, Memory are both about two young women. We get a firsthand look into their lives since they are the first-person narratives. This essay will mostly compare than contrasting since there are huge and important similarities between the novels. The main themes of the two books are duality and patriarchy, which is also their similarities.

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Breath, Eyes, Memory is a book that is mainly about a girl called Sophie. Sophie’s mom left her at her sister Aties’ house so she could go to New York to try to get a better life for her and Sophie. When Sophie was twelve she received a plane ticket from her mom to New York; Sophie did not want to leave her aunt that was more like a mom for her than anyone else. Her aunt kept on insisting of Sophie leaving because her mom needed her and there was no future for a woman in Haiti. Her aunt Atie said “We are each going to our mothers. That is what was supposed to happen” (pg. 19) as Sophie did not have a choice. Sophie was having a hard time living with her mom. She was referring it to as the worst time of her life “It is the most horrible thing that ever happened to me” (p. 156), due to her mom “testing” her. Mom Martine was suspicious that Sophie had been dating a guy and wanted to see if she was still a virgin.

Nervous Conditions is a book about a girl named Tambu. The book is written out of Tambus’ point of view, and the beginning of the book makes everything interesting. She starts off with saying “I was not sorry when my brother died” (pg.1), and the book will be about Tambu and her brother Nhamo’s death because she continuously talks about Nhamo and compares herself with him. Tambu’s life starts after her brother’s death. She finally gets the chance to go to the mission for school; a chance that she would not have gotten if her brother was still alive. She tries to earn her own money for school tuition by growing her own maize, while her father and mother discourage her instead of the opposite. Someone ends up stealing her maize, which turns out to be her own brother Nhamo who just like the other men thinks that women should not go to school.

The main theme in both books is patriarchy. Tambu has always been living in her brother's shade and has been told that women should be home and take care of the household, not go to school. Like her dad once said, “Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables”. Because of this patriarchy, where only men and boys were going to school and got to be educated, Tambu resented her brother and even though her uncle Babamakurus wife Maiguru has a master’s degree she does not get to use it. The reason for this is because Maiguru is not a man. Breath eyes memory is also about patriarchy since all Haiti women are only worth something if they are untouched. It is also a sad reality, that all women are being tested by their mothers because that is their duty and the mothers will be disgraced if anything will happen before their daughters will get married. Sophie’s mom Martine would say “there are secrets you cannot keep” after each testing, in some way of showing that it is her duty or even that she has power over Sophie because she cannot keep a secret from her. You can only overcome the testing’s if you have sex or somehow break the hymen. Sophie overcame the testing when she decided to press a pestle into her vagina, “My flesh ripped apart as I pressed the pestle into it.” It is also clear in Nervous Conditions that men seem to think that they have the power over all women and that they need to be in control and masculine all the time, in the same way, mothers in Haiti need to have control over their daughters' purity. It seems that mothers in Haiti help feed the patriarchal culture by keeping their daughters’ purity. The first time Tambu stands up for herself is when she tells Babamakuru 'I'm sorry, Babamakuru, but I do not want to go to the wedding.' She is mad at Babamakuru and does not want to follow his orders of going to her parents wedding, mostly because of Babamakuru accusing her parents of their own unhappiness and bad luck because they are not married. Tambu was proud over herself and felt emancipated, even though she was punished with fifteen lashes because of this episode about the wedding. Tambu standing up for herself also lead to Babamakuru’s wife Maiguru standing up for herself as well, saying that she is not happy at home anymore. Nyasha, Babamakuru’s daughter also stood up for herself, she developed an eating disorder because she refused eating the food Babamakuru ordered her to eat. Tambus mother is blaming Nyashas eating disorder on the so called Englishness, “It’s the Englishness it’ll kill them all if they are not careful”. But how did Sophie stand up for herself? Sophie’s mom died and she went back to her motherland Haiti for the funeral. While she was there she passed the cane field where her mom was raped by Sophie’s father. Quoting Sophie “I ran through the field, attacking the cane…. began to beat a cane stalk. I pushed over the cane stalk. I pulled it, yanking it from the ground…”, she was finally taking out some aggression, trying to become free of all hatred. Sophie’s grandmother asked “Are you free?” and that was what she was, free, at last.

The two novels have another theme in common which is duality. Sophie is moving from one country to another just like Tambu’s cousin Nyasha. In Breath, Eyes, Memory Sophie moves from Haiti to New York, while Nyasha in Nervous Conditions who lived in England returns home to Africa. Nyasha struggles after coming back from England, where she has seen a lot of new things and experienced marvelous things. She does not want to go back to the old lifestyle in Africa. Nyasha said 'I know. It is not England anymore... and I'm convinced I don't want to be anyone's underdog... But once you get used to it, it just seems natural and you just carry on. And that's the end of you. You're trapped. They control everything you do', after a long fight with her father Babamakuru. The reason for the fight was Nyashas behavior which Babamakuru thought was disrespectful. Babamakuru believed that her behavior was created by the books Nyasha was reading, and the stay in England. The quote of Nyasha implicates that she does not want to live the way they do in Africa; she does not want to be under her dad; she wants to be above or the same as all men, just how she had experienced in England. Sophie’s problem with duality shows when she starts school, she says “I hated the Marantha Bilingual Institution. It was if I had never left Haiti. All lessons were in French….. Outside the school.. called us “boat people” and “stinking Haitians”. She has to read English at home to learn, and she starts to feel like she learns the language even though she cannot show it off at her school.

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To sum this up, the novels have a lot in common but in different ways. When it comes to patriarchy both Sophie and Tambu struggle with being a female, while Sophie struggles more with sexual femaleness, Tambu struggles with being worth less than men and having to take care of them and the household. Both women have to deal with men feeling superior. If we look at duality, Nyasha and Sophie are both struggling, Sophie in a new country where she has to adapt to the life in New York and try to pursue the American dream and Nyasha that went back home to Africa and has to deal with the problems of being below men and having to do exactly what she is told.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Comparative Analysis of ‘Nervous Conditions’ and ‘Breath, Eyes, Memory’. (2022, April 21). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
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