The Grass is Singing

[Reading] ➱ The Grass is Singing ➹ Doris Lessing – Set in South Africa under white rule Doris Lessing's first novel is both a riveting chronicle of human disintegration and a beautifully understated social critiue Mary Turner is a self confident indep Set in South Africa under white rule Doris Lessing's first novel The Grass PDF or is both a riveting chronicle of human disintegration and a beautifully understated social critiue Mary Turner is a self confident independent young woman who becomes the depressed frustrated wife of an ineffectual unsuccessful farmer Little by little the ennui of years on the farm work their slow poison and Mary's despair progresses until the fateful arrival of an enigmatic and virile black servant Moses Locked in anguish Mary and Moses master and slave are trapped in a web of mounting attraction and repulsion Their psychic tension explodes in an electrifying scene that ends this disturbing tale of racial strife in colonial South Africa The Grass is Singing blends Lessing's imaginative vision with her own vividly remembered early childhood to recreate the uiet horror of a woman's struggle against a ruthless fate.The Grass is Singing

Olive Schreiner and.

The Grass is Singing Epub ✓ The Grass  PDF or
  • Hardcover
  • 208 pages
  • The Grass is Singing
  • Doris Lessing
  • English
  • 14 April 2016
  • 9780002257558

10 thoughts on “The Grass is Singing

  1. says:

    This book is a stunning exposé of why Zimbabwe has Mugabe and why he evil as he is is certainly no worse than that great white hope Sir Cecil Rhodes The whites in this book with one exception are all devotees of Rhodes and his brand of racism Rhodesia for the whites the blacks are suitable for being farm animals as they are all simpleminded thieves liars and hate the white man It's the same mindset as slavery really The grass is singing cicada songs songs of blood songs of freedom whispering in this hellish place on earth Leaving aside the political inferences which are not heavily obvious in the story anyway the book is a good read The characters are beautifully drawn very strong and believable It begins with what happens at the end and works in a slightly unusual way back to the beginning and thence to that end Not light reading but not at all dense heavy literature The Grass is Singing would make a great film but would be very difficult to do in this day and age of pc language publicly reviling the awful Mugabe and talking of how it wasn't good for the blacks before Mugabe is one thing It wasn't but it wasn't bad like this And it isn't the inhumanity they suffered under Sir Cecil RhodesThis is a good companion book to Nadime Gordima's July's People which at a similar domestic personal level deals with racism in South Africa

  2. says:

    Doris Lessing's first novel has the precision of a fine short story and the depth of a longer novel This portrait of the psychological disintegration of a farmer's wife saddled with an ineffectual husband on a luckless South African farm is precisely realized and and completely convincing The last uarter of the novel however is weaker than the rest The character of the black house servant Moses is of a symbol than a human being and the ending meant to be tragic descends to melodrama

  3. says:

    If this novel impresses from the very beginning it is because of the openness in which Lessing plays her cards in the first chapter The voice of the omniscient narrator glows with the clarity of objective facts that is missing in the rest of the novel replaced by an increasingly suffocating account of two doomed lives that slowly disintegrate in polarized madnessThe tragic end of Mary Turner a white woman in the hands of Moses her black servant in a remote hostile South African hell is reported in crushing detachment by a young farmer recently arrived from Great Britain who cannot digest the unwritten laws of the Apartheid His silent revulsion acts like a metaphor for the unspeakable horror that has ransacked a barren parched land that the imposed supremacy of the white civilization has failed to subjugate Showcasting an indisputable mastery of descriptive skills the daily life of the Turners a couple whacked without mercy by the gender and racial prejudices imposed on them by the rules of a segregated society unfolds mercilessly in front of the increasingly horrified readerThe gradual mental decline of Mary and Dick Turner runs in parallel to the growing menace of the African landscape and its severe climatic conditions The maddening chirping of cicadas the extreme heat that accumulates on the tin roof of the decrepit farm hut and the poisonous dynamics between natives and whites present a recurrent pattern of symbols that infuse the narration with a morbid undertone erasing all traces of light of hope for a better futureBoth oppressors and victims at once the characters never dwell in self pity; rather the opposite they abuse themselves until they lose touch with a reality that becomes and distorted as years pile up in front of the unchanged shapes scents and noises of the indifferent savannah The collective psychological portrait that Lessing paints with unfaltering resolve is a blunt criticism to the system of racial segregation that proved to be eually destructive both for the perpetrators and the tyrannizedBlacks who despise white women who in turn never miss an opportunity to humiliate their servants as means to evince their unuestioned racial superiority Ironically the white man remains impervious in the apex of the social pyramid looking down on both groups condescendingly keeping the wheels of a perverse social scheme going round inexorably regardless of the terrifying conseuences of dehumanization on a major scaleWhen a woman deranged by prolonged loneliness turns to “an inferior man” for solace a disuieting attraction shifts the scales of power and exposes the fragility of artificially set boundariesWhen the white mistress looks the black servant in the eye and recognizes the human being staring back insolent reproachful his blood boiling with barely contained rage the whole system collapses in a pool of murky diluted color “What is madness but a refuge a retreating from the world?”Witnessing the inevitable decomposition of a woman locked in a world that chokes her to death is nothing short of appalling but doing so through Lessing’s unnerving prose poetry allows us to come to terms with the beastly outcome of this novel which appositely exposes everything that makes us disgustingly uestionably and undeniably humanThe man is hollow the land might be wasted; but the grass is singing

  4. says:

    The Grass is Singing is Doris Lessing's first novel published in 1950 It is a savage and stark indictment of South Africa's apartheid system It is set in what was formerly Southern Rhodesia now Zimbabwe and concentrates on Rhodesian white culture with its racist and prejudiced attitudes The system of gross racial injustice dominates both the society and this storyThe novel is told in flashback At the beginning of chapter one there is a brief news report of the murder of a white woman plus her assailant's arrest and the purported motive for the crime The rest of the book details the events leading up to this with Mary Turner the victim as the main character It is many layered the characters being not only individuals in their own right but also types indicating the strata of complex society in South Africa at that time in history The local culture is not rich and the humiliating results of poverty are always apparentBefore the long flashback however we have chapter one which is particularly hard to read The attitudes by each character whilst varying in degrees display such incipient arrogance and complicit acceptance of both the corrupt regime and its hidden implications that the reader is all too aware that these views are only the tip of the iceberg It is a manipulative and exceptionally well crafted piece of writing One character Tony Marston has recently come from England He is portrayed as having the typical views of a newcomer to the country with misguided views of euality He will soon learn the ways of South Africa the others think indulgently And these ways vary from treating the natives and yes an even worse n word is also used as less than human the masters having an unwavering conviction of their entitlement to maltreat bully and beat these workers with a sjambok even sometimes until death if they deem it necessary Such a sorry event would be passed off with a shrug White women were taught from a very early age to live in fear of the natives that as a group they were untrustworthy The shades of attitude vary the other end of the spectrum being that the natives were alright if you knew how to handle them They knew their place and the master knew hisThe repugnance felt by modern readers towards this whole spectrum of views is compounded by the fact that these are overt and explicit This is the system of apartheid This is the status uo Far worse lies underneath and this introductory chapter indicates with hints veiled expressions subterfuge and things left unsaid that there are are additional ugly factors at work The recently arrived English character is a useful hook for the reader to identify with at this point He knows something is badly amiss and hates the arrogance intolerance and prejudice that he sees in neighbouring farmers such as Charlie Slatter He also knows that plenty of people in his position give up trying to farm under such conditions and are viewed by those who stay as not hard enough not up to either the unforgiving land and weather or the imposed social regime eitherThe novel itself does a thorough job of describing how each character has become what they are Mary and Dick were two sad characters whom the reader sees very early on should never have married For reasons that become clear on reading the novel Mary should never have entered the farming community Dick for his part was a struggling farmer who wanted a family but did not know how to choose one The neighbours variously made successes of their lives by their own terms They all had a view of the homeland England even though some had never stepped foot in it having been born in South Africa And they all had a view of solidarity of the way things should be and that they had no connection with the natives who came from their kraal except as their servants or workers They were only concerned with what the natives could do for them viewing it as their inalienable rightThe book is solidly set in its location The natural strength and hostility of the South African landscape the all pervading poverty the white townships ugly little houses stuck anyhow over the veld that had no relationship with the hard brown African soil and the arching blue sky the unbearable heat of the corrugated iron and brick houses aggravating the desperations and tensions of the characters are all conveyed very well It is a finely judged and balanced book with a good narrative flow ahead of its time written by an author who went on to write exemplary works So why does it not get 5 stars Have you perhaps deduced why from this description?There are no black viewpoint characters Not one Even Moses who was arrested in the first chapter is not fleshed out; his actions are merely reported without any comment insight or indeed any given motivation The reader has to infer a resentment against the corrupt system and that Mary is his personal representative of it We are told that he came from a mission school just as we were told briefly where the original old servant Samson came from The author describes as a group where the natives come from and how far they travel in search of work Doris Lessing allows them to vary in looks in attitude to work and other superficial indications But they are not filled out in anything like as much depth as the white charactersDick Turner one of the sympathetic white main characters feels aggrieved thinking of of the South African government as being under the influence of n lovers from England And the newcomer Tony Marston had the conventionally progressive ideas about the colour bar the superficial progressiveness of the idealist that seldom survives a conflict with self interest The author repeatedly castigates her white characters by implication for lumping all natives together Yet she does precisely that herself in this novel In addition to the lack of characterisation of non whites Doris Lessing talks about the genus native At another point she refers to a native conveniently endowed by nature with the ability to walk long distances without feeling fatigue Is it deliberate? Is it an attempt to make the point about one culture alienating another even stronger? If so I think it misfiresThe ending of the book is beautifully written Mary's gradual mental deterioration into a complete breakdown is very convincing and the reader is unsure what is real and what is in her mind There is an hypnotic and oppressive feeling in this final chapter Clearly we are invited to feel that the ending was inevitable that the characters of Moses and Mary are puppets or victims of their own doom Yet nothing earlier in the novel had indicated any feelings on Moses' part except for a brief moment of surprise and pity when Mary had begged him not to leave back before her depression took hold But at the end of the novel Lessing says of Moses what thought of regret or pity or perhaps even wounded human affection were compounded with the satisfaction of his completed revenge it is impossible to say Why exactly? This idea of an enigmatic native type is not only inaccurate but very distastefulIt is a brave book for its time And it is extremely well written by an author who went on to be a Nobel prize winner But this is far from an exemplary workMy Personal Glossary of termsVeld wide open rural spaces of Southern Africa It is used in particular to refer to flatter areas or districts covered in grass or low scrub especially in South Africa Zimbabwe Botswana and Namibia Vlei a shallow minor lake of an intermittent nature Seasonal ponds or marshy patches where frogs and similar marsh dwellers breed Kopje a small isolated hill Kraal a homestead and usually included a simple fenced in enclosure for animals fields for growing crops and one or thatched huts Afrikaans and Dutch word also used in South African English for an enclosure for cattle or other livestockKitchen Kaffir dated now offensive Fanagalo a Zulu based pidgin languageCompound Closed labour camp of migrant male workers from rural homes in Bantustans or Homelands to the mines and jobs in urban settings generally One of the major cogs in the apartheid state Flash points for unrest in the last years of apartheidSjambok official heavy leather whip of South Africa sometimes seen as synonymous with apartheidMashonaland a region in northern ZimbabweLobengula the second and last king of the Ndebele people usually called Matabele in English Migrant workers from there

  5. says:

    In her first novel The Grass is Singing first published 1950 Doris Lessing begins with a short description of a crime on a farm in Southern Rhodesia now Zimbabwe MURDER MYSTERYBy Special CorrespondentMary Turner wife of Richard Turner a farmer at Ngesi was found murdered on the front veranda of their homestead yesterday morning The houseboy who has been arrested has confessed to the crime No motive has been discovered It is thought he was in search of valuablesFor Lessing the crime itself isn’t of interest it seems in some ways a foregone conclusion Instead she focuses on the intertwined hierarchies in Southern Rhodesia race gender class and uses her novelist’s lens to dissect these hierarchies She reveals how they are formed what holds them together and the profound toll they take on all who live according to their rules Her first novel is unwavering in its portrayal of the damaging racial class and gender based power dynamics in Southern Rhodesia in the early 20th century It’s all the powerful because of Lessing’s intimate focus on the psychological toll taken on the three main characters Mary Turner Dick Turner and Moses their African houseboy a title that is difficult to type but that says much about the racial hierarchy in Southern Rhodesia at the time Doris Lessing c 1950Lessing is well known for channeling her personal experiences into her writing Her acute eye and gift for social analysis lend The Grass is Singing its matter of fact style and its psychological acumen Lessing knew about unhappy marriages by living through her parents’ frustration over their inability to make their maize farm in Southern Rhodesia profitable as well as through her own marriage She understood the particular pressures women in the veldt faced as they struggled to translate their lives on farms in Southern Africa into cultural terms understood by their Edwardian culture Lessing’s own experiences of being an outsider observing social conventions that limited women’s independence and autonomy fueled the hopeless desperation in her descriptions of Mary Turner She also saw first hand the rigid rules imposed by the white settlers to ensure that their neighbors reinforced white rule They had to treat their African workers as subhuman or face the conseuences social isolation and opprobrium Farm in Southern Rhodesia now ZimbabweAfrican workers and children farmworkers at their compoundMary Turner grew up in a town When young she saw the friction between her mother and father and for that reason never thought much about marrying As an adult she has a job lives in a boarding home for women and enjoys being a friend and a confidante to men and women alike until an overheard conversation between two of her friends leads her to follow a socially acceptable course and get married After a very brief courtship she marries Dick Turner and only then discovers that he is a struggling farmer engaged in series of unprofitable experiments to make money on his farm but on his own terms For example he is reluctant to engage in profitable tobacco farming because of its factory like reuirements as well as its tendency to drain the soil Lessing slowly and painstakingly unfolds the Turners’ struggles with the land including drought and disease with local white society and its rigid code of conduct with Africans whom they need to work the land but fail to understand or treat like humans and with each other Over time as Mary moves further from her husband and neighbors she eventually begins to see Moses the African who works for her as a houseboy in a different light This shift in their relationship sets into motion the catastrophic events that lead to the novel’s conclusion Southern Rhodesia postcard c 1940Countryside of Southern RhodesiaThis is a novel that explores the gaps between individual and social expectations and reality Lessing understands the profound dangers faced by people who lack a fundamental psychological understanding of themselves and each other especially in a society that is built on ineualities She unflinchingly portrays the staggering cost we pay as a society and as individuals when we reinforce a social order built on dehumanization and surface appearances Lessing took her novel’s title from Eliot’s The Waste Land She includes the relevant passage as an epigraph In this decayed hole among the mountainsIn the faint moonlight the grass is singingOver the tumbled graves about the chapelThere is the empty chapel only the wind's homeIt has no windows and the door swingsDry bones can harm no oneOnly a cock stood on the rooftreeCo co rico co co ricoIn a flash of lightning Then a damp gustBringing rainGanga was sunken and the limp leavesWaited for rain while the black cloudsGathered far distant over HimavantThe jungle crouched humped in silenceThen spoke the thunder TS Eliot The Waste LandIt’s difficult to imagine a ominous or perfect opening passage to set the scene for the Turners’ tragedy Eliot’s focus on an unforgiving landscape and on severe weather that is inescapable carries us to the African veldt where we are left vulnerable and exposed to the dangers heading our way It is all the tragic when we realize these dangers are of our own making

  6. says:

    The Grass is Singing is a novel of colonialism human degradation and an uncomfortable view of the prevailing attitude of a time and place and yet to me it was so a powerful portrait of a crumbling mind Mary Turner is a hideous woman; bitter cruel entitled What started out as a woman’s resentment over a boring farm life and a distant marriage soon turned into something deeper and much unsettling Sometimes people are broken so early in their life that it’s impossible to ever be whole and at her core Mary Turner was ruined long before adulthood and her neurosis was merely the lid on a simmering pot of rage and hurt The book opens with her murder; we know she’s doomed We watch as she flails and unravels and in the end perhaps finds some kind of distorted relief This is Lessing’s portrayal of a woman without a choice; a child without a choice; a people without a choice The farm fails the marriage fails Mary Turner’s brain fails Apartheid fails The atmosphere in this book is sweltering suspenseful and hypnotic It’s all unrelentingly heat and blinding sun and unbearable tension Something’s got to give The ineffectual trying trying tryingMary Turner tried but she never stood a chance not with that husband not in that country not with that childhood not when she was destined to brood away all her days inside her head the frustration a ticking time bomb This is what happens Lessing said when women can’t choose This is the outcome she tells us when you enslave people This is unnatural and wrong and this is what you get

  7. says:

    Colonialism in southern Africa both sides left in destruction Doris Lessing winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for literature tells the incredibly haunting story of the disintegration and descent into madness of Mary and her husband Dick Turner simultaneously revealing the scathing truths of apartheid ruled life in Rhodesia This was her first book published in 1950 What a debut I'm stunned I have goosebumps; I'm unfit to do this book justice to convey the claustrophobic solitary descent the Turners take in the unbearable heat of their barren hopeless farm and tin roofed house The beginning of this book reveals the end Mary is found murdered by her houseboy a native worker named Moses The book then backs up a good fifteen years when Mary is younger and living a rather enviable independent life It explains how she ends up choosing to marry and the slow hot soul destroying existence she shares with her husband on their farm And it tells the story of her murder and all that contributes to this tragic violent endYou get a clear idea of the rigid class system rich white colonists at the top followed by poor whites then Afrikaners and then blacks Constantly toiling yet ineffectual and blinded by his pride Dick Turner keeps them spinning in poverty season after season year after year The Turners are looked down upon because they simply can't succeed They are a stain and shame on their people Lessing sets the tone for this novel in the first page illuminating the colonial attitude towards the black Africans It is made painfully clear as the novel progresses especially through Mary's treatment of the workers in her home and on the farm which originates from both fear and the poisoned world she has lived all her lifeThis is a story of poverty of racism of the twin solitude that marriage can be This is a story of what happens when unspeakable lines are crossed This is a story of the cost of segregation where the propagators are also victims of a hateful system It is also a story of southern Africa a merciless sun scorched place where men struggle and die but the cicadas keep singing I learned some nasty racist language in this novel a sad education of the time and place

  8. says:

    “It is by the failures and misfits of a civilization that one can best judge its weaknesses” Author Unknown45 Stars I was shattered with the outcome of this novel Disturbing Unflinching Compulsively readable

  9. says:

    There should be a few warnings on the cover of this short novel contains no likeable characters and many descriptions of really disgusting racist behaviour I can’t remember reading so much intimate detail about the white racist’s seething physical and mental horror at the very presence of a black person before This is going to upset some readers for sure Here is a mild passage about that She had never come into contact with natives before as an employer on her own account Her mother’s servants she had been forbidden to talk to; in the club she had been kind to the waiters; but the ‘native problem’ meant for her other women’s complaints of their servants at tea parties She was afraid of them of course Every woman in South Africa is brought up to be In her childhood she had been forbidden to walk out alone and when she had asked why she had been told in the furtive lowered but matter of fact voice she associated with her mother that they were nasty and might do horrible things to herDoris Lessing wrote this age 25 it was her first novel and it’s uite brilliant It does several difficult things at once It traces the slow painful collapse of a hideously inappropriate marriage between two people who should have stayed single and didn’t simply because of the social pressure to conform; it explains the class divisions within white colonial society whereby “comfortably off” British farmers were okay with thinking of some Afrikaans farmers as poor whites but couldn’t stand it if a British farmer couldn’t make a go of his farm; it shines a laserbeam light on the horrible dealings of the white farmers with their black workers in the fields and in their homes where men are always called boys always; and it expertly performs that trick of making you think for many pages our main character Mary Turner is sympathetic and is just a misunderstood oddball until gradually you see she is a monster I love that trick Mary is what cute columnists these days call a kidult – she never wants to grow up she freezes at the mental age of 14 she becomes an office worker and lives in a boarding house for young ladies until she’s 30 and then unfortunately overhears a conversation and is rudely awakened to the fact that she should already be married with children so she marries the first guy who shows the slightest interest and this is a young farmer so in the twinkling of an eye she is out in the bush on a run down farm with a guy who turns out to be a fool This husband has some notions about soil and tree preservation and crop differentiation which may be ecologically sound but which condemn him as an eccentric and are guaranteed to never make him any money There is a particularly great section showing how when Mary shakes off her depression and focuses her brain she sees exactly why their farm never makes money and how to improve their grinding life and he sees what she means and admires her rare burst of mental clarity and even agrees with her but he just can’t bring himself to rip everything out and plant tobacco he just can’t do itIn the end everything goes to hell Don’t look for any morally uplifting message hereThis short novel was on course for the full five stars that's how good it is until 40 pages from the end when Doris started waffling about Mary’s final mental disintegration and it seems couldn’t stop She starts writing in slow motion and it keeps getting slower Such a shame after being so sharp and indelible until then But still recommended for sure

  10. says:

    Re read after about 7 year's breakOne of the unusual things about this Lessing's first published book is the extreme omniscient author position she takes She describes a character's appearance to others then swoops into her psyche to reveal her thoughts She describes someone's response to another person's expression and then jumps to his companion's view of him To emphasise her power even further she shifts from objective descriptions of the landscape to characters' experiences of it However there is one threshold she will not cross and it is into the minds of black characters usually referred to in author voice and by white characters as 'natives'I think Lessing has adopted this position and drawn attention to it and made an exception to it to emphasise white supremacist arrogance and ignorance in general and to acknowledge her own limited perspective as a white writer In the opening chapter we find this about the black man Moses who will be executed for murdering the white woman MaryPeople did ask cursorily why the murderer had given himself up There was not much chance of escape But he did have a sporting chance He could have run to the hills and hidden for a while Or he could have slipped over the border into Portuguese territory Then the District Native Commissioner at a sundowner party said that it was perfectly understandable If one knew anything about the history of the country or had read any of the memoirs or letters of the old missionaries and explorers one would have come across accounts of the society Lobengula ruled The laws were strict everyone knew what they could or could not do If someone did an unforgivable thing like touching one of the King's women he would submit fatalistically to punishment which was likely to be impalement over an ant heap on a stake or something eually unpleasant 'I have done wrong and I know it' he might say 'therefore let me be punished' Well it was the tradition to face punishment and really there was something rather fine about it Remarks like these are forgiven from native commissioners who have to study languages customs and so on; although it is not done to say things natives do are 'fine' Yet the fashion is changing it is permissible to glorify the old ways sometimes providing one says how depraved the natives have become sinceSo that aspect of the affair was dropped yet it is not in the least interesting for Moses might not have been a Matabele at all He was in Mashonaland; though of course natives do wander all over Africa He might have come from anywhere Portuguese territory Nyasaland the Union of South Africa And it is a long time since the days of the great king Lobengula But then native commissioners tend to think in terms of the pastHere we have the assumption of white authority and expertise exotification of 'native tradition' followed by a confession of ignorance that must be diffused with assertions of indifference and contemptHaving opened with the aftermath of the murder Lessing rewinds to unravel the tableau telling the story of Mary from her childhood This section of the story has feminist interest because the naive young woman from an unhappy unsupportive background is happy independent successful and a good friend to those around her until the pressure of heteronormative expectations and patriarchal constructions of women's roles breaks upon her and pushes her into marriage to a young farmer Dick who is similarly directed by convention and vague desires Knowing little of each other they are both disappointed in their expectations and sink into a mutually damaging marriage Mary struggling to adapt herself to her new situation driven by a mixture of complex personal shame and the culture of white supremacy abuses her servants and alienates her neighbours mismanaging the little portion of her life she can controlIf Mary's redeeming feature is her former happiness Dick's is his respect and love for the land of his farm Unlike his neighbour Charlie Slatter who grows tobacco grazes cattle and makes no effort to maintain the fertility of his soil Dick plants trees and rotates crops growing them in small batches Due to his lack of business sense and short attention span with his misguided investments he never makes money and both he and Mary are harrowed and embittered by their povertyLike all of the white South Africans Dick is an ardent bigot and Lessing as author cannot restrain herself from direct criticism of him 'Listen to me' said Dick curtly 'I work hard enough don't I? All day I am down on the lands with these lazy black savages fighting them to get some work out of them you should learn sense If you want to get work out of them you have to know how to manage them You shouldn't expect too much They are nothing but savages after all' Thus Dick who had never stopped to reflect that these same savages had cooked for him better than his wife did had run his house had given him a comfortable existence as far has his pinched life could be comfortable for yearsAt other points in the book she is subtle allowing white injustice to indict itselfLike most South Africans Dick did not like mission boys they 'knew too much' And in any case they should not be taught to read and write they should be taught the dignity of labour and general usefulness to the white manandShe said again sharply her voice rising 'I said get back to work'At this he stopped still looked at her suarely and said in his own dialect which she did not understand 'I want to drink''Don't talk that gibberish to me' she snapped She looked around for the bossboy who was not in sightThe man said a halting ludicrous manner 'I want water' He spoke in English and suddenly smiled and opened his mouth and pointed his finger down his throat She could hear the other natives laughing a little from where they stood on the mealie dump Their laughter which was good humoured drove her suddenly mad with anger most white people think it is 'cheek' if a native speaks English She said breathless with anger 'Don't speak English to me' and then stopped This man was shrugging and smiling and turning his eyes up to heaven as if protesting that she had forbidden him to speak his own language and then hers so what was he to speak? That lazy insolence stung her into inarticulate rage involuntarily she lifted her whip and brought it down across his face in a vicious swinging blowMary's steadily disintegrating mental health is the dynamic moving the plot throughout Lessing keeps the focus on her and most often takes her perspective She carefully and cleverly marks this foregrounding for example by suddenly giving Moses a name for the first time when Mary is shaken out of her lassitude by the sudden deeply uncomfortable awareness of his humanity when he waits for her to be out of sight before completing the task of washing himself Mary is unable to process this pivotal revelation Although she is deeply unsympathetic the reader is able to empathise with her and see her as a damaged personality locked into a situation that is hostile to her fragile confused sense of herselfIn my opinion this book is a passionate humble and self aware response to the virulent injustice of white supremacy and the social structure in South AfricaJust as I finished reading it I came across the website of an exhibition of Margaret Bourke White's photography from South Africa that is contemporary to Lessing's book This section is on farm workers and this one on exotification is particularly interesting The photograph at the top of this page could be Mary and Dick 'poor whites'

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