Analysis of Colonization in The Grass Is Singing

The Grass Is Singing, first printed in 1950, was an international success. The story focuses on Mary Turner, the spouse of a farmer, who is found murdered on the porch of her house. After her physique is discovered, we’re taken again to her younger days and slowly uncover what happened to her. The background, location of this story is about in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in South Africa which has been drawn from Doris Lessing’s own childhood spent there. Her first hand information of living on a farm in South Africa shines via on this e-book.

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The land, the characters, the farming are all vividly described. Both of her dad and mom had been British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk within the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Doris’s mom tailored to the tough life in the settlement, energetically trying to reproduce what was, in her view, a civilized, Edwardian life among savages; however her father didn’t, and the thousand-odd acres of bush he had bought didn’t yield the promised wealth. Similar sequences are offered within the book. Doris Lessing was born Doris May Tayler in Persia (now Iran) on October 22, 1919.

She is a great feminine British author and in October 2007, became the eleventh woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in its 106-year history, and its oldest recipient ever.

Lessing has written many novels, brief stories and tales, drama, poetry and comics of which novels like The Grass Is Singing, The Golden Notebook are the most popular and her works continue to be reprinted. Lessing realized that she had quite a tremendous life however didn’t know how to attack it when she began writing a e-book. She read a newspaper chopping a couple of white mistress murdered by her black cook dinner, none is aware of why and he is ready to be hanged. However, Doris knew perfectly nicely why he had dedicated this crime due to her upbringing. For example, there was a lady gossiped about in her neighborhood that she allowed her cook-boy to button up the back of her gown and brush her hair. It is appalling and terrible, she says. It was a violation of the white habits.

But she didn’t behave like a white mistress. She had handled him like a friend and then started treating him like a servant. They had been treated abominably. It was said that the white mistresses didn’t know how to treat their servants and obviously it was a intercourse thing. In African tradition, for women to inform a man what to do was impossible. Yet, all these homes had men-servants and the white mistresses spoke to them in excessive, harassed, offended voice. They couldn’t discuss to them like folks. The author chooses to begin this novel by the end. It begins with a short newspaper clipping, suggesting the murder of Mary Turner under the headline ‘Murder Mystery’. However, it certainly isn’t a murder thriller as we are advised the suspect has confessed the crime and there’s no critical effort to unravel the crime. It is not who but why behind the murder. Lessing’s purpose is quite completely different. She needs to ascertain an end point to be able to study the extremely flawed society during which it happens.

The writer has given the reader a spot, an event and a social problem all before her narrative begins. Lessing wrote two books, certainly one of them at long-hand after returning house to the farm. The different one, by which she made fun of the white culture, was mannered. This helped her to put in writing concerning the white culture in Southern Rhodesia in ‘The Grass Is Singing’. According to Ruth Whittaker, one of the readers of Lessing’s works, this novel is “an extraordinary first novel in its assured remedy of its uncommon topic matter… Doris Lessing questions the whole values of the Rhodesian white colonial society.” The novel reflects its author’s disapproval of sexual and political prejudices and colonialism in the Southern African setting via the lifetime of Mary Turner and a deadly relationship with their black servant.

On the surface, it seems a psychological and private portrayal of a feminine protagonist from childhood to demise but seen as a complete, it’s the political publicity of the futility and fragility of the patriarchal and colonial society upon which the masculinity of imperialism has sustained itself. The whole novel could be seen as Mary’s wrestle in course of individuation to protect her authenticity and sense of self nevertheless it fails because of the psychological and the political forces which furnish her little insight and threaten to crush her. I attempt to indicate how Lessing portrays Mary’s subjectivity as shaped and entangles throughout the ideological triangle of sophistication, gender and race; and how the same sexual and ideological elements, rooted in family and culture, causes failure in Mary’s achieving her own sense of self and dooms her to death.

Mary is fragmented between two contradictory statuses: on one hand she longs to be a subject of her life, to stay in a method she needs, and however she unconsciously performs a task as an object of the white oppressive structure of a colonial society which extracts which means of her private self and imposes its values forcing, the individual to yield to the good of the collective. Mary’s subjectivity and behavioral pattern are shaped by the cross-hatched intersection of class, gender and race through the operation of sexual and political colonialism within the context of imperialism.

Gender and Class

The early sketch of Mary’s characterization entails a subjectivity negotiating between gender and sophistication positions. Mary’s early childhood is shaped under the affect of an oppressive father who wastes his cash on drinks whereas his family lives in distress and poverty. Her mother, “a tall scrawny woman” who “made a confidante of Mary early…and used to cry over her stitching and Mary comforted her miserably”, is her first mannequin of gender function: a passive and helpless girl, dominated by the overwhelming masculine patterns, nonetheless the complying of sufferer of poverty.

Besides sharing the pains of poverty and residing in “a little home that was like a small picket box on slits” and the twelve month quarrel of her mother and father over money, Mary has been the witness of their sexuality and her mother’s physique within the palms of a man who was merely not present for her. All her life, Mary tries to neglect these memories however in reality she has simply suppressed them with the concern of sexuality which comes up later nightmarishingly in her dreams. By seeing her mother as a feminine sufferer of a depressing marriage, she internalizes a adverse image of feminity in the type of sexual repression, inheriting her mother’s arid feminism.

Race and Gender

The narrator exposes that the Turners’ failure at farming and their poverty and reclusiveness have made them disliked within the district. The Turners’ primitive situation of life is irritating for different white settlers as a result of they don’t like the natives to see themselves live in the same manner as the whites, which would destroy that spirit de corps “which is the first rule of South African society”. This anxiety is more political than economic based on the opposition of white/black. ln this manner, one other complicated clash of value system, apart from gender and class, is added to the narrative construction of the novel and that’s the matter of race. Colonialism is predicated on the white men’s spirit of venture for missionary and farm life by way of their settlement in the third world countries and harvesting their sources by establishing the imperial authority over the native individuals. The white males, by enslaving the native males on the lands they have actually stolen from them and feminizing some others in their house chores, protect their very own place as masters within the center and the natives as “Others” within the margin.

They use race and gender, two inseparable qualifiers, to entry their privilege of energy in the imperial hierarchy and legitimize their actions. Gender and race are components of this hierarchy by which the white settlers attempt to ascertain their own guidelines and safety within the alien land. The binary of white/black reminds us of race distinction which itself is linked and depending on different variations, more importantly gender. White women are objectified as unattainable property of white men by way of stereotyping the native men as violent, savage and sexually threatening. These double strategies both take the individuality from white women and colonize them as sexual objects at all times in peril and in need of the heroic protection of their white males and help the white men overcome their worry and jealousy for the superior sexual efficiency of the black men.

The dominant White tradition projects “all of these qualities and characteristics which it most fears and hates within itself” on the natives which creates for the subordinate group “a wholly unfavorable cultural identity”. Similarly Jan Mohamed notes that: “the native is cast as not more than a recipient of the unfavorable components of the self that the European initiatives onto him”. The patriarchal myth of white woman as white man‘s property and image of his power and the “forbidden fruit” for black man expels ladies from subjective roles by imposing on them the view that they’re unable to deal with the black laborers. Therefore the white girls are satisfied that they can not share energy with the white men especially within the farm life which is the current context of masculinity, tough work, motion: problem beyond domesticity.

So they are confined in the domestic sphere and considered shiftless. Charlie Slatter, essentially the most profitable and powerful farmer of the district on this novel, makes a joke of it: “Needs a person to deal with niggers. Niggers don‘t understand girls giving them orders. They keep their very own girls in their right places”. In such colonial discourse, the black natives, employed whether or not as domestic servants in female sphere or as impoverished agricultural workers, are represented as wild, violent, potential rapists, and threatening the white women who need the white men‘s protection in opposition to the natives. In this way, white patriarchy makes a heroic state of affairs for itself. During the primary scene in which Moses touches Mary, she is alarmed at the sensation and feels certain that it is a prelude to rape. Instead, he pushes her gently on the bed, and covers her toes together with her nightgown. Even within the later scene in which Moses is caught by the Englishman in a moment of scandalously inappropriate contact with Mary, he is caught pulling a costume over her head with “indulgent uxoriousness”.

The insinuations of tenderness, indeed romance between Moses and Mary seem on this second to supply a radical alternative to the prototypical script of rape utilized to all relationships between white girls and black men through the apartheid period. Any doubt as to Moses’s essentially violent nature can additionally be eradicated within the ultimate scenes by which he returns to batter Mary to dying. In the sexual politics of the colonial myth, white girls are victims as the native topics are in the racial politics. A girl who is privileged racially can simultaneously experience gender limitations and class difference inside her personal category, like within the case of Mary Turner. Mary fails to protect her individuality as a outcome of she is not ready to withstand the strong grasp narratives of the false colonial and patriarchal fable of superiority of her culture through the discourse of gender and race which place her firmly in a predetermined position.


Lessing has described the feelings of the characters, particularly of Mary profoundly. The description of Mary, her needs and her conduct, is completed in a rather psychological method proving Mary Turner’s life tragic. She is successfully compelled into marriage by the burden of social expectations and traditions. She never loves her husband, but she is, at least initially, glad to have one, as it makes her “normal”. From the moment she marries, she is engaged in a shedding battle to hold on to her personal identification and survive this marriage. We can distinguish Mary as a sufferer of marginalization. This is principally as a outcome of her needs for development are not thought of by her husband and she plays no function in influencing choices for his or her home. Since she is bewildered by Dick’s house which consists of a corrugated iron roof, zinc bath, skins of animals on purple brick floor – all old and badly maintained, with her own saved cash Mary brings flowered supplies and cushions to make curtains, somewhat linen, crockery and a few dress lengths (61). Further she asks Dick for ceilings over corrugated iron roof however he refuses saying that it will value too much and they may have it accomplished subsequent 12 months in the event that they do nicely (63).

Dick is now as a substitute investing in other things like organising a grocery retailer, growing maize, harvesting beehives, pigs, turkeys, and so forth. that he thinks would help them develop rich much less realizing his spouse felt sick with the heat when she stayed in the house underneath the iron roof. Unfortunately, Dick keeps failing at each attempt of his to enhance their condition. Mary is, on a regular basis, counting cash wasted on Dick’s numerous attempts at completely different jobs which might have improved the situation of their home. Here, Dick has never taken into consideration Mary’s steerage and excluded her from making or influencing his selections earlier than happening with these jobs. We can, hence, distinguish Mary as a victim of marginalization, the marginalized.

Perhaps Mary’s tragedy is all of the deeper on account of the truth that she by no means realizes that the native Africans who should work the farms of the white settlers are just as a lot tragic victims as she is. The natives are deprived of their very own land and looked down with contempt. The black native men are made to serve the white colonies. Much of the discourse across the British colonies in postmodernism is centered on the exploitation of the sources and the individuals from the colonies, resulting in a feeling of racial superiority on the part of the colonizer. This deep-seated racism is clearly evident in Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing as none of the white colonials are sympathetic or even see the Zimbabweans as absolutely human.

Mary too treats all her home boys dreadfully; she despises their carelessness, their laziness, and their failure to pander adequately to her. At one second, when she replaces her sick husband within the fields, she is totally brutal with the black farm hands. However, I really feel that Lessing’s novel is much less involved about displaying the distress felt by the Zimbabweans for the hand they were dealt by the colonial Empire and more about displaying the toll colonialism has on those who don’t belong there. What Lessing is really showing is how damaging the colonial psyche could be when one just isn’t outfitted for it. One is left with a way that when prejudice and false ideas generated by self-interest turn into institutionalized, they cloud the notion of individuals so thoroughly that even the victims are capable of victimizing others.

In spite of its formulaic narrative, The Grass Is Singing has nonetheless been learn as a progressive critique of “injustice, racism, and sexual hypocrisy,” in part because of its open investigation of gender and sexuality. It is thru Mary’s predicaments as a woman and specifically as a member of the working class that The Grass Is Singing opens up doubtlessly radical grounds for sympathy. At first look, Mary’s stereotypical obsession with domesticity combined with scorn for all her black servants recollects Ronald Hyam’s caricature of white girls in the colonies as “[m]oping and sickly, narrowly illiberal, vindictive to the locals, despotic and abusive to their servants”. For some, nonetheless, Mary’s plight is a more realistic and “tragic instance of how hardship and isolation can destroy even essentially the most unbiased of women” (Fishburn 2).

Indeed, her intolerance for her black servants becomes extra complex when read as a displaced resistance against the patriarchal norms of her society. Mary’s belligerence is a transparent projection of her anger in opposition to an unsatisfactory marriage and the oppressive, gendered social norms that led to its existence. Dick’s perspective towards her is never hostile or abusive, but she persistently resents him for issues that she knows he is not able to help, such as his string of financial failures, the insufferable poverty, and the digital absence of any company or leisure on the farm. Even among different white folks, such because the close by Slatter family, Mary feels an excessive amount of pride and humiliation to precise the full depths of her loneliness and despair. It is only in the presence of her black servants that she feels capable of launch the full-blown rage and intolerance that have clearly erupted from elsewhere.

What really killed Mary Turner

Various critics have expressed confusion over why the dialectic should necessarily be resolved by Moses’s homicide of Mary. A reviewer in The Doris Lessing Newsletter requested, “Why does Moses murder Mary?” The TLS queried, “Why does he feel he has to kill her?” and The Listener demanded, “Is this the one attainable outcome?” (11) Lessing leaves Moses’s inside states shrouded in mystery: after his act of homicide, “what thoughts of remorse, or pity, or perhaps even wounded human affection were compounded with the satisfaction of his accomplished revenge, it is unimaginable to say” (206). Equally cryptic is the truth that Mary herself becomes complicit in her own murder, to the extent that she runs towards Moses, positive of the truth that he should kill her. This desire to die is prefaced by an unbearable, tragicomic sense of her South African history.

Shortly earlier than her demise, Mary peruses volumes of books celebrating the legacy of Cecil Rhodes, and she or he laughs long and bitterly, considering absent-mindedly to herself, “But the young man [Moses] would save her” (199). As she lies all the means down to sleep on the night time of the homicide, she “turned her face into the darkness of the pillows, however her eyes have been alive with light, and against the light she noticed a darkish, ready form. … Propelled by fear, but also by information, she rose out of bed, not making a sound” (203). As Mary makes her means onto the veranda, “the bushes stood nonetheless and waited” till lastly Moses seems, and “at the sight of him, her emotions unexpectedly shifted, to create in her a rare feeling of guilt, but in the direction of him, to whom she had been disloyal, and at the bidding of the Englishman” (204). As she opens her mouth to apologize, Moses clasps one hand over her mouth to silence her and with the opposite hacks her head with a blunt instrument. “And then the bush avenged itself: that was her final thought”. Mary’s cognizance of the murder as one compounded by her personal guilt and by vengeance, rather than unwarranted aggression, shows a strange ability to forgive her personal assassin whilst he performs the act that she knows he is compelled to do.

Charles Sarvan argues that Mary’s death has religious and apocalyptic overtones in that she decides “to offer herself as a sacrifice which is ready to both atone for previous crimes and hasten the approaching of the new order”. Well if it came right down to forensics it might be clear that the killer was Moses. But Mary Turner was lengthy gone before Moses took a machete to her. This begs the query then of what actually killed Mary Turner? In my opinion, I would argue that the true killer was the African outback. Lessing’s protagonist Mary spent her complete life in the African colony, and but she never appears to totally belong. She spends the primary half of her life within the city the place she is blissfully and naively happy. Yet, even in the city Mary remains an outsider. Mary belongs to an English community and due to this fact should conform to English requirements for girls. She loves England (despite never having been there) so she performs her civic obligation and jumps into a marriage with a poor farmer residing deep within the African outback. A marriage on the town is nothing like a marriage within the country and Mary rapidly realizes it.

She is uprooted from the life she immensely enjoyed on the town and is planted into a decrepit farm home that’s falling apart around her. The misery she feels about her residing conditions isn’t any match for the true conditions of Africa she sees for the primary time. In the outback, Mary is confronted with the truth of colonialism- the natives- and she can not mentally or bodily stand it. When the natives are far-off working for Dick, Mary can a minimal of barely tolerate residing on the farm. However, when confronted with the natives in her house she unravels. In the African outback this idea of British civilization falls to pieces as a outcome of as Sarah De Mal says in her article “Doris Lessing, Feminism, and the Representation of Zimbabwe, “the omniscient narrator describes how the primary protagonist feels displaced within colonial tradition since her desires and goals are at odds with the prevailing values and guidelines of this culture” (De Mal 36).

What Mary goals of is a life on the town, away from the natives working as a typist in an ordinary workplace residing with other white colonists. Her actuality is way removed from this as she resides with the true colonials whom she resents and despises as being the “other”. And when this “other” characterized by Moses confronts her and invades her space, her mind and her body deteriorates quickly until she resembles merely a shell of a human being. Moses is a direct confrontation of the fantasy Mary has. She envisions herself as an English rose whose purity should not be tainted by the black man. Yet when Moses bodily touches her and confronts her about her angle towards him, Mary falls aside.

By these two acts, Moses has killed her fantasy by forcing her to see him as a human being. Mary can no longer faux she has superiority over him as a white girl. It is that this realization that kills her for after she submits the Moses’ humanity she loses all sanity. Moses only completed the method by ending her bodily life. I believe all in all Moses was the top of Mary. However, it was not his machete that killed her. What killed her was his which is the fact of the colony and the individuals who lived there. Her fantasy of being a real and righteous English woman couldn’t hold up in opposition to the vastness of Africa and this reality broke her spirit and left her as empty as she had envisioned the African outback to be.


Mary Turner is not capable of grasp her own identification because her identity is compounded by the overpowering colonial and gender narratives in which she is knit. The colonial ruling energy dictates that she as a person has to behave based on the terms imposed by her imperial identity. Even her disintegration should be silenced because it threatens the entire authority of the dominant category. Mary fails in her journey of self-quest however she is the heroine of this novel as a end result of she reverses the social, racial and cultural orders of her society although unconsciously. As in Katherine Fishburn‘s words, she is as an “accidental rebel” who at least dissolves the dichotomous orders and consequently reveals for the reader the concern and falsity of the white civilization whose indictment is the division between privileged white and the dispossessed black. (Fishburn 4) Sima Aghazadeh quotes, “by her dying, Mary paves the method in which for the native (Africa/Moses) to take a subjective action”.


She can’t guarantee her own identity since she does not have any antidote to loneliness, poverty and gender limitations, however she foreshadows a change in Imperial attitudes. The Grass is Singing, by way of its round narration from a collective perspective of Mary’s murder to an individual account of her personal life, completes an indictment of its central character’s life in the middle of a closed white colonial society in southern Africa during which the linked discourses of class, race, and gender bring her into exclusion, isolation, break down, and at last to dying. Mary’s failure of individuation is the failure of patriarchy and colonial tradition to fulfill its feminine member to seek out fulfillment inside this establishment.


  1. * Fishburn, Katherine. “The Manichcan Allegories of Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing”, Research in Literature, Vol.25, No.4 Winter I994.
  2. * Wang, Joy. “White postcolonial guilt in Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing.” Research in African Literatures forty.three (2009): 37+. Academic OneFile.Web. 15 Sep. 2012.
  3. * Fishburn, Katherine. “The Manichean Allegories of Doris Lessing’s The Grass Is Singing.” Research in African Literatures 25.4 (1994): 1-15.
  4. * Postcolonial African Writers- A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook – Pushpa Naidu Parekh, Siga Fatima Jagne – Google Books
  5. *
    * Doris Lessing – Writer – -The Grass Is Singing- – Web of Stories –
  6. * The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing –
  7. * The Grass is Singing – Doris Lessing – Review – Life and demise in South Africa –

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