Ans. The title of Doris Lessing’s novel, The Grass is Singing, has been taken from a line in T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, The Waste Land, section V (What the Thunder Said).
The Waste Land succeeds eminently in presenting to us the sordidness and degeneration of the early twentieth century Western civilization. The last section of the poem, ‘What the Thunder Said’ marks the end of the wasted time and the beginning of a new life after sacrificial death. It is one of the more jubilant and reviving images used in this section dealing with destruction’s power over growth.
The Grass is Singing is a bleak and terrifying analysis of a failed marriage, the febrile neurosis of white sexuality, and the fear of black power and energy that Lessing saw as underlying the white colonial experience of Africa. The novel shows the tragic decline of Mary and Dick Turner’s fortunes and this becomes a metaphor for the whole white presence in Africa.
The man she marries, after a brief courtship, Dick Turner, is a white farmer struggling to make his farm profitable. She moves with him to his farm and supports the house, while Dick manages the labour of the farm.
When she takes over the running of the Turner farm, she whips one of the natives, and is harsh in treating the workforce. She is impatient with the houseboys who come to work in the kitchen, and is a virtual slave torturer, finding fault with them every time.
The “mission boy” Moses is Mary’s houseboy now. He is the same young man she had lashed across the face with her whip two years ago on the farm. He is polite, gentle and caring. He speaks to her with an “easy familiarity” that Mary resents. Mary develops a fatal sexual relationship with Moses and she starts considering him as a human being, a taboo in the whiteman’s society in colonial Africa.
Moses murders Mary and surrenders himself to the police. He has avenged himself on the Englishman and in the process, he symbolizes the black African’s revenge on the Whiteman for all the insults, humiliation and atrocities heaped on them through centuries. Lessing clearly depicts the racial conflicts between the white farmers and their native workers and also the intrigues and jealousy of the whites among themselves.
The novel thus amply proves the triumph of destruction over growth as indicated by T.S. Eliot in his analysis of the modern civilisation. It also highlights the weaknesses, failures and injustice of the white colonial rule in the dark continent of Africa. Thus, the title of the novel, The Grass is Singing is quite appropriate, for it is set in a parched landscape.
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