A Post-Colonial Analysis of Doris Lessing’s
The Grass Is Singing
The Grass Is Singing, first published in 1950, was an international success. The story focuses on Mary Turner, the wife of a farmer, who is found murdered on the porch of her home. After her body is found, we are taken back to her younger days and slowly discover what happened to her. The background, location of this story is set in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in South Africa which has been drawn from Doris Lessing’s own childhood spent there. Her first hand knowledge of living on a farm in South Africa shines through in this book. The land, the characters, the farming are all vividly described. Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in 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 mother adapted to the rough life in the settlement, energetically trying to reproduce what was, in her view, a civilized, Edwardian life among savages; but her father did not, and the thousand-odd acres of bush he had bought failed to yield the promised wealth. Similar sequences are presented in the book. Doris Lessing was born Doris May Tayler in Persia (now Iran) on October 22, 1919. She is a great female British writer 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, short 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 an amazing life but didn’t know how to attack it when she started writing a book. She read a newspaper cutting about a white mistress murdered by her black cook, none knows why and he is waiting to be hanged. However, Doris knew perfectly well why he had committed this crime because of 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 dress and brush her hair. It is appalling and awful, she says. It was a violation of the white behavior. But she didn’t behave like a white mistress. She had treated him like a friend and then started treating him like a servant. They were treated abominably. It was said that the white mistresses didn’t know how to treat their servants and obviously it was a sex thing. In African culture, for women to tell a man what to do was impossible. Yet, all these houses had men-servants and the white mistresses spoke to them in high, harassed, angry voice. They couldn’t talk to them like people. The author chooses to start this novel by the end. It begins with a brief newspaper clipping, suggesting the murder of Mary Turner under the headline ‘Murder Mystery’. However, it certainly is not a murder mystery as we are told the suspect has confessed the crime and there is no serious effort to unravel the crime. It is not who but why behind the murder. Lessing’s purpose is quite different. She wants to establish an end point in order to examine the extremely flawed society in which it occurs. The author has given the reader a place, an event and a social problem all before her narrative begins. Lessing wrote two books, one of them at long-hand after returning home to the farm. The other one, in which she made fun of the white culture, was mannered. This helped her to write about 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 treatment of its...
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