TOPIC:: “The role reversal of race and gender in a story of power dynamics.”
The thesis statement which is to guide this essay in the task of analyzing one of the most beloved and revered female novelist Doris Lessing is “The role reversal of race and gender in a story of power dynamics”. It is due to the fact that the timeframe and the thematic alignment of this novel are linked more with the social norms than any other works of Lessing, and this explains the level of depth out of a universal story of rebels and oppressors, intimacy and hatred. The plot of the novel is a chapter wise recounting of the murder of Mary Turner published in a newspaper report article and ends with the recounting of all the events which led to the actual event of the murder. The story is situated in the geographical location of Rhodesia, which is a part of the Union of South Africa. Although the death of Mary Turner bookends both the beginning and the end of this novel, she is not the only important character. There is Dick Turner, the husband of Mary and the owner of the farm. There is Moses, who is the ultimate murdered of Mary. There are other supportive characters scattered throughout this novel, although most of them serve some form of narrative function.
The title of the novel “The Grass is singing” has been taken from TS Eliot’s “The Wasteland”. The poem has been marked for its critical tone towards the achievements and current condition of western society as a whole. Lessing was also quoted once saying, “It is by the failures and misfits of a civilization that one can best judge its weaknesses”. These linking’s justifies the fact that Lessing was more intoned with the prevalent sentiment of her generation and her time. The idea of colonization and its enveloped evils has been a critical and crucial point of attrition for Lessing and has also influenced her contemporaries like Gordimer, Munro and Woolf(Bukhari, 2019). The functionality of the thematic presence of race and gender are thus simply common elements across all of her works. Born in Iran in 1919 under the rule of Great Britain her ideologies and concepts of race, religion, gender and class culture seems to have been mixed in an amalgam which is how some individual might see society as a whole. (BBC.co.uk, 2020)
The novel is narrated from the point of Mary Turner as an extent of the third person narrative performance. The natural beauty of the farm and its surrounding landscape are some of the most intimate and picturesque in proto-feminist literature. The absence of cordiality in the marital life of Mary and Dick she finds solace in the warm embrace of nature. Nevertheless, the reliability of the narrator is something which is a matter of illusion and meta-reality. Mary loves nature, yet on the other side, behaves with the locals, most savagely berating them on every occasion (Herouach, 2019). Her whims and tormenting demeanour result in the loss of works and even house helpers. Although quite literally proceeding the “Women’s Liberation Movement” there is a certain matter of deviation on the part of Lessing if one is to consider the works of her contemporaries (Zhang, 2017).
The characters in this novel are dynamic and three dimensional. Mary and Dick, on many occasions, take definitive decisions which forward the plot. Moses is also shown as a character which embodies the racial sentimentality of the locals and the somehow of nature itself. He takes care of Mary when she is ill in a way that Mary becomes fond of her. However, the idea of racial tension and social role-playing remains the same across the board. The presentation of the primary ideas is folded on itself. Thus role reversal becomes a critical part of the novel. The couple Mary and Dick have different ideas regarding the perception of racial positioning. While Dick is that traditional protagonist who embodies all the critical characteristics which might make him oppressive of the people of colour all around him (Parini, 2018), however, he is quite unmoved by this thought and concentrated with the prospect of farming and the livelihood of himself and his wife. Mary, on the other hand, is quite oppressive of the poor workers on her farm, On a first glace she might be seen as a heinous character who has no moral obligation to the different people of colour around her, but as the story progresses, she is more than that. The deteriorating relationship with her husband and their inability to have a child takes away from their social life (Schwarz, 2016). Unlike Dick, she is also concerned with her external environment and how it affects her as a person. She shows disregard of the fact that the neighbours gossip about her behind her back. Thus we see a form of incessant struggle of the individual and their inner nature and also their external environment; race and gender are simply a part of this inner versus outer struggle. (Dorislessing.org, 2020)
The inability of Mary to adapt to the needs of time is what drives the final blow to her life. She became reliant on her house-help Moses more than she intended to (Heka, 2018). This mixed feeling of dependent and abhorrence is something which is unnatural for her and also for Moses. The struggle she faces is an existential one; having ultimate dominion and control of one’s finality. The struggle of human desire and the fundamental rule is something which defines all of the accounts of conflict of interest in this novel (Schwarz, 2016). Plato said that life itself is a will to power and nothing matter in-between and this can be seen as a great equalizer which controls the life of millions of people irrespective of their gender and race (Parini, 2018). Mary, as a female protagonist, started a contest with natural and natural law itself and nature herself put her in a condition which was inescapable and inevitable.
There are countless novels written by Woolf and Munro which centralizes women and their struggle with a sense of hope and optimism. In doing so, they make certain poetic licenses which deviate from the core requirements of the character and also their innate and inherited needs and desires. Lessing with characters like Mary is successful in cementing the struggle of women in a real-world ridden with class and race differences. The charterers in “The Grass is singing” try to break out of this bond just to be made accountable of their mistake and fallacies by the forces of nature and time, in an incessant power struggle.
Bukhari, Z., 2019. Women as Other: A Comparative Study of A Room of One’s Own and The Grass is Singing. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LINGUISTICS, LITERATURE AND TRANSLATION ISSN, pp.2617-0299. DOI: 10.32996/ijllt.2019.2.3.7
Heka, C., 2018. Dispossession, Postcolonial Ecocriticism, and Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing. ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, 25(4), pp.664-680. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/isle/isy070
Herouach, S., 2019. Psychoanalysis and Literature, Mary’s Character in Lessing’s novel’The Grass is Singing’as a Case Study. International Journal of Contemporary Research and Review, 10(10). DOI: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3472391
Parini, J., 2018. The Grass Is Singing. Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, 18(1), pp.108-109. DOI: 10.1353/scs.2018.0011
Schwarz, B., 2016. The Fact of Whiteness: Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing–a Historian’s Notebook. Journal of Southern African Studies, 42(1), pp.127-136. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2016.1122273
Zhang, Y., 2017. An Interpretation of Mary in the Shadow of Colonialism in Doris Lessing’s–” The Grass Is Singing”. Higher Education Studies, 7(4), pp.55-60. DOI:10.5539/hes.v7n4p55
BBC.co.uk (2020).worldservice, [Online]. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/specials/133_wbc_archive_new/page4.shtml > [Accessed on 18th May 2020]
Dorislessing.org (2020).thegrass, [Online]. Available at http://www.dorislessing.org/thegrass.html > [Accessed on 18th May 2020]