This week we delve into our second primary text of the course which was Doris Lessing’s The Grass Is Singing. Here are my short responses to the “things to think about” question sheet:
1. Dick’s farm is the embodiment of Africa’s alienation to Mary. Mary thrives in a city environment with lots of people, lots of interaction. Dick’s farm is the complete opposite and really drives Mary crazy. Dick, on the other hand, loves the solitude of living on his own farm. From the eyes of Charlie Slatter, he sees Africa as land to capture, to make his own. He has no real connection to Africa except for his ability to own it.
2. I think the novel suggests that black sexuality can become overpowering to the white woman. In Mary’s case, since she gave Moses power, he can use that power over her, even sexually, and she will succumb to it without choice.
3. Marriage, in general, is scary. It only seems less scary because most people partake in it. Mary fears marriage because what she saw her parents go through. They both could have been very happy people if they hadn’t been married to one another, just as Mary would have led a much happier and different life if she hadn’t have married Dick. In terms of the fear of marriage connection to the fear of the black man, I feel like it deals with the inability of turning back or changing things. Once you are married, you are stuck with that person until one of you dies. And once you let the black man have power over you, you can never get it back.
4. Mary is not like anyone else before she married Dick. She may have suffered from different mental ailments, much less alarming and harmful than the ones she developed after being married. She never wanted to get married or be in a romantic relationship or have sex. Mary “was not like that”. She never really grew up.
5. As the author, Lessing does not make Moses and Mary have sex but she does fill pages with sexual undertones. I do not think that perpetuates the myth of sexually potent black males, I think it enhances Mary’s struggle to keep power and adds another element that makes it even harder for Mary to deal with. Is it possible that Mary was actually attracted to Moses even though she was a flaming racist? Perhaps he was the outlet for her sexuality that she never discovered.
6. The Turner’s house symbolizes the idea of being stuck. It is deeper than isolation; it is not only being secluded but being uncomfortable and lacking the inability to change or fix things. Mary tries to make that house better, more comfortable, a place she could live, but it symbolizes the fact that Mary is never at home there, in the house or with Dick on the farm. It emphasizes how just how bad things are.
7. The novel could have been much more exciting or disappointing if Moses’ point of view was mentioned. If Lessing was to fill his mind with developing, deep thoughts, things could have been much different to the reader. If Lessing had chosen to portray him as white people in the novel saw him, it may have seemed a little redundant and would have perpetuated the stereotype of the dumb black man, which few readers today are interested in reading.
8. Mary’s parents’ marriage really screws everything up for Mary. She does everything in her power to avoid being in the position her parent’s were in but ends up in an even worse position. Mary seems to side a little bit more with her mother than with her father. She resents her dad for putting her mom in a situation she could not get out of. Moses put Mary in a situation she could not get out of. She handed her power over to him and she could not get it back. He controlled her, every part of her.
9. Although Mary does not actively take a stand in her and Dick’s finances, she is forced to play a role when he gets sick. I think this quote does apply to Mary because she essentially does lack identity. At the beginning of the novel she was constantly aloof, a true individual. But when people start talking about her, she leaves herself behind and becomes someone she wishes she never was. She takes no responsibility for herself but relies on people around her to decide who she must be. To Dick, she is the idle wife, to Moses, she is his slave.
10. The institution of marriage plays a huge role in this novel. Had Mary’s friends not relied so heavily on the institution of marriage, Mary most likely would have never gotten married and remained content. It is clear that she did not believe in the idea but for a short period forgot why. Marriage made things so difficult for Mary because she felt there was a role she had to play. She could not adapt to it as she pleased. It is almost surprising that she and Dick never had children since it was a common practice among married couples.
11. The causes of Mary’s psychological breakdown include getting married, giving up her life in the city, poverty, losing her identity, her superiority complex with the natives, and her succumbing to Moses.