Top positive review
3 people found this helpful
Raw, Mesmerizing, and Powerful
on September 29, 2015
Doris Lessing's debut novel "The Grass is Singing" is a raw, mesmerizing, and powerful indictment of racism in South Africa.
In England, everything is understood in terms of class. In South Africa, everything is understood in terms of race.
Mary, the protagonist, is a poor white, and that affords her the same luxury as a rich white in South Africa. Throughout her twenties, the color of her skin buys her a happy and careless existence, of easy friends who room with her and polite acquaintances who dine her. But it is also her skin -- and the power that comes with it -- that oppresses her as she turns into her thirties. Society demands she must marry, and so she marries a luckless farmer named Dick Turner, who is luckless because he is wedded to romantic notions that are out of step with the power dynamic of the society he lives in. He cares for the soil when his neighbors are so ready to burn it, and he seeks peace with the native laborers who toil on his farm when his neighbors only know how to shout and scream at them.
Into this fraught power dynamic Mary is suddenly thrown in. She is a bit romantic, and she wants badly to love the husband she hardly knows. But she is also a racist, and in the end it is the racism that defines her, and structures and drives her. Her husband lacks her fierce racism, and so Mary can only pity his weakness. Mary knows that his sentimentality -- his connection to the land and to the natives -- is what makes him hopeless. Mary's struggle to impose her racist worldview on her husband is futile, and it damages both irrevocably. Her husband adopts Mary's racist overtones as a compromise, and the webbing that holds together Mary's racism weakens, and begins to disintegrate.
Into the household steps Moses, a semi-literate native. Mary and Moses soon develop a violent repulsion towards each other that becomes a suffocating attraction. Both oppressed by the overriding power dynamic that rules their souls, both becomes slaves to each other. They cannot express their attraction through love, so they must invariably turn to destruction.
"The Grass is Singing" is so lusciously written that it sings. It sings of a majestic music to the land, and a redeeming spirit to the people. But power suffocates and destroys all. The financiers control everything, and the farmers must destroy the land and exploit the natives to feed their addiction to money. Racism is the religion that animates everything, and in so doing corrupts everyone.