The Grass is Singing as a Colonial Novel
The novel highlights a strange, foreboding universe of the 1940s British colonial Rhodesia-miles of the expanding bush country, sparsely populated y white farmer owners and black farm laborers. There is always a kind of silent contempt and hatred between the races-that of the white masters for their servants’ lazy barbaric ways and that of black servant’s for their master’s brutality and cruelty catches the reader’s attention on every page.
Dick and Mary Turner are an isolated, self-exiled couple on a small farm surrounded by the savannah and an incessant insect drone of the grass. The Turners live a life of poor whites in a dilapidated house, employing a score of native blacks helping with the farm work.
Dick and Mary are somewhat cold and distant from each other but are committed to their marriage. Dick and Mary live together an apolitical life mired in poverty. When Dick gets sick Mary takes over the management of the farm and rages at the incompetence of her husband’s farm practice. To Mary, the farm exists only to make money, while Dick goes about farming in a more idealistic way.
Mary is overtly racist, believing that the whites should be masters over the native blacks. Dick and Mary both often complain about the lack of work ethic among the natives that work on their farm. While Dick is rarely cruel to the workers that work for them; Mary is quite cruel. She treats herself as their master and superior. She shows contempt for the natives and finds them disgusting and animal-life. She lets them work harder, reduces their break-time, and arbitrarily takes money from their pay. Her hated of natives results in her whipping the face of a worker because he speaks to her in English, telling he stopped work for a drink of water. This worker, named Moses, comes to be a very important person in Mary’s life when he is taken to be a servant for the house.
As the days pass by, Dick and Mary are seen to be in a condition of deterioration. Mary often suffers from depression. In her frailty, Mary ends up relying more and more on Moses. As she becomes weaker, she finds herself feeling endearment towards Moses. However, Mary is murdered by Moses and act of long simmering revenge for her having struck him and then Moses settles down to await the arrival of the police and his punishment.