Setting of the novel The Grass is Singing

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The Grass Is Singing is a notable literary work by Doris Lessing. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of The Grass Is Singing.


Discuss the setting of the novel The Grass is Singing.

The Grass is Singing” by Doris Lessing (1919-2013) is a novel set in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the mid-20th century. The novel’s setting plays a crucial role in shaping the story and its themes. 

Colonial Southern Rhodesia: The novel is set when Southern Rhodesia was a British colony, and this colonial backdrop greatly influences the story. The racial tensions and hierarchies of this era are central to the narrative. The colonial government and white settlers controlled the land, politics, and economy, while the native African population, depicted as oppressed and marginalized, provided cheap labour on the farms.

The novel explores the stark contrast between the privileged white minority and the disenfranchised black majority, highlighting the racial and social inequalities that defined this period. The oppressive atmosphere of the colony is mirrored in the characters’ lives, particularly Mary Turner, who is trapped in a loveless marriage and a stifling social environment.

The Farm: Most of the novel unfolds on a remote farm in Southern Rhodesia, where Mary Turner and her husband, Dick Turner, live. The farm serves as a microcosm of the larger society. It is a place where the racial dynamics are even more pronounced, as the Turners employ black workers who live in squalor and work in harsh conditions.

The harsh, arid landscape of the farm reflects Mary’s inner turmoil and growing sense of isolation. As the story progresses, the farm symbolizes Mary’s entrapment and descent into madness. The physical and emotional isolation she experiences on the farm contributes to her deteriorating mental state.

The Climate: The novel’s setting in Southern Rhodesia also includes its climate, which plays a significant role in the story. The intense heat and harsh, dry conditions of the African countryside contribute to the oppressive atmosphere of the novel. The unrelenting sun and the constant struggle to cope with the climate mirror Mary’s inner turmoil and gradual descent into madness.

The climate symbolises the unforgiving nature of the colonial society and the characters’ environment. It also underscores the theme of isolation, as the characters are physically and emotionally affected by the harsh conditions.

Rural Isolation: The novel’s rural setting emphasizes the isolation experienced by the characters, particularly Mary. The farm is far from civilization, and Mary has very limited social contact outside her troubled marriage and interactions with the African workers. This isolation intensifies her sense of alienation and loneliness.

It also highlights the racial and social divides of the time, as the white settlers and their black workers lived in separate worlds, rarely interacting on equal terms. Mary’s isolation is a central theme of the novel, exacerbated by the rural setting, which leaves her feeling trapped and abandoned.

The Colonial House: The Turners’ house on the farm represents their status as white landowners and the limitations of their lives. It symbolizes their privilege and the expectations that come with it. However, the house is also a place of confinement for Mary, where she is expected to fulfill the role of a colonial wife.

With its domesticity and routines, the house becomes a prison for Mary, who longs for something more. It is within the confines of this house that the tensions between Mary and Dick reach their breaking point, leading to the tragic events that unfold in the novel.

In conclusion, the setting of “The Grass is Singing” is integral to the novel’s themes and characters. Southern Rhodesia’s colonial society, the farm, the climate, rural isolation, and the colonial house all contribute to the sense of oppression, isolation, and racial tension that pervades the story. Doris Lessing skillfully uses the setting to explore the complexities of colonialism, the human psyche, and the destructive effects of a society built on racial hierarchies. The setting is a backdrop against the characters’ struggles and conflicts, making it a crucial element of the novel’s narrative.