The Grass is Singing

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Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
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Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon

All the characters in The Grass is Singing maintain complex and ambivalent relationships to one another. These relationships are invariably defined by feelings of both intimacy and hatred, which—rather than cancelling each other out—are shown to exist side by side, creating intense conflict and turmoil. The most significant example of this can be found in the relationship between Mary and Moses. Mary has a severely racist, cruel attitude toward all black people, and treats the black farm employees in a sadistic manner. She is especially antagonistic toward Moses, constantly insulting him and forcing him to perform an endless series of pointless tasks. At the same time, Mary is also fascinated by Moses, a fascination that she will not allow herself to openly acknowledge. Toward the end of the novel, it is revealed that she has been forcing Moses to help her with intimate tasks such as getting dressed, leading Tony and Charlie to believe that Mary and Moses are sleeping together. While Moses’s feelings toward Mary are not stated explicitly, his hatred is made obvious by his resentful and defiant attitude toward her. At the same time, he cannot escape the intimacy of the master/servant relationship that inevitably binds him to her. Eventually, the coexistence of both this intense intimacy and hatred reaches an explosive climax in which Moses kills Mary. This suggests that while the dynamic of intimacy and hatred is inevitable in a colonial society, such a dynamic is unsustainable and will eventually erupt into violence.

The relationship between Mary and Moses is far from the only one defined by intimacy and hatred. Mary’s relationship to her husband, Dick, is similarly ambivalent, and both mirrors and contrasts with her relationship with Moses. Like Moses, Dick is deferential to Mary, obeying her wishes even when they conflict with his own desires. Mary feels more affection and respect for Dick than she does for Moses, but is repulsed by him sexually and comes to regret marrying him. The early intimacy in Mary and Dick’s relationship turns to hatred as Mary becomes increasingly harsh and stubborn, while Dick is weakened due to poverty and illness. Although Dick survives his illness, Mary has a dream in which he is dead, suggesting that part of her may wish this were true, and that in some sense their relationship—like Mary’s relationship with Moses—is too emotionally turbulent to survive. The combination of intimacy and hatred is again shown to lead to death—first on a symbolic level, and then on a literal one.

It is not only intimacy with Dick that fills Mary with disgust. She seems to hate the idea of any physical intimacy, and the narrator points out that, up until the point at which Moses pushes her, Mary has never touched a native African. (Of course, after this point Mary does allow Moses to touch her, such as when he helps her to get dressed. Mary’s willingness to consent to touching Moses in these moments is part of the mystery of their relationship.) Mary’s extreme resistance to physical intimacy is partially explained by moments at which she dreams of being sexually abused by her father. When Mary dreams that Dick has died, the figure of Moses comforting her transforms into Mary’s father, “menacing and horrible, who touched her with desire.” This moment suggests that, due to being abused as a child, Mary cannot differentiate between affection and violation. She thus comes to hate anyone who comes into intimate contact with her, and even hates witnessing moments of intimacy between other people, such as the black mothers and babies.

In a broader sense, the colonial landscape of Southern Rhodesia is also defined by currents of intimacy and hatred that exist between the white colonizer and black indigenous populations. Although built on a strict racial hierarchy, colonial societies nonetheless depend on intimate interactions between the colonizers and the colonized. Examples of these moments of intimacy include indigenous people serving as white people’s house servants, nannies, and prostitutes, as well as the high levels of sexual violence perpetrated by the settler population (a phenomenon that is briefly alluded to in the novel). All of the white characters express racist hatred to some degree; even Tony, who is the least prejudiced of the white characters, is forced to assimilate into the racist mindset that governs the lives of white Rhodesians. After coming to suspect that Mary is having an affair with Moses, Charlie insists that Dick take Mary away in order to separate her from Moses. Although Mary is not Charlie’s wife, he feels it is his personal responsibility to prevent intimacy between the races, and in doing so protect the colonial racial order.

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Intimacy vs. Hatred ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Intimacy vs. Hatred appears in each Chapter of The Grass is Singing. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Intimacy vs. Hatred Quotes in The Grass is Singing

Below you will find the important quotes in The Grass is Singing related to the theme of Intimacy vs. Hatred.
Chapter 1 Quotes

It was a farming district, where those isolated white families met only very occasionally, hungry for contact with their own kind, to talk and discuss and pull to pieces, all speaking at once, making the most of an hour or so's companionship before returning to their farms where they saw only their own faces and the faces of their black servants for weeks on end.

Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel has opened with the news of Mary Turner’s murder, which has been published in a newspaper under the headline “Murder Mystery.” The narrator has noted that white settlers expect native people to commit crimes, and that the people who know the Turners do not discuss the murder. In this passage, the narrator explains that the white families in the Turners’ farming district rarely see each other, and when they do, they are very eager to have contact with other white people.

As the narrator indicates, these white settlers suffer from loneliness, yet this loneliness is not intense enough for them to breach the racial barrier dividing them from the black people they live among. Indeed, the narrator’s words suggest that white settlers do not think of black people as socially relevant, and perhaps not even as really human. The isolation and loneliness of settler life is simply the price that white people pay in order to gain the financial rewards of colonialism and to maintain the colonial racial hierarchy.


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Long before the murder marked them out, people spoke of the Turners in the hard, careless voices reserved for misfits, outlaws and the self-exiled. The Turners were disliked, though few of their neighbors had ever met them, or even seen them in the distance. Yet what was there to dislike? They simply "kept themselves to themselves"; that was all.

Related Characters: Mary Turner , Dick Turner
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has explained that although the murder is something that would usually have been intensively discussed among the community in which the Turners live, for some reason their neighbors silently agreed not to talk about it. In this passage, the narrator offers an explanation why the neighbors seemed somewhat disinterested in the case. Rather than respecting the Turners’ decision to keep to themselves, the neighbors are offended by the couple’s self-imposed exile and condemn them for it. This conveys the strict social norms that govern white communities in Southern Rhodesia. Violating these norms—even by something as simple as declining social invitations—leads to harsh punishment, whereby the offenders are alienated from their neighbors, the only other white people in the vicinity.

Most of these young men were brought up with vague ideas about equality. They were shocked, for the first week or so, by the way natives were treated… They had been prepared to treat them as human beings. But they could not stand out against the society they were joining. It did not take them long to change. It was hard, of course, becoming as bad oneself. But it was not very long that they thought of it as "bad." And anyway, what had one's ideas amounted to? Abstract ideas about decency and goodwill, that was all: merely abstract ideas. When it came to the point, one never had contact with natives, except in the master-servant relationship. One never knew them in their own lives, as human beings.

Related Characters: Tony Marston
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Slatter has arrived at the Turners’ house following the murder of Mary, and Tony Marston has explained how he found Mary’s body and added that he doesn’t know anything about the murder. Tony is a well-educated young man who has recently arrived in Southern Rhodesia from England. Like other men of the same background, he shares the comparatively progressive ideas when it comes to matters of race relations. However, this attitude does not last long in Southern Rhodesia, where brutal racism is commonplace and where black people are not considered to be fully valuable or three-dimensional beings. In the face of this new status quo, most of these “progressive” young men give up their ideals and soon start acting just as the other white settlers do.

The irony of this lies in the fact that white people in Southern Rhodesia have far more contact with black people (and contact of a far more intimate nature) than most white Englishmen. White people are the minority in Southern Rhodesia, and settlers depend on native people for doing everything from working their fields to cooking their meals. Yet as this passage indicates, this intimacy does not breed affection or even tolerance. Rather, it encourages white settlers to embrace their status as natural “masters” over black people, and to see black people in a negative, stereotypical light.

To live with the color bar in all its nuances and implications means closing one's mind to many things, if one intends to remain an accepted member of society. But, in the interval, there would be a few brief moments when he would see the thing clearly, and understand that it was “white civilization” fighting to defend itself that had been implicit in the attitude of Charlie Slatter and the Sergeant, “white civilization” which will never, never admit that a white person, and most particularly, a white woman, can have a human relationship, whether for good or for evil, with a black person. For once it admits that, it crashes, and nothing can save it.

Related Characters: Charlie Slatter, Tony Marston, Sergeant Denham
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Tony has attempted to tell Slatter and Sergeant Denham about his theory of why Mary was murdered, but the two men have resisted listening to him. As the men prepare to depart for the police station, Tony begins to realize why Slatter and the Sergeant did not want to hear his story. The idea that Mary had a relationship with Moses violates the “color bar”—the racial hierarchy governing Southern Rhodesian society—in such an extreme way that it must be kept quiet at all costs. One of the most important ideas within racist logic is that white women need to be protected from the supposedly brutal lust of black men. If the men admit that Mary willingly had a relationship with Moses, they would be undermining one of the key principles behind the colonial order, and that order could then have the fragile, racist lie at its heart exposed and thus come “crashing” down.

If you must blame somebody, then blame Mrs. Turner. You can't have it both ways. Either the white people are responsible for their behavior, or they are not. It takes two to make a murder––a murder of this kind. Though, one can't really blame her either. She can't help being what she is.

Related Characters: Mary Turner , Tony Marston
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

As Moses is taken away, Tony considers whether or not he should try to be honest about what he has seen and why he thinks Mary was murdered (neither of which have been expressed in the text). He wonders whether Slatter and Denham would even be prepared to listen to him, and in this passage imagines what he would say to them given the chance. His thoughts here are rather mysterious and self-contradictory. He tells himself that Mary is to blame for her own death and suggests that white people need to be held accountable for their actions, rather than being protected by the racial hierarchy of Southern Rhodesian society. However, he then changes his mind and asserts that Mary should not be blamed, because “she can’t help being what she is.”

Yet what does Tony mean by “what she is”? Perhaps this refers to her relationship with Moses, which Tony and the other white characters might easily conceptualize as a kind of symptom or product of a mental disorder. On the other hand, perhaps Tony means that Mary couldn’t help being so cruel to the native people she lived among, since she was a white woman in a colonial society, and particularly a white woman forced to live in impoverished, isolated conditions with a husband who refused to give her any children. It is also possible that Tony means something else entirely, and that the answer will be revealed later in the novel.

Chapter 2 Quotes

"Class" is not a South African word; and its equivalent, "race," meant to her the office boy in the firm where she worked, other women's servants, and the amorphous mass of natives in the streets, whom she hardly noticed. She knew (the phrase was in the air) that the natives were getting "cheeky." But she had nothing to do with them really. They were outside her orbit.

Related Characters: Mary Turner
Page Number: 32-33
Explanation and Analysis:

Mary has been living a remarkably free and independent existence in town, and she has no idea how lucky she truly is in comparison to most women in the world. In particular, she has no idea how unlikely it is that she, the daughter of “a petty railway official,” should now find herself living a comfortable, leisure-filled, and financially independent life. As this passage explains, Mary’s ignorance on this front is the result of the fact that she has spent all of her life in southern Africa. Back in England, society is strictly delineated and determined according to class boundaries. In southern Africa, however, all white people (and especially those of English descent) occupy a position of blanket privilege above the indigenous black population.

As this passage indicates, Mary is almost as ignorant of the black population as she is of matters of class. Although there are black people all around her, it is as if they are invisible to her. The racial hierarchy is so rigid that Mary can go about her life as if black people do not exist—despite living in an African country with a majority black population.

Chapter 3 Quotes

It meant nothing to her, nothing at all. Expecting outrage and imposition, she was relieved to find she felt nothing. She was able maternally to bestow the gift of herself on this humble stranger, and remain untouched. Women have an

extraordinary ability to withdraw from the sexual relationship, to immunize themselves against it, in such a way that their men can be left feeling let down and insulted without having anything tangible to complain of.

Related Characters: Mary Turner , Dick Turner
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

After getting married, Dick and Mary have arrived at Dick’s farm. Following a brief conversation, they have sex, which is not as bad as Mary worried it would be. In this passage, Mary reflects on the experience, which she feared would be far worse than was actually the case. At the same time, Mary feels numb and disconnected from Dick; rather than bringing them together, having sex for the first time isolates them, concealing them within their own respective worlds.

The narrator suggests that this is not simply the result of Mary’s personal aversion to sex, but rather symptomatic of a broader phenomenon of women cutting themselves off from their own sexual lives. Although the narrator does not say so explicitly, this seems to be a self-protective gesture, a way for women to insulate themselves from the vulnerability and violence that are bound up with sexuality in a sexist world.

Chapter 5 Quotes

"Of course he's lying," said Dick irritably. "Of course. That is not the point. You can't keep him against his will."
"Why should I accept a lie!" said Mary. "Why should I? Why can't he say straight out that he doesn't like working for me, instead of lying about his kraal?"
Dick shrugged, looking at her with impatience; he could not understand her unreasonable insistence: he knew how to get on with natives; dealing with them was a sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying game in which both sides followed certain unwritten rules.

Related Characters: Mary Turner , Dick Turner
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

Mary has docked Samson’s pay due to the fact that he stole some raisins, and shortly after this Samson hands in his notice, claiming that he is needed in his kraal. Mary protests to Dick that this is a lie, but in this passage Dick responds that it doesn’t matter. As the narrator explains, Dick views his interactions with native people as a “game” with “certain unwritten rules.” One of these rules is that white people do not require absolute honesty from black workers, and thus Dick does not mind that Samson lies about being needed on his kraal.

In fact, Samson’s lie is preferable to him admitting the truth, which is that being employed by Mary is too unbearable for him to continue. Within the racist society in which the novel is set, black people must constantly navigate a maze of what is considered appropriate behavior by whites. Samson’s lie is therefore an act of courtesy, an acknowledgment of the fact that telling the truth would be considered rude. Mary, however, does not understand this. She has not interacted with black people enough to know about this complex web of “unwritten rules.” Furthermore, her demand for honesty conveys her thirst for power and a sense of absolute authority.

“If you must do these things, then you must take the consequences,” said Dick wearily. “He’s a human being, isn't he? He's got to eat. Why must that bath be done all at once? It can be done over several days, if it means all that to you.”
“It’s my house,” said Mary. “He's my boy, not yours. Don't interfere.”
“Listen to me,” said Dick curtly, “I work hard enough, don't I? All day I am down on the lands with these lazy black savages, fighting them to get some work out of them. You know that. I won't come back home to this damned fight, fight, fight in the house. Do you understand? I will not have it. And you should learn sense. If you want to get work out of them you have to know how to manage them. You shouldn't expect too much. They are nothing but savages after all.” Thus Dick, who had never stopped to reflect that these same savages had cooked for him better than his wife did, had run his house, had given him a comfortable existence, as far as his pinched life could be comfortable, for years.

Related Characters: Mary Turner (speaker), Dick Turner (speaker), The Servant
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

Mary has forced her unnamed servant to spend hours cleaning the bathtub without food, and the servant has handed in his notice. Dick has told the servant that if he keeps working for them, Mary will treat him better; this then causes an explosive argument between Dick and Mary. Their argument brings up many of the key sources of conflict not only within their relationship, but within the novel as a whole. Firstly, there is the question of racial injustice. Dick urges Mary not to treat their workers with such sadistic cruelty—yet it is clear that both Dick and Mary harbor extremely racist viewpoints, conveyed by the fact that Dick calls black people “savages” and stereotypes them as lazy and difficult to work with.

While Dick’s view of the “savage” indigenous population of Southern Rhodesia is a more paternalistic one, leading him to urge Mary not to be so harsh on them, it is clear he does not think of black people as full human beings. Many would argue that this kind of paternalism is thus no better than Mary’s more brutal attitude, because both cases reduce people to a less-than-human status, which paves the way for exploitation and abuse. The narrator also points out the irony of Dick’s insistence that black people are “lazy savages,” given that black workers have been the only factor providing him with a modicum of comfort in life. The final sentence of this passage also emphasizes the intensely intimate contact between white settlers and black people—contact that does little to mitigate the settlers’ racist attitudes.

Chapter 6 Quotes

If she disliked native men, she loathed the women. She hated the exposed fleshiness of them, their soft brown bodies and soft bashful faces that were also insolent and inquisitive, and their chattering voices that held a brazen fleshy undertone. She could not bear to see them sitting there on the grass, their legs tucked under them in that traditional timeless pose, as peaceful and uncaring as if it did not matter whether the store was opened, or whether it remained shut all day and they would have to return tomorrow. Above all, she hated the way they suckled their babies, with their breasts hanging down for everyone to see; there was something in their calm satisfied maternity that made her blood boil. "Their babies hanging on to them like leeches," she said to herself shuddering, for she thought with horror of suckling a child. The idea of a child’s lips on her breasts made her feel quite sick; at the thought of it she would involuntarily clasp her hands over her breasts, as if protecting them from a violation. And since so many white women are like her, turning with relief to the bottle, she was in good company, and did not think of herself, but rather of these black women, as strange; they were alien and primitive creatures with ugly desires she could not bear to think about.

Related Characters: Mary Turner
Related Symbols: The Store
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

Against Mary’s will, Dick has opened a “kaffir store” on the farm, which Mary has agreed to run with great reluctance. Every day, a group of native women come to sit outside the store with their children, and this passage details Mary’s perverse sense of disgust and hatred at the sight of these women. Clearly, Mary’s views emerge not only from racist ideology, but also from internalized misogyny. She finds the women’s naked bodies, including natural bodily functions such as breastfeeding, repulsive. The moment when Mary clasps her hands over her own breasts shows that she does not wish to feel personally implicated in the vision of womanhood that these women represent.

Mary’s misogynistic and racist feelings about the women are thus deeply intertwined; she wishes to distance herself from the aspects of womanhood that she (and society at large) finds “disgusting,” and does so by insisting on the essential difference between herself, a “civilized” white woman, and the “primitive” black women before her. Of course, in reality this distinction is meaningless. Mary’s body is no less female than the bodies of the native women, and there is nothing disgusting about femininity, sexuality, or maternity. Mary has simply been conditioned—both by society at large and events in her personal life—to feel repulsed by her own body and desires. It is for this reason that she finds the “peaceful” naturalness and comfort of the native women in their own skin so offensive—because she has been denied it herself.

Chapter 7 Quotes

For although their marriage was all wrong, and there was no real understanding between them, he had become accustomed to the double solitude that any marriage, even a bad one, becomes.

Related Characters: Mary Turner , Dick Turner
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

After running away from the farm, Mary has come back and, in the coolness of winter, has returned almost to the level of vitality she exhibited before getting married. Dick is now gentler with her, fearing that she will run away again. At this point there can be no denying that their marriage is highly dysfunctional, and makes both of them miserable in different ways. However, the narrator suggests that this does not make their marriage exceptional, but rather fairly normal. The narrator argues that all marriages end up becoming units of “double solitude.” Rather than bringing two people together into a shared experience of the world, marriage often isolates people into their own private worlds. Rather than relieving Dick’s loneliness, his marriage has in fact enhanced it.

Chapter 8 Quotes

A white person may look at a native, who is no better than a dog. Therefore she was annoyed when he stopped and stood upright, waiting for her to go, his body expressing his resentment of her presence there. She was furious that perhaps he believed she was there on purpose; this thought, of course, was not conscious; it would be too much presumption, such unspeakable cheek for him to imagine such a thing, that she would not allow it to enter her mind; but the attitude of his still body as he watched her across the bushes between them, the expression on his face, filled her with anger.

Related Characters: Mary Turner , Moses
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

Unable to find a house servant, Dick has decided to bring Moses from the field to work in the house. Mary has taken to watching Moses as he performs his housework, and one day she notices him washing himself outside. When he sees her, he pauses, waiting for her to go, which offends Mary, who believes she has a right to look at him. This passage details Mary’s thoughts in this moment, which are colored by the extreme racist ideology that has led her to treat native people so badly. Furthermore, her racist mindset has also convinced her that even Moses’ self-respect and modesty are a personal affront to her, because she—as a white woman—has an absolute entitlement to him, even in private moments such as when he washes himself.

Of course, there is also an important subtext to this passage regarding Mary’s fascination with Moses. It is clear from the strained anger within Mary’s thoughts that she wants to be able to look at Moses without him looking back at her. In this sense, she objectifies him, and is affronted when he reasserts his humanity in the face of this objectification. Although Mary will not admit it to herself, she clearly feels a kind of desire for Moses—whether sexual or otherwise. When he looks back at her and waits for her to look away, he forces her to confront the reality of this desire, which makes Mary furious.

What had happened was that the formal pattern of black-and-white, mistress-and-servant, had been broken by the personal relation; and when a white man in Africa by accident looks into the eyes of a native and sees the human being (which it is his chief preoccupation to avoid), his sense of guilt, which he denies, fumes up in resentment and he brings down the whip. She felt that she must do something, and at once, to restore her poise. Her eyes happened to fall on a candlebox under the table, where the scrubbing brushes and soap were kept, and she said to the boy: “Scrub this floor.” She was shocked when she heard her own voice, for she had not known she was going to speak. As one feels when in an ordinary social conversation, kept tranquil by banalities, some person makes a remark that strikes below the surface, perhaps in error letting slip what he really thinks of you, and the shock sweeps one off one's balance, causing a nervous giggle or some stupid sentence that makes everyone present uncomfortable, so she felt: she had lost her balance; she had no control over her actions.

Related Characters: Mary Turner , Moses
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

Moses has caught Mary watching him wash. When he returns to the house, his presence flusters Mary, who is angered and embarrassed by Moses’s knowledge of her interest in him. In this passage, she attempts to restore the previous dynamic of their relationship by ordering him to perform unnecessary tasks in an unduly harsh manner. This is, of course, not the first time that Mary has used this tactic as a way of (re)asserting her authority to the native workers on the farm; in fact, she has done the same thing with different workers throughout the book. However, there is now a distinctly sexual undertone to Mary’s demands. The intimacy of her relationship with Moses, which always existed on some level, has reached an overwhelming intensity that clearly frightens Mary.

It is important that the narrator compares Mary’s feeling of having “lost her balance” to “an ordinary social conversation.” This comparison reveals the fact that Mary has breached the colonial mandate that white people not think of black people as full human beings with their own social significance. According to racist ideology, Mary should not care what Moses thinks of her. The fact that she cares deeply—so much that she feels entirely out of control of her actions—highlights the scandal of her feelings about him.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Then he carefully took the glass from her, put it on the table, and, seeing that she stood there dazed, not knowing what to do, said: “Madame lie down on the bed.” She did not move. He put out his hand reluctantly, loathe to touch her, the sacrosanct white woman, and pushed her by the shoulder; she felt herself gently propelled across the room towards the bedroom. It was like a nightmare where one is powerless against horror: the touch of this black man's hand on her shoulder filled her with nausea; she had never, not once in her whole life, touched the flesh of a native. As they approached the bed, the soft touch still on her shoulder, she felt her head beginning to swim and her bones going soft. “Madame lie down,” he said again, and his voice was gentle this time, almost fatherly.

Related Characters: Moses (speaker), Mary Turner
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

Moses has told Mary that he wants to leave at the end of the month, and Mary has shocked herself by bursting into tears and begging him not to go. Moses offers her a glass of water and then tells her to go lie down, even gently pushing her toward the bed. In this passage, it is clear that their dynamic has changed in an extraordinary and fundamental manner. Moses knows that he could be killed for touching “the sacrosanct white woman,” but nonetheless does so in a reluctant but fearless manner. Mary, meanwhile, has lost all trace of her brutal authority and simply obeys Moses’s commands.

The fact that the narrator describes Moses speaking in a “fatherly” voice further confirms how unusual their dynamic has now become. Within colonial ideology, the relationship between white women and black men is conceptualized in only two ways: master and servant, and prey and predator. The notion that Moses could take on a kind yet authoritative role within Mary’s life is, within the racist mentality of the time, totally unthinkable.

He approached slowly, obscene and powerful, and it was not only he, but her father who was threatening her. They advanced together, one person, and she could smell, not the native smell, but the unwashed smell of her father. It filled the room, must, like animals; and her knees went liquid as her nostrils distended to find clean air and her head became giddy. Half-conscious, she leaned back against the wall for support, and nearly fell through the open window. He came near and put his hand on her arm. It was the voice of the African she heard. He was comforting her because of Dick's death, consoling her protectively; but at the same time it was her father menacing and horrible, who touched her in desire.

Related Characters: Mary Turner , Dick Turner, Moses, Mary’s Father
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

Dick has contracted malaria, and Moses and Mary have been sharing the task of taking care of him at night. Mary has been reluctant to fall asleep while Moses is there, and when she does she has a series of vivid, terrifying nightmares. This passage describes a moment in one of these nightmares in which Mary sees her father approaching her—and her father then transforms into Moses. Mary’s visceral repulsion at the memory of her father’s smell, along with her fear of him touching her “in desire,” strongly suggests that Mary’s father sexually abused her when she was a child. Although this is not noted explicitly in the rest of the novel, it is possible that Mary herself has suppressed the memory, and thus only experiences it in an unconscious state.

Mary’s dream consciousness also makes clear for the first time that she does harbor fantasies about having a physically intimate relationship with Moses, even if these fantasies are marred by her racist dehumanization of black people, trauma, and repulsion at sexuality. Although Moses and her father are nothing alike, they morph into one figure as a result of their shared gender and authority within Mary’s life. This arguably helps explain why Mary chose the weak, skinny, and passive Dick to be her husband; as a non-dominant and non-threatening man, Dick does not frighten Mary through reminding her of her father.

It’s also worth noting that in the dream, Moses’s “native smell,” a notion often used as a racist stereotype for white people to make black people seem more animal-like, is then replaced by Mary’s (white) father’s smell, which is explicitly described as “must, like animals.” This juxtaposition reinforces the idea that such stereotypes are not based in the reality of individuals, but rather in hierarchies of power and exploitation.

He said easily, familiarly, "Why is Madame afraid of me?"
She said half-hysterically, in a high-pitched voice, laughing nervously: "Don't be ridiculous. I am not afraid of you."
She spoke as she might have done to a white man, with whom she was flirting a little. As she heard the words come from her mouth, and saw the expression on the man's face, she nearly fainted. She saw him give her a long, slow, imponderable look: then turn, and walk out of the room.

Related Characters: Mary Turner (speaker), Moses (speaker)
Page Number: 189-190
Explanation and Analysis:

Mary has had a nightmare in which both her father and Moses, morphed into the same figure, are approaching her in a seemingly sexual manner. She wakes up screaming, and finds Moses standing over her with a tray of tea. Moses’s direct question to Mary about why she is afraid of him then provides further evidence of the extent to which their relationship has changed. Moses now completely ignores the rules of propriety governing interactions between white settlers and native workers. Instead, he seems to want to understand Mary as a person. Mary, meanwhile, has also changed the way she interacts with Moses, addressing him in a coquettish way.

However, the shift in their relationship seems to be pushing Mary into a state of madness. Her “half-hysterical” disposition suggests that though she treats Moses in a familiar, flirtatious manner, she remains deeply—indeed, increasingly—afraid of him, and afraid of her own conflicting feelings about him.

Chapter 10 Quotes

He had been in the country long enough to be shocked; at the same time his "progressiveness" was deliciously flattered by this evidence of white ruling-class hypocrisy. For in a country where colored children appear plentifully among the natives wherever a lonely white man is stationed, hypocrisy, as Tony defined it, was the first thing that had struck him on his arrival. But then, he had read enough about psychology to understand the sexual aspect of the color bar, one of whose foundations is the jealousy of the white man for the superior sexual potency of the native; and he was surprised at one of the guarded, a white woman, so easily evading this barrier. Yet he had met a doctor on the boat coming out, with years of experience in a country district, who had told him he would be surprised to know the number of white women who had relations with black men. Tony felt at the time that he would be surprised; he felt it would be rather like having a relation with an animal, in spite of his "progressiveness."

Related Characters: Mary Turner , Moses, Tony Marston
Page Number: 213-214
Explanation and Analysis:

While getting himself water from the house, Tony has witnessed Moses helping Mary to get dressed, and has come to believe that they are having an affair. He sits down, reeling. The Southern Rhodesian/British imperialist in him is shocked that such an affair could take place; however, his more racially progressive side reminds him that it is very common for white men to have sex with black women. This passage outlines the full extent of Tony’s mixed feelings and beliefs about the possibility of Mary and Moses sleeping together. Even though he understands the hypocrisy of the way in which relations between black men and white women are treated, he cannot shake the racist ideology that teaches him to regard black men as sinister, predatory, and animalistic beings from whom white women must be protected at all costs. Indeed, it is this belief that is one of the “foundations” of white supremacist society.

"It’s not customary in this country, is it?" he asked slowly, out of the depths of his complete bewilderment. And he saw, as he spoke, that the phrase "this country," which is like a call to solidarity for most white people, meant nothing to her. For her, there was only the farm; not even that––there was only this house, and what was in it. And he began to understand with a horrified pity, her utter indifference to Dick; she had shut out everything that conflicted with her actions, that would revive the code she had been brought up to follow.

Related Characters: Tony Marston (speaker), Mary Turner , Dick Turner, Moses
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

After witnessing Moses helping Mary to get dressed, Tony has confronted Mary about the matter. He asks her if Moses always dresses and undresses her, and when she replies that he needs the extra work, Tony goes on to note that such an arrangement is not “customary” in this country. In making this remark, Tony is made aware of just how cut off Dick and Mary are from the society around them. Their isolation—both in the sense of their physical distance from their neighbors and their self-imposed social exile—has left them with little understanding of normality. Indeed, this helps to explain the perverse dynamics that exist at the Turners’ farm, including Mary’s highly unusual, intimate relationship with Moses.

Chapter 11 Quotes

When the dark returned he took his hand from the wall, and walked slowly off through the rain towards the bush. Though what thoughts of regret, or pity, or perhaps even wounded human affection were compounded with the satisfaction of his completed revenge, it is impossible to say. For, when he had gone perhaps a couple of hundred yards through the soaking bush he stopped, turned aside, and leaned against a tree on an ant heap. And there he would remain, until his pursuers, in their turn, came to find him.

Related Characters: Moses
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

The night before she and Dick are due to leave the farm, Mary wakes up and goes to stand out on the veranda. Moses approaches and kills her with a single stab wound. This passage, the final paragraph of the novel, describes Moses’s feelings as he walks away from Mary’s dead body. It is the only moment in the narrative that comes close to exploring Moses’s subjectivity and inner life, although this remains obscured by the narrator’s statement that it is “impossible to say” what he is really feeling. Moses’s decision to wait nearby the house before turning himself remains similarly mysterious. Does he confess to the crime out of a sense of moral duty? Does he believe that he will be found and arrested regardless, and that he therefore might as well surrender?

Alternatively, it is possible that he turns himself in as a result of apathy in the face of the vast injustice of colonialism. Indeed, it is this final explanation that seems to fit best with Moses’s behavior in the rest of the novel. Up until this point, he has always greeted Mary’s abuse with a mix of fearlessness and blank acceptance. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that he should react in the same way after murdering her.