The Grass is Singing

The Grass is Singing Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the morning Mary wakes up alone. Dick comes into the bedroom in his pajamas shortly after, and they have a “polite and awkward” conversation. An elderly native man enters, and Dick introduces him as Samson. Dick explains that Samson is “not a bad old swine,” but Mary is indignant about Samson’s casual manner. Dick drinks two cups of tea and goes out to work.
Dick and Mary’s different reactions to Samson highlight the perverse and complex relationship between white settlers and native people in Southern Rhodesia. Dick clearly feels a sense of intimacy with Samson, yet expresses that intimacy by saying that Samson is “not a bad old swine”—hardly a real expression of kindness or affection.
Themes
Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Mary walks past Samson, who is cleaning the living room, and goes out onto the veranda. Mary then walks around the house, circling back to find Samson making the beds. As a child, she was forbidden from talking to native people; like “every woman in South Africa,” she was taught to be afraid of them. Samson offers to show Mary the kitchen, where Dick keeps the food under lock and key but silently permits Samson to take a small portion for himself. Samson also shows Mary the plow disc, which is banged in the morning to wake up the workers and again in the middle of the day for the dinner break. Mary goes back inside while Samson prepares breakfast.
Mary, in contrast to Dick, is immediately disdainful of Samson’s informal manner, even though she harbors such intense racist feelings that for most of her life she hasn’t even spoken to native people. This emphasizes the profound hypocrisy and lack of reciprocity that defines the relationship between white settlers and native Africans.
Themes
Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity Theme Icon
Half an hour later Dick returns and begins to shout at Samson in “kitchen kaffir,” the nickname for the language white settlers use to communicate with their black servants. Dick explains to Mary that Samson let the dogs go out into the bush, supposedly because Samson is too lazy to feed them. There are other problems on the farm as well, and Dick is clearly stressed. He leaves straight after breakfast, and before long the dogs come back. Mary attempts some cooking, before sitting down with a handbook of kitchen kaffir in order to make herself comprehensible to Samson.
One of the major racist stereotypes invented by white settlers is that native people are lazy. This is of course a deeply ironic concept, considering that the entire process of colonization is constructed around the exploitation of indigenous people’s labor for the profit of white settlers. However, like all the white characters in the book, Dick is committed to upholding this racist fantasy, even in the case of his relatively genial relationship with Samson.
Themes
Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon