The Grass is Singing

The Grass is Singing Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After making her case about the future of the farm, Mary withdraws, knowing that the more she nags Dick the more she hates him. She needs to feel that he is strong and decisive, and even when she notices that he is again spending money in an unwise manner, she forces herself to ignore it. Mary busies herself with the chickens and her “ceaseless struggle with the servants,” all the while daydreaming about a life in the city, back at the club and working in her old office. She sleeps for hours every day, purposefully wasting time. She asks after the tobacco, feigning nonchalance but unable to hide her excitement.
At the beginning of this chapter, Mary is sinking further and further into delusion. Instead of revealing her true feelings to Dick, she takes out her frustration on the servants, who she is able to manipulate, exploit, and abuse without consequence. This allows her to preserve the idea that Dick is strong-willed and masculine, another fantasy that does not correspond to real life. Furthermore, by spending as much time as possible sleep and dreaming about a life back in town that she knows is realistically unavailable to her, Mary insists on denying the reality of the world around her. It does not seem to matter that she is sleeping her life away, as she is in a state of denial that this life is even real.
Themes
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Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity Theme Icon
The rains come as usual in December, but in January there is a drought, and the tobacco plants wither and die. They will not be able to make enough money to cover expenses, and Dick applies for a loan in order to avoid declaring bankruptcy. Mary pleads with him to build another 12 barns, arguing that other farms have far larger debts than they. However, Dick refuses to borrow any more money.
For once Dick’s failure actually seems to come from bad luck, rather than his own incompetency or delusion. This natural disaster has devastating consequences for the couple’s rapidly dwindling hopes.
Themes
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
It takes time for Mary to realize what this means; they will not be able to leave the farm for years, if ever. She grimly forces herself to stop daydreaming, and she considers taking up more sewing or getting more chickens, but cannot find the motivation to do so. She begins to suffer from headaches and looks “really very unhealthy.” Dick suggests that since they cannot afford to send her on holiday, perhaps she can go and visit friends in town—however, the idea of her friends seeing her in this state fills her with horror.
Mary’s life grows ever more depressing and constrictive, but she only reacts by further withdrawing into herself and isolating herself from others (as well as, of course, lashing out at the native people and Dick).
Themes
Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity Theme Icon
One day, Mary asks Dick when they can have children, but Dick sadly responds that they are too poor. He points out that Charlie’s assistant is raising 13 children on £12 a month, and that the family is miserable; Mary nonetheless pleads just for one child. Even though she hates the idea of a baby depending on her, she is desperate to have something to do. The thought of a baby is awful, but she wouldn’t mind having a “little girl companion.” She and Dick argue about school fees, and Mary points out that she is almost 40 and soon won’t be able to have a child at all. Yet Dick maintains that they cannot have one.
There is a distinct contrast between Mary’s real age—and with it her sudden maternal ambitions—and the way she behaves, often acting like a stubborn child. Even Mary’s desire to become a mother is laced with delusion. She dreams of having a little girl companion, ignoring the possibility that she might have a boy or the certainty that she would have to take care of it as a baby, a prospect she finds repulsive. On the other hand, Dick’s refusal to have a child also seems somewhat unfair. As Mary points out, there is a very limited number of years in which it would be possible for her to get pregnant. Thus a surprising point of similarity between Mary and Dick is the extent to which they live in denial of the passage of time.
Themes
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Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity Theme Icon
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This period of time is miserable for Mary. She marvels at Dick’s niceness and his utter lack of force, and wonders how he came to be that way. He’d been raised in the suburbs of Johannesburg by parents who are now both dead. He had worked in an office for a while and briefly trained to be a vet, before ending up in Southern Rhodesia. Mary cannot believe that “such a good man should be a failure,” and one day suggests that next year he plant mealies (another name for maize) everywhere he can, rather than the small patches he currently uses. Dick explodes with frustration, asking how he can pull it off when labor is so hard to come by, particularly after Mary’s treatment of the workers. He then begins to rage against the government, which is full of “nigger-lovers,” and the native people themselves, who he claims are disrespectful and lazy.
In a scenario typical of a dysfunctional marriage, both Dick and Mary have come to blame each other for the problems in their life together. Mary believes that Dick’s personality makes him ill-suited to farming, and tries to help with the decision-making in order to improve the chances of success on the farm. Dick, meanwhile, blames Mary’s mistreatment of their native employees for the farm’s failures. In reality, both of them are right. Yet due to their lack of cooperation, there is no chance of any of their issues being resolved.
Themes
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Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
Mary starts to worry about Dick. He chain-smokes, buying “native cigarettes” because they are cheaper. He treats native people worse and worse, and this irritates Mary even though she is guilty of it too. She feels that Dick is “growing into a native himself.” During this time, two more house servants quit in succession, leaving Mary without help at home. Mary’s reputation as an employer is so bad that no one else comes, forcing Dick to move one of the farm laborers to the house. The man he chooses is Moses, whom Mary whipped two years before.
Dick and Mary are now not only isolated from the other white settlers in the farming district, but also from the local native workforce, who refuse to work for a boss as notoriously cruel as Mary. It is significant that it is into this dynamic that Moses arrives.
Themes
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Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity Theme Icon
Mary asks Dick if he can bring someone else instead, but Dick insists that Moses is the best man available. Mary reluctantly relents, and takes to watching Moses as he works, gazing at his tall figure and powerful muscles. At first she tries to find faults in his work, but is unable to do so. One morning, while collecting eggs from the chickens, she notices Moses washing himself and is irritated when he stops and stands up, waiting for her to leave. She turns away and walks back inside, feeling newly aware of the world around her.
No longer on good terms with Dick, Mary finds herself in a place of intense loneliness. Although she will not admit it to herself, it is clear she is fascinated by and attracted to Moses. The description of his large, muscular body is a notable contrast to Dick’s body, which is depicted as thin, rough, and unappealing. Yet Mary’s racism and sexual disgust prevent her from acknowledging her feelings for Moses as sexual desire. As a result of this denial (and her general dehumanization of all black people) she doesn’t think twice about gawking at him.
Themes
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Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity Theme Icon
When Mary sees Moses inside the house again, she is furious, and forces him to scrub the floor, even though he is already done so that day. She collapses on the sofa, shaking. She then instructs him to set the table, criticizing each thing he does. She stalks around the house, looking for more tasks to assign him, but cannot find any. In the bedroom, the sight of the bed disturbs her, reminding her of the unpleasant nights of sex with Dick. She then catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and begins to cry. That night, she and Dick eat together in silence. After supper, Dick says that they must keep Moses, as he is “the best we ever had.” Dick says he is sick of Mary’s behavior and their constant need to change servants. Mary quietly agrees to keep Moses, and goes to sleep for four hours.
There is an obvious sexual undertone to every part of this passage, from the sadistic series of tasks and criticisms to which Mary subjects Moses to her memories of having sex with Dick to Dick’s almost humorously ironic comment that Moses is “the best we’ve ever had.” It is also ironic that Dick chooses to put his foot down in the case of Moses, rather than any of the other house servants. Although Dick doesn’t know it, Moses poses the greatest threat to his life with Mary of any character in the book.
Themes
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Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity Theme Icon