Months pass. Mary goes about her work wearily, and when she is not working sits still, thinking about nothing. Dick has become increasingly irritated with her nagging of Moses. The chickens begin to die, and Mary cannot bring herself to care. The only part of her that remains active and alert lies in her relationship with Moses. Then, one day, Moses hesitantly announces that he wants to leave at the end of the month. Mary is left speechless, and—to her horror—begins to cry in front of him. Eventually, she exclaims: “You mustn’t go!.... You must stay!” Moses gets a glass of water, hands it to Mary, and tells her to drink. He then tells her to lie on the bed, even gently pushing her toward it with his hand—and Mary notes that this is the first time she has ever “touched the flesh of a native.” He then covers her feet with her coat and leaves. Mary sleeps until the late afternoon. When Dick comes home, he asks if she is ill, and Mary replies that she is just tired. As usual, he acts as if she is “not really there, a machine without a soul.”
Mary is described as treating Dick like a machine in this passage, yet the person whose subjectivity is really not explored is Moses. Why does he choose to leave, and why does Mary’s outburst compel him to stay? Why is he kind to her, considering the abuse he has suffered at her hands? Does he notice and/or understand Mary’s feelings for him? Lessing’s decision not to include Moses’s thoughts in the book arguably perpetuates the racism of the white colonial perspective, which reduces black people to animals without complex internal lives. On the other hand, the mystery of Moses’s subjectivity helps illustrate the extent to which all the white characters are absolutely ignorant about the lives of native people.
A week passes, and Moses does not mention leaving again. Eventually, he turns to Mary at a random moment and says: “Madame asked me to stay. I stay to help Madame. If Madame cross, I go.” He asks her if he works well, and she says yes, which leads him to ask why she is then “always cross.” Mary feels the same anger rise up inside her, but says nothing.
Moses is the only person seemingly willing to confront Mary directly about her irrational anger and hatred of those she perceives as weak. Yet Mary is, as ever, unwilling to look inward and wrestle with her complex feelings, and so represses them once again.
A few months later, when Mary refuses lunch, Moses makes it for her anyway, telling her she must eat. There is a new dynamic between them; Mary feels “helplessly in his power.” Moses begins asking her questions in a new, familiar tone, such as when she thinks the war will be over or if Jesus would approve of people killing each other. Mary bristles at the “implied criticism” of this second question, and says that Jesus is “on the side of good people.” Later, she asks Dick where Moses comes from, and Dick explains that he is a “mission boy,” a group of people Dick disapproves of because he believes native people should not be taught to read and write.
The relationship between Mary and Moses is now an important foil (contrast) to the relationship between Mary and Dick. Within the social hierarchy of Southern Rhodesia, Dick occupies a powerful position; although he is not rich, he is a landowning white man of English descent, placing him above Mary and the native people with whom he interacts every day. Moses, meanwhile, is at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Despite this, Moses exudes a power that Dick cannot. Where Dick is sickly, indecisive, and seemingly frightened of Mary, Moses is physically powerful, strong-willed, and fearless. Moses exercises a power over Mary that Mary always craved from Dick, and this is undoubtedly part of why she is attracted to him.
Mary has started having nightmares during her long sleeps. She dreams that Moses forces her to touch him, and during the days she feels wary of his kindness to her. In February, Dick becomes ill with malaria. The doctor comes back and scolds Mary for not having mosquito-proofed their house as he advised. Charlie Slatter is also present, and silently daydreams about what he will do when he takes over Dick’s farm. This time Mary does not take over the supervision of the farm workers while Dick is ill. Mary instead stays up tending to Dick at night, and one day Moses asks if she’s been staying up every night, before offering to take over and look after Dick himself. At first Mary refuses, but Moses insists.
Dream sequences are an important way in which novelists explore the internal lives of their characters, particularly when it comes to repressed memories and desires. Here, for example, is the first time that Mary expresses sexual feelings for Moses, even if these feelings are ones of disgust and fear (and even if they are unconscious).
Mary lies tensely on the sofa, listening for sounds from the bedroom. When she eventually falls asleep, she dreams that she is a child again. She sees her mother and her father in a moment of physical affection and runs away in disgust. Next she dreams that her father is forcefully holding her head in his lap. She then believes that she has woken up, and is in the house on Dick’s farm—yet Dick is dead. She sees that Moses has opened the window, and blames the cold for Dick’s death. She then feels Moses coming toward her, and as he gets nearer he fuses with the figure of her father. Mary screams and wakes up.
This is the first time it becomes relatively clear that Mary’s father sexually abused her as a child. (Lessing never makes this point entirely explicit, which could be for stylistic, moral, or political reasons, or due to the more conservative standards for literary fiction that were in place at the time the novel was published.) The glimpse of Mary’s subjectivity provided through her dream raises a host of further questions. Is she afraid of sex due to childhood trauma? Does she want to have sex with Moses? Is she afraid of her desire for Moses because of what it would mean for Dick?
Moses is standing sleepily next to Mary, holding a tray of tea. He puts the tray down and assures her that Dick is asleep. Moses asks Mary why she is afraid of him, and she unconvincingly assures him she is not. That day, Dick gets steadily better, and within a week he is back at work. However, Mary hardly notices her husband; she feels “possessed” by Moses’s presence and the power he exudes over her. Mary can only relax when Moses has left the house; she longs to ask Dick if they can fire Moses, but says nothing. She senses that Moses, with his “easy,” nonchalant attitude, is also waiting for something to happen. They are two “antagonists,” but he has the upper hand.
Again, the portrayal of Moses in this passage may lead some to accuse Lessing of reinforcing racist stereotypes about black people. For example, the word “possessed” suggests that Moses is a magical, demonic figure. On the other hand, perhaps Lessing is simply depicting the version of Moses that exists in Mary’s mind. This is markedly different from Moses’s true self, which the reader only captures in glimpses—such as the emotive moment when he asks Mary why she is afraid of him.