The novel begins with Mary Turner’s death, and the plot largely revolves around her character. The daughter of white South African-born parents, Mary’s childhood is blighted by her father’s alcoholism and her mother’s endless misery… (read full character analysis)
Dick Turner is Mary’s husband. Born in the suburbs of Johannesburg, Dick trains as a vet in his youth before using a government grant to buy a small farm. Dick is kind and principled… (read full character analysis)
Moses is a native man educated in a missionary school. He has a large, muscular physique and is employed by Dick as a farm worker. During Dick’s first illness, when Mary takes over as overseer… (read full character analysis)
Charlie Slatter is a neighbor of the Turners, and thinks of himself as Dick’s “mentor.” A working-class Englishman who previously worked as a grocer in London, he made a fortune through tobacco farming in… (read full character analysis)
Sergeant Denham is the local police sergeant in the Turners’ farming district. He is in charge of investigating Mary’s death, although this task is made simple by the fact that Moses immediately confesses to… (read full character analysis)
Mrs. Slatter is Charlie’s wife (we never learn her first name). At first she appears to be a kind and compassionate person, inviting Mary to social gatherings and commiserating with her over her experience… (read full character analysis)
Mary’s mother was an Englishwoman born in South Africa. She personifies the archetype of the long-suffering wife, and spent her life complaining about Mary’s father’s drinking and the family’s poverty. Two of her three children die, and she herself dies when Mary is 20.
Mary’s father was an Englishman also born in South Africa. An alcoholic who spent most of his income on drink, there are strong hints in the novel that he sexually abused Mary when she was a child. He dies when Mary is 25.
Samson is the house servant employed by Dick at the point that Dick and Mary get married. He and Dick are on reasonably friendly terms, but when Mary arrives on the farm she treats him so badly that he quits.
The Turners’ local doctor comes to visit their house twice while Dick is ill. The doctor is rather rude and judgmental, and represents the strict enforcement of the social norms according to which white people in Southern Rhodesia are expected to live.
The headboy is the most senior worker on Dick’s farm, who communicates with Mary on behalf of the other workers.