The Grass is Singing

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 of the farm workers, she strikes Moses across the face with a sambok for what she perceives as rudeness. Although Moses is not actually rude in reality, he is not afraid of Mary and refuses to abide by the social conventions governing relationships between native people and white settlers. We learn fairly little about Moses’s inner life, but it seems that, perhaps due to his education, he is especially aware of the injustices of colonialism and willing to stand up to white people. The relationship he develops with Mary toward the end of the novel appears somewhat affectionate, however it is never made clear why Moses behaves so kindly to someone who has treated him so badly. At the end of the novel, he approaches Mary on the veranda and stabs her to death. He waits under a nearby tree until morning, when he turns himself in; although we never learn his final fate, the other characters suggest that it is almost certain he will be hanged.

Moses Quotes in The Grass is Singing

The The Grass is Singing quotes below are all either spoken by Moses or refer to Moses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of The Grass is Singing published in 2008.
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
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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:
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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:
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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.

Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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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:
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"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:
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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:
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Moses Character Timeline in The Grass is Singing

The timeline below shows where the character Moses appears in The Grass is Singing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
...who immediately sends six native policemen to the Turners’ farm. Soon after the policemen arrive, Moses turns himself in, saying something like: “Here I am.” After Moses is arrested, Dick comes... (full context)
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The local settlers are curious about why Moses turned himself in, until the District Native Commissioner explains that in the Matabele culture that... (full context)
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When Slatter arrives at the house, he sees Moses standing in handcuffs. The policemen salute Slatter, yet he feels uncomfortable around them, as he... (full context)
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Slatter asks Tony if he knows why Moses murdered Mary, but when Tony replies he has “a sort of idea,” Slatter rudely replies... (full context)
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The policemen take Mary’s body to the car, but a problem arises because Moses cannot ride in a car next to a white woman (even a dead one). It... (full context)
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...has now been poisoned for him. The trial takes place, and it is concluded that Moses murdered Mary while drunk, hoping to steal valuables. Tony travels to North Rhodesia to work... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...down to the land, and while watching the laborers work she notices one of them (Moses) stop and stand still, breathing heavily. She times him on her watch, and after three... (full context)
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Without thinking, Mary then raises the sambok and strikes it across Moses’s face. An enormous weal emerges on his skin, and Mary stands still, shocked and frightened.... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...to move one of the farm laborers to the house. The man he chooses is Moses, whom Mary whipped two years before. (full context)
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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... (full context)
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When Mary sees Moses inside the house again, she is furious, and forces him to scrub the floor, even... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...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... (full context)
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A week passes, and Moses does not mention leaving again. Eventually, he turns to Mary at a random moment and... (full context)
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A few months later, when Mary refuses lunch, Moses makes it for her anyway, telling her she must eat. There is a new dynamic... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Moses is standing sleepily next to Mary, holding a tray of tea. He puts the tray... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...about anything anymore, just “sits and does nothing,” and that she no longer even nags Moses as she used to. Charlie gently suggests that Dick and Mary sell the farm to... (full context)
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...show of cheerful hospitality. Charlie agrees to stay for dinner, and Mary goes to find Moses. The dinner is unappetizing, and afterward Mary asks Moses to fetch some oranges for dessert... (full context)
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Charlie then asks about Moses and suggests that they fire him, but Dick replies: “Mary likes him.” Hearing this, Charlie... (full context)
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...the sofa. Mary barely speaks to Dick at this point; she only seems “alive” when Moses is in the room. Charlie immediately starts looking for someone to take over Dick’s farm,... (full context)
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...not wanting to disturb Mary from a nap. After he has finished drinking, he spots Moses helping Mary to get dressed, pulling her dress over her head and doing it up... (full context)
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When Tony sees Mary, he asks if Moses always dresses her; she replies that he has little money and needs the work. Mary... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Dick gets dressed and urges Mary to do the same. Mary almost calls for Moses, but stops herself. She stacks plates in the kitchen and thinks about Moses, imagining he... (full context)
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...and that it is now late afternoon. She frantically searches the house for signs that Moses came while she was asleep. She comes across a big suitcase full of books about... (full context)
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...suddenly realizes that she needs to go to the store. When she enters, she finds Moses waiting there, and she stumbles back out again with a cry. As she runs away... (full context)
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...her to come to bed, but she is standing at the back door, staring at Moses. She tells Dick: “He’s outside,” but when Dick comes out he finds no one there. (full context)
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...that it is an illness inside her heart. In the darkness, Mary thinks she sees Moses in the bedroom, but realizes there is nothing there. Mary gets up and creeps through... (full context)
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Suddenly, Mary sees Moses emerging from the darkness, and she is overwhelmed by a feeling of guilt. She is... (full context)