The Grass is Singing

Tobacco  Symbol Icon

Tobacco is the most profitable crop in Southern Rhodesia; after the Second World War, a tobacco boom left many white tobacco farmers (such as Charlie Slatter) suddenly very rich. In this sense, tobacco symbolizes the fulfillment of the colonial goal. Through the exploitation of indigenous land, resources, and labor, white farmers were able to make far more money in the colonies than would ever have been possible back in England.

Dick’s resistance to growing tobacco then emphasizes the fact that, unlike Charlie or even Mary, he is a poor decision-maker not cut out for the life of a farmer. Furthermore, tobacco is an especially significant crop in the context of the global legacy of imperialism. Whereas livestock, maize, and cotton are used for necessary purposes (such as eating and staying warm), tobacco is a superfluous (and of course highly poisonous) product. The period in which Dick begins chain-smoking cigarettes coincides with the rapid deterioration of his mental well-being and physical health. Not only does nobody need to smoke cigarettes, tobacco is a major global health hazard. Tobacco thus symbolizes the needless, meaningless destruction caused by colonialism and capitalism. Dick frames his resistance to growing tobacco by calling it an “inhuman crop.” Indeed, it is arguably Dick’s moral nature that prevents him from growing rich off tobacco like the other farmers around him. However, his moral principles do not stop him from smoking tobacco and thereby jeopardizing his health. People’s relationship to tobacco takes one of two forms in the novel; they either get rich from it or suffer because of it. This unjust dichotomy therefore mirrors the injustice of capitalist colonialism itself.

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Tobacco Symbol Timeline in The Grass is Singing

The timeline below shows where the symbol Tobacco appears in The Grass is Singing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
...farm for six months while they went away, after which he would go onto a tobacco farm. He tells Denham that he found Mary’s body, and begins to feel defensive and... (full context)
Chapter 5
Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity Theme Icon
...after, Charlie goes to visit Dick and advises him to stop planting crops that aren’t tobacco; however, Dick is resistant to this idea. Charlie asks Dick what he will do when... (full context)
Chapter 7
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
...slightly and asks what they should do. Mary tells him they should focus on growing tobacco, pay off their debts, and then leave the farm as soon as possible. However, when... (full context)
Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity Theme Icon
...dissolve the tension between them. Three days later he tells her he will build two tobacco barns, and on seeing her look of hope, feels terrified of disappointing her yet again. (full context)
Chapter 8
Intimacy vs. Hatred Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity Theme Icon
...old office. She sleeps for hours every day, purposefully wasting time. She asks after the tobacco, feigning nonchalance but unable to hide her excitement. (full context)
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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
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... (full context)
Chapter 10
Hierarchy and Authority Theme Icon
Brutality vs. Civilization Theme Icon
Independence, Isolation, and Exile Theme Icon
...Rhodesia. He is 20 years old and has a cousin who made a fortune in tobacco farming, which inspired him to move as well. Tony pities Dick but also somewhat romanticizes... (full context)