The Grass is Singing


Doris Lessing

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Grass is Singing, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Intimacy vs. Hatred

All the characters in The Grass is Singing maintain complex and ambivalent relationships to one another. These relationships are invariably defined by feelings of both intimacy and hatred, which—rather than cancelling each other out—are shown to exist side by side, creating intense conflict and turmoil. The most significant example of this can be found in the relationship between Mary and Moses. Mary has a severely racist, cruel attitude toward all black people, and treats…

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Hierarchy and Authority

The Grass is Singing takes place in Zimbabwe (formerly known as Southern Rhodesia) during the time of British colonial rule, and one of the most important themes of the novel is the way in which society is organized according to hierarchies. During the time the novel is set, the British socioeconomic class system remains extremely rigid, making it impossible for most people living in the United Kingdom to move up the social ladder. However, in…

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Brutality vs. Civilization

The most common justification for colonialism is the argument that the colonizers are bringing “civilization” to a primitive, brutal, and savage population. In today’s world, most people acknowledge that at best this kind of thinking is naïve and patronizing, and at worst it is a thinly-veiled disguise for the colonizers’ desire to abuse native people while gaining wealth and power for themselves. It is certainly difficult to see how the white characters in the novel…

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Independence, Isolation, and Exile

Life for white colonizers is defined by a certain kind of independence, isolation, and self-imposed exile. The area in which Dick and Mary live is described as “a farming district, where those isolated white families met only very occasionally, hungry for contact with their own kind.” Even within this sparse community, the Turners are discussed “in the hard, careless voices reserved for misfits, outlaws and the self-exiled.” The narrator explains that the reason for this…

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Femininity, Sexuality, and Maternity

While most of the novel’s major themes relate to issues of race and class in the colonial environment, gender and sexuality also play an important role. Lessing’s exploration of gender mostly centers around Mary, and the way in which (white) femininity becomes a source of conflict in the world of the novel. Before marrying Dick, Mary epitomizes a modern, cosmopolitan form of femininity; she is independent, sociable, and pretty, and is described by…

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