The theme of racism is thoroughly explored in The Grass is Singing through the relationship between Mary Turner and their houseboy, Moses. Mary’s initial attitudes towards blacks are microcosm of the whole attitude in apartheid Africa. The white community considered natives no more important than animals, and a love affair between races would be considered a crime. This was the case of Mary and Moses. The white woman was well aware of the fact that something unusual and immoral was going on between them but it was all beyond her control. She seemed to have been so lonely and lost living day and night in the middle of the veldt that she inevitably fell in love with her only companion: the black servant. Mary Turner is a woman who is trapped in colonial and racial preconceptions and she is unable to understand the structure of her community.

The culmination of Mary’s despair and vulnerability is when Moses, the new servant, enters her life. Moses is the same worker whom Mary struck with a whip two years ago. The fear of being attacked or revenged has remained in Mary from that time. Yet most notably, there is an element of sexual attraction in her towards Moses. His powerful, broad-built body fascinates Mary. The formal patterns of black-and-white, mistress-and-servant has been broken “by the personal relation”, because Mary, who has seen the natives so far as inferior beings “no better than a dog”, now sees in Moses a man. Yet as the narrator details for us, she knows this colonial rule that: “when a white man in Africa by accident looks into the eyes of a native and sees the human being (which is his chief preoccupation to avoid), his sense of guilt, which he denies, fumes up in resentment and he brings down the whip.”

The man Mary sees in Moses threatens both her sexual and cultural identity. She feels she must do something to restore her poise; she asks Dick to dismiss this boy too but Dick, tired of the endless dismissing of the servants because Mary could get along with none of them, insists that Moses should stay. Mary, little by little, loses her balance. When Moses himself announces that he wants to leave, she breaks down to sob in front of him and begs him to stay. He treats her hysterical behavior with calm authority, “like a father commanding her”. He makes her drink water and lie down. Thereafter there is a change in their relationship; Moses appears to be the embodiment of her sexual fears and desires. In Mary and Moses’s progressive relationship, the boundaries between “self and other” fluctuate, but more than that the patriarchal colonial status is put in danger. Mary sees herself in an irresistible and irrepressible situation which reverses the colonial hierarchies. By Mary’s resigning her power to Moses, it is Moses who takes the role of powerfully dominating over her and respectfully forces her “now to treat him as a human being”. In simple words, Mary is racially dominant but is psychologically and sexually dominated by Moses, and this attraction implies her confrontation and breaking two taboos: sexual and colonial/racial.

Dick notices nothing about the relationship between Mary and Moses, but Tony Marston sees clearly the attraction and repulsion between the two. Tony is shocked by this intimate relationship. Although he is a new comer and not completely accustomed with the colonial rules, he cannot comprehend this white woman easily evading the “sexual aspect of the color bar” and only justifies it in his own mind that Mary is mad, “a complete nervous breakdown”.

Mary Turner’s death seems the only possible resolution of her conflicting impulses and also that of the white colonialists to fulfill their missions and become heroes, and here it becomes obvious why the white community try to keep silent in response to Mary’s death.

Last modified: Saturday, 1 July 2017, 12:50 PM