Character of Dick Turner

One of the problems that Dick Turner in Dorris Lessing’s Grass is Singing has is that he does not drive his workers hard enough. Dick’s inability to get his workers in line does, according to Slatter and other successful white farmers, mean that the workers get lazy and his farm cannot produce what it could have and be an example that reinforces the notion that the white man is above the inferior black man. Dick is a failure as a farmer and all through the novel the reader is given proof of his futile attempts to make profit from the land that is his to reap. Charlie Slatter is exactly what the discourse says that he should be and wants him to be: rational, determined, successful, and therefore a good colonist. Dick, on the other hand, has many of the traits that are associated with the black man and thus should never be traits of a British coloniser. He is irrational, unsuccessful and without the chance to improve his financial position and his position in society.

Whereas Charlie Slatter, and his peers, see their land strictly as property, Dick Turner, on the other hand has a way of looking at the land in a more romantic and idealistic way: “he loved it and was part of it”. He does not only want to take from the land, he also wants to take care of it. In comparison to his neighbour Slatter, Dick is not acting rationally when it comes to making a profit. This unorthodox and failed tactic can also be seen in how he constantly changes his mind in what the farm’s main focus and source for earnings should be. This can clearly be seen in the passage where the reader gets to see Dick changing his mind from beekeeping to raising

pigs to raising rabbit, as well as opening up a kaffir store. This is not rational and therefore it is not the way of a good coloniser and the flourishing farmer. Moreover, Dick cannot merely use the land and its soil until it no longer is fertile and therefore useless for farming, as Charlie Slatter does with his land. Dick has a sense of responsibility for the soil. An example of this is how there are no trees at Charlie Slatter’s property, as they took up space and land that could be used in a more profitable way. Dick Turner’s farm, on the other hand, has a hundred acres of planted trees. All this irrational searching is a quest for that one special thing that can make his farm profitable and thus bring Mary and him out of poverty. One can say that this hunt for profit makes Dick blind to the fact that sticking with an idea or focusing on merely one crop will solve his problems, something that is obvious to the other characters of the novel and can be seen in Mary’s futile attempts to try to convince Dick to give the growing of tobacco, something that in general was very profitable, more than one season. What stops Dick from giving the growing of tobacco a real chance, as well as blocking Dick from improving his and Mary’s financial situation, is in many ways Dick’s pride on the matter of borrowing capital. Instead of making a serious investment in his projects, Dick takes shortcuts to save money. He therefore never becomes a successful farmer.

Dick notices nothing about the relationship between Mary and Moses, although Tony Martson, a newcomer, sees clearly the attraction and repulsion between the two.

Dick’s way of acting irrationally is also something that shows both the white and the black population that the difference between the black population and the ruling white class may not be that big. In The Grass is Singing, Lessing makes it clear to the reader that this is something that the members of the white society are persistently frightened that the black population will understand.

Last modified: Saturday, 1 July 2017, 12:53 PM