The 'misfits' and 'failures' -the character of Mary Turner

Doris Lessing’s novel The Grass is Singing is centered on the story of Mary Turner who was a victim of conflicting forces within herself, as well as victim of the male dominated society. Mary is unable to adapt to the harshness of the life she has chosen. She breaks unwritten societal rules. She cannot reconcile her true feelings with what she has been taught to feel. Her avoidance alienates her from everybody. She is helpless, and gradually the sensation of Mary’s psychosis becomes intense and striking, and finally, she was brutally murdered by a black servant. She is innocent victim as she had done no crime. But as Mary Turner turns to be a misfit in the society and cannot mantle her according to the desire of male society, she must die. She became a threat to the male society by shaking off the role society determined for them. As a result, they became victims of masculine power in the male ideological theatre.

In The Grass is Singing, Mary Turner grows to be an independent young woman after her family struggles with poverty in her childhood. She gets an office job and lives in a girls’ hostel without having any romantic relationship. She was content until she overhears her friends commenting upon her age, how she has not married and her wearing too youthful dresses. Her world which she has made after a long struggle is now off-balanced. The incident leads her to change herself as well as to look for a husband. She soon marries a struggling farmer, Dick Turner and they leave the city to lead a life of isolation and poverty in the village farm. Mary Turner is actually forced into marriage effectively by the weight of social expectations and traditions.

After the marriage with Dick, Mary is engaged in a losing battle to hold on to her own identity. But she soon discovers that marriage is not going to be the life-fulfilling prospect she had imagined. Dick proves himself to be unfocused and unreliable, the weather is unbearable, and Mary's relations with the black laborers, both in the home and in the fields, prove difficult. Meanwhile, her pride gets in the way of establishing any kind of friendship with her neighbors, particularly Charlie Slatter and his wife, who eventually stop attempting to be friendly. Over the years Mary's spiritual condition steadily and deeply deteriorates, to the point where she makes an attempt to leave the farm and return to her life in the city—only to find that it's moved on without her, and she's no longer welcome there. She has no choice but to return to her marriage.

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. 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.

Mary Turner is a woman who is trapped in colonial and racial preconceptions and she is unable to understand the structure of her community. Her death seems the only possible resolution of her conflicting impulses and also that of the white colonialists. She is a ‘misfit’ to live in colonial Africa.

Last modified: Saturday, 1 July 2017, 12:55 PM