After Doris Lessing was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007, all Indian bookstores were suddenly flooded with her books, when only before that no one would have heard of her. Wary of this overnight hype, I abstained from reading her books although one of my friends had recommended her. Last week at the British Council Library I picked up her book as all the hype around her had long since died. I actually managed to complete reading the book in a day.
Through her first book, the Grass is Singing published in 950, Doris Lessing beautifully expresses the hypocrisy of society, marriage and apartheid especially as to how the whites love to gossip and ae so quick to judge one another but how they would just keep silent when there is a case of a black claiming his status as a human. She reveals some interesting facts about the apartheid society in 1930/40s in South Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) such as:
- White man killing a black is only fined 30 pounds while a black killing a while is hanged.
- Black policemen ride bicycles and dress in fezes and fancy dress uniform and cannot touch white criminals as well. Only the white sheriff was in a car.
- British prohibit their kids to speak to Greek children, addressing them as “Dagos”
- British built railways across the country and towns developed close to railway stations with hotels etc but definitely a store
- Tobacco farming is increasingly profitable though bad for the soil
Quotes from the book:
“It is by the failures and misfits of a civilization that one can best judge its weaknesses.”
“..to live with the color bar in all its nuances and implications means closing one’s mind to many things, if one is to remain an accepted member of society.”
“If she had been left alone she would have gone on, in her own way, enjoying herself thoroughly, until people found one day that she had turned imperceptibly into one of those women who have become old without ever having been middle aged: a little withered, a little acid, hard as nails, sentimentally kindhearted, and addicted to religion or small dogs.”
“after those years of living geared to a perpetual demand for the next thing.”
“She clutched at the cold months as if they were a shield to ward off the dreaded listlessness of the heat that would follow”
“There are innumerable marriages where two people, both twisted and wrong in their depths, are well matched, making each other miserable in the way they need, in the way the pattern of their life demands.”
“Loneliness, she thought, was craving for other people’s company. But she did not know that loneliness can be an unnoticed cramping of the spirit for lack of companionship.”
“The stinting poverty in which they lived was unbearable; it was destroying them. A poverty that allows a tiny margin for spending, but which is shadowed always by a weight of debt that nags like a conscience, is worse than starvation itself.”
“..with access to books she would have found Tagore perhaps and gone into a sweet dream of words.”
“As always he behaved as if he were an abstraction, not really there, a machine without a soul.”
“It is terrible to destroy a person’s picture of himself in the interests of truth or some other abstraction.”
“The red spread out from the centre of the sky, seemed to tinge the smoke haze over the kopjes, and to light the trees with a hot sulphurous yellow.”
Interestingly to highlight the insignificance of the natives over white, Doris Lessing has named every white character even the insignificant ones like the Sheriff but only two natives are names- Samson and Moses. The others are just addressed as natives, not given a unique identity.
The plot also has a female version of the Oedipian complex with her father as a petty railway officer and poverty chase her and haunt her through her incompetent farmer husband.Also a woman can only describe a woman as beautifully as Lessing builds Mary Turner’s character.
- Doris Lessing and Her Significant Performs (vpiedakf.wordpress.com)