Raised in poverty with a drunkard father who would spend any savings on alcohol, Mary manages to make a life for herself based on her intelligence and diligence; she lives in a boardinghouse for girls and works ably as a secretary in town. She falls for Dick Turner and leaves with him to his farm. On the far, she is oppressed both by the isolation and by her husband's lack of success. This frustration channels into her latent feelings of racism, which leads to a strange inverted attraction when the African man she beat begins to take care of her. She eventually loses her mind and is murdered by him.
Brought up in an impoverished family in a suburb of Johannesburg in South Africa, Dick Turner worked several jobs before giving up plans to study to become a veterinarian and traveling to Southern Rhodesia to live independently on a farm of his own. He incurs debts that he never manages to pay off while managing to stave off bankruptcy. He feels intensely lonely and takes Mary as a wife to assuage these feelings. After Mary gets into an illicit relationship with Moses and Charlie Slatter practically forces Dick to leave his farm, Dick goes insane at the prospect of being anywhere else.
A farmer neighboring Dick Turner's farm, Charlie Slatter represents the cruelly extractive kind of colonialist farmer. He treats his workers poorly and exhausts his soil to make money quickly. He becomes rich after the First World War and hopes to become even richer by buying up Turner's farm and expanding to other businesses.
An idealistic young British man who has come to Southern Rhodesia to make money. Charlie Slatter assigns him to work under Dick Turner for a time so that he can then take care of Turner's farm for a time. He is disturbed by seeing Mary allowing Moses to dress her. After Mary's murder, he gives up on farming and goes to Northern Rhodesia to mine.
An extraordinarily intelligent and strong African laborer in the employ of the Turners, first in the fields and then in their house. When trying to supervise the field workers, Mary becomes infuriated at him for his speaking English and looking at her with a vaguely mocking look; she whips him in the face, but he does not retaliate. Later as a houseboy, he takes care of an increasingly deranged Mary. He is fired by Mary under the compulsion of Tony Martson and then kills Mary.
The police sergeant who arrives on the scene of Mary Turner's murder only to find that Charlie Slatter has gotten there first. He shares Charlie's feeling of horror and disgust at the thought that Mary could have had relations with Moses.
Charlie Slatter's wife. She tries to be neighborly to the Turners, but her offers to entertain or help them are rebuffed again and again by Mary.
An unnamed farmer taunts Dick for losing his crops to drought, calling him "Jonah."
The first native houseboy whom Mary encounters.
Native policemen arrive at the scene of Mary's murder but defer to Charlie Slatter because he is white.
The Grass is Singing Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Grass is Singing is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.