The Grass is Singing

The Grass is Singing Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the significance of the novels Mary reads and the books she finds at Tony Marston's in relation to the lesson(s) that The Grass is Singing is trying to express?

    As in Gustav Flaubert's famous novel Madame Bovary, the heroine's reading habit is explicitly described as escapist. Once she realizes that she has little to do on her husband's farm, Mary turns about desperately for something to fill her time. Her books provide her some entertainment but are ultimately unable to do more than fill her time; they do not help her to imagine, let alone put into practice, an alternative, more satisfying way of living. She has this same hope of Tony Marston and his books but is similarly disappointed with them. This loss of faith in literature is one of the causes that leads her to throw herself towards Moses and death.

  2. 2

    Analyze the narrative significance of this statement: "‘Next year’ might mean anything. It might mean another failure. It would certainly mean no more than a partial recovery. The miraculous reprieve was not going to be granted. Nothing would change: nothing ever did."

    In this sentence, we hear Mary's growing sense of desperation over her life on the farm. Specifically, the thought is presented to us by free indirect discourse, which heightens the sense of immediacy and makes it more emotionally charged for the reader. Mary's emotions become wilder and more unstable as she comes to understand the monotony of farm life, and this realization in particular—that Dick's attitude towards the future is actually just repetitious—is particularly painful for her.

  3. 3

    After taking more responsibility for the workings of the farm, Mary urges Dick to try out, among other things, planting tobacco crops. What is the significance of this practical interest of hers and of its ultimate consequence, with regard to her development as a character?

    At first, it is not Mary but rather Dick who is always trying to find new methods to make more money on the farm. However, Mary realizes that Dick is both incompetent in selecting ideas that would actually work and too cautious to set out on any project with the potential to substantially improve their living conditions. Desperate to escape this sense of stagnation, she places her hopes in a tobacco crop—but the failure of this gamble leads her to lose her motivation towards being able to change her life by her own power.

  4. 4

    What kind of subject position is Moses accorded in the narrative, and what significance does that position have in relation to Mary's position as the protagonist?

    For most of the novel, we see events through Mary's perspective; her interactions with Moses are all heavily colored by her fear and fascination towards him. However, at the very end of the novel, we are given Moses' perspective—albeit in a much more ambiguous way than we had with Mary. Moses represents the unknowable from the perspective of a white narrator speaking to presumably a white audience, but the inclusion of a fragment of his voice at such an important juncture in the novel as its end forces the reader to confront this inequality of narrative positions.

  5. 5

    What is the role of "white civilization" in the drama of Mary and Dick's marital life?

    If the family operates as a kind of microcosm of society, then the sexual dysfunction and emotional disjuncture between Mary and Dick point to an internal contradiction and decay within Southern Rhodesian society as Lessing sees it. The sexlessness of their marriage and their inability to have children also functions as a symbol for cultural sterility in a wider cultural sense.