The Grass is Singing

The Grass is Singing Literature of Trapped Women

While Lessing uses Mary Turner's failed marriage with Dick and illicit relationship with Moses as an allegory for the repressed contradictions of Southern Rhodesian society, Mary also represents the specific plight of being a woman who is unable to escape from her social conditions—a theme that has a distinct place of prominence in the history of the modern novel.

Such works as Gustav Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina focus on women whose desires place them on the wrong side of social mores and ultimately lead to their downfalls. It is no coincidence that Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina both commit adultery: their marriages to boring, albeit socially respected, husbands constitute at once the most important social form in their lives and a representation of the larger society that forms the whole of their worlds. Affairs with men very different from their spouses—younger, more passionate—go beyond fulfilling a physical need: they give them an experience of freedom outside of an all-encompassing and stifling society. However, in the end, even these relationships are folded into the social plane: the women can find no escape.

Lessing brings a similar dynamic out of the European and into the South African colonial context, where race takes the place of the ultimate "other" to white society. She never depicts an affair per se between Mary and Moses because, unlike the motif of adultery with its long pedigree in Western literature, mixed-race relationships were under a heavy literary taboo at the time of writing.