She who had once taken everything at its face value, never noticing the inflection of a phrase, or the look on a face which contradicted what was actually being said, spent the hour’s drive home considering the implications of that man’s gentle amusement at Dick. She wondered for the first time, whether she had been deluding herself.
During a visit to the station with Dick, Mary hears a farmer making a thinly concealed joke at her husband's expense. She realizes first of all that the man is making fun of Dick, but then, more significantly, she realizes that she would not have noticed the former's undertone of ridicule before. This leads her to wonder what other sorts of things she has been overlooking in the past.
The women who marry men like Dick learn sooner or later that there are two things they can do: they can drive themselves mad, tear themselves to pieces in storms of futile anger and rebellion; or they can hold themselves tight and go bitter.
As she spends more time married to Dick, Mary realizes that she cannot change how he thinks, nor can she influence him to run their farm better. The thought that she will therefore have to continue living in poverty makes her feel trapped and helpless.
That lazy insolence stung her into an inarticulate rage. She opened her mouth to storm at him, but remained speechless. And she saw in his eyes that sullen resentment, and—what put the finishing touch to it—amused contempt.
When Dick falls ill with malaria, Mary, already easily irritated by the native houseboys, goes to supervise the fieldworkers. When one, who we later learn is called Moses, does not immediately obey her, she feels deeply offended and ends up hitting him in the face with a sjambok.
She needed to think of Dick, the man to whom she was irrevocably married, as a person on his own account, a success from his own efforts. When she saw him weak and goalless, and pitiful, she hated him, and the hate turned in on herself. She needed a man stronger than herself, and she was trying to create one out of Dick.
Even though Mary feels a sense of self-satisfaction after taking control of some farm operations while Dick is sick, ultimately she does not see herself as a person to run the place or to take Dick's place. Dick's ineptitude with the farm disturbs her.
"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.
Mary realizes that all of her and Dick's plans to make money and resolve their debts, whether by raising pigs or planting tobacco, will likely end in naught. Dick can continually look the to future, but Mary already sees herself on the other side of wasted years; this thought sends her into the despair we witness in the free indirect discourse of this passage.
What had happened was that the formal pattern of black-and-white, mistress-and-servant, had been broken by the personal relation; and when a white man in Africa by accident looks into the eyes of a native and sees the human being (which it is his chief preoccupation to avoid), his sense of guilt, which he denies, fumes up in resentment and he brings down the whip.
When Mary whips Moses, the source of her impropriety—with respect to the unwritten rules of Southern Rhodesian racism—is not the violence but rather the emotion she puts behind the violence. In expressing her anger, Mary also exposes her own feeling of being disturbed by Moses.
Madame, lie down.
Much to Mary's shock, Moses transgresses two rules of great importance to racist Southern Rhodesian society: he speaks English, the language of the whites, and he gives a command to a white person. In the present situation, Mary is exhausted and does not have the energy to show outrage or to resist.
There was now a new relation between them. For she felt helplessly in his power. Yet there was no reason why she should. Never ceasing for one moment to be conscious of his presence about the house, or standing silently at the back against the wall in the sun, her feeling was one of a strong and irrational fear, a deep uneasiness, and even—though this she did not know, would have died rather than acknowledge—of some dark attraction.
Some time after Moses starts working as her houseboy, Mary finds that he will suggest things to her, even against her own orders, and that she feels that she cannot help but to accept them. Moses takes care of her, giving her tea and the like, but he also takes over the control in their relationship.
Mary dismisses Moses from her service, thereby seemingly freeing herself from his control, only when Tony Marston tells her to; she repeats his words to Moses: "Go away." However, Moses never really leaves her. The fact that Mary had to "regain control" by echoing someone else's sentiments, in combination with the fact that Moses does not truly leave, indicates the depth of Mary's impotence in this situation.
Though what thoughts of regret, or pity, or perhaps even wounded human affection were compounded with the satisfaction of his completed revenge, it is impossible to say.
The very end of the novel surprisingly takes the perspective, albeit in a veiled manner, of Moses, the only black character whose interiority we are able to access in the novel. However, the narrator acknowledges this significant difference by explicitly saying that there is much that is uncertain or unknowable about what Moses thinks and feels.
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.