The Grass is Singing

The Grass is Singing Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Charlie Slatter's Sjambok (Symbol)

We read in the first chapter that Charlie Slatter, representative of the cruelly efficient and extractive South African farmer, hangs a sjambok, a heavy leather whip, on his door. This implement symbolizes his violent domination over his black workers even while it hangs there without being used.

Mary's Sjambok (Symbol)

The way that Mary uses her sjambok to order around her native workers seems to make her similar to Charlie Slatter, but there is an important difference between how the two relate to their workers and their farms: whereas Charlie is full of cruel confidence in running his business, Mary operates on a more emotional level, demanding absolute subjection from her native servants.

The Turners' Farmhouse (Symbol)

Dick Turner's farmhouse, into which he welcomes his wife Mary, is very much like his financial situation: dilapidated but somehow never collapsed. Mary finds it intolerable to live in such physical and psychological surroundings and thus tries to escape at one point. However, finding that she has nowhere else to go, she feels that the house—like her overall marriage and state of being—imprisons her.

Mary's Novels (Motif)

The novels Mary reads for entertainment while she is in the town represent the kind of cliched and uninsightful literature against which Lessing's novel stands. Those books not only fill Mary's head with unrealistic ideas: they also fail to provide her with any moral support.

Moses' Speaking English to Mary (Motif)

In Southern Rhodesian society, it is looked upon as impudent for a native to speak English to a white person; doing so would indicate that the two were on equal footing. When Moses first speaks English to Mary, she becomes enraged and hits him; however, when he continues to do so as a houseboy and Mary cannot resist him, it demonstrates that he has not merely become her equal but has actually become her superior.