" 'Mary Turner, wife of Richard Turner, a farmer at Ngesi, was found murdered on the front verandah of their homestead yesterday morning. The houseboy who has been arrested, has confessed to the crime. No motive has been discovered.'
The above lines form the introduction to Doris Lessing's first novel, The Grass is Singing, which was published in 1950 and brought her immediate recognition. It is the story of a doomed marriage, set against the background of the African veld, and of the mounting tension, not only between Europeans and black Africans, but also between the British and the white Boers, descendants of the Dutch who landed in the Cape in the 1 7th century and spread through Southern Africa.
Doris Lessing's book was written in 1949 and set in the 1930s, and although theaction takes place in Rhodesia, it is the psychological aspect of racism irrespective of the boundaries of continent or country which is the theme of the story. And this is what interested me most — black versus white, cowboy versus Indian. What went on in their minds? Why did they fight?
In The Grass is Singing we are given some insight. How racism is a by-product of inner tensions. How Mary Turner, played by American actress Karen Black, is unable to love her husband, is unabie to understand herself, is unable to escape from some childhood trauma. She is a deeply disturbed person, as racists often are and, unable to come to terms with her own nature, she gives vent to her feelings by turning against the nature that surrounds her — the insects, the heat and of course the black Africans, powerless in the hands of their white masters.
It is because of the universal nature of Doris Lessing's main topic that I updated the action from the 1930s to 1 960.1 feei South Africa is going to be one of the most important political spots in the world and that 1960, when the tirst big massacre at Sharpeville took place, marks the turning point in South African politics with the blacks becoming more militant and the whites more frightened and repressive."