Published in 1950, The Grass is Singing was written by British author Doris Lessing. It tells the story of Dick and Mary Turner, struggling white farmers living in Southern Rhodesia, South Africa, in the 1940s—during the days of apartheid.
The story begins with the discovery of the body of Mary Turner on her veranda. She has been stabbed and killed by her servant, Moses, for money. The majority of the story is then told in flashback.
Following her marriage to Dick Turner, Mary moves from the city to the countryside. She is a hard taskmaster on the farm. She is cruel, racist, and both verbally and physically abusive towards black people. She believes that white people are far superior to black people, who she thinks of as animals.
[Mary] hated it when they spoke to each other in dialects she did not understand ... she hated their half-naked, thick-muscled black bodies stooping in the mindless rhythm of their work. She hated their sullenness, their averted eyes when they spoke to her, their veiled insolence; and she hated more than anything, with a violent physical repulsion, the heavy smell that came from the, a hot, sour animal smell.
The weather is strongly symbolic within the story and is connected to the major themes of racism and colonialism. In particular, the weather is important in highlighting Mary’s unhappy relationship with South Africa. Despite never having been to England, Mary identifies as British and is tormented by the hot summers and the torrential rainfall in Africa. She is emotionally unstable and her treatment of the natives comes from her fear and insecurity, as highlighted by her fearful feelings about the weather. The weather also affects her’s and Dick’s livelihood, as the impact of the droughts and floods ultimately causes their financial downfall.