Doris Lessing

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What is the nature of self-awareness experienced by the boy in Doris Lessing's "A Sunrise on the Veld"? Note changes in the boy's character from the beginning to the end.

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In Doris Lessing's story, "A Sunrise on the Veld," we see the attitudes and self-awarenss of a fifteen-year old boy changing from one who believes he controls the world to a youngster who realizes that he does not, how fragile life is, and what his responsibilities are—that he affects the existence of even the animals on the Veld.

The reader meets a boy, assured of his power in the world. He feels like the master of all that surrounds him: even his ability to control time, able to awaken with the power of his own mind—

Half-past four! Half-past four! till his brain had gripped the words and held them fast.  Then he fell asleep at once...

It was half-past four to the minute, every morning.  Triumphantly pressing down the alarm-knob of the clock, which the dark half of his mind had outwitted...

His immaturity and inexperience allow him to believe that nothing can touch him: his hubris is evident in how he blatantly runs through the Veld (in Africa) where anything might happen to him: there are wild animals, yet this illusionary sense of power makes the boy believe that he can remain untouched by the world…

He was clean crazy, yelling mad with the joy of living and a superfluity of youth.


There was nothing he couldn't do, nothing!...he said aloud...all the great men of the world have been as I am now, and there is nothing I can't become, nothing I can't do; there is no country in the world I cannot make part of myself, if I choose.  I contain the world.

He believes he is superior to his parents, who he belittles as they sleep with no knowledge of what he does.

The boy imagined his parents turning in their beds and muttering: Those dogs again! before they were dragged back in sleep; and he smiled scornfully.

When the scream of another "creature" nearby draws the boy's attention, he is confronted with the truth of life and death: a buck, also passing through the bush, is taken down before his eyes and is devoured alive by carnivorous ants that move... glistening black water flowing through the grass.

The buck might already have been injured…

Perhaps some Africans had thrown stones at it, as they do, trying to kill it for meat, and had broken its leg.

This is something that easily could have happened to the boy as he raced thoughtlessly through the bush—an accident that he never saw coming. The boy also realizes that he could easily have been in the dying animal's situation if he had taken one false step. In this instance, the boy understands both how easily death may come and how fragile life is. He also realizes that he cannot control the world as he believes, though he fights the realization.

At the same time he found that the tears were streaming down his face, and his clothes were soaked with the sweat of that other creature's pain.

He has little control: but he has responsibility. This also concerns him. The boy recalls shooting at animals such as the buck—perhaps he could have injured it, and tired from the sport or hungry, he might have left without checking whether or not he had wounded the animal, making it a target to the other predatory creatures of the Veld—it was irresponsible behavior, he now realizes.

The boy's need to soon go off and ponder all he has witnessed shows his inner-struggle as he reevaluates his place in the world—not as a god, but just another creature on the planet, doing his best to survive in a world that can be harsh, and especially unforgiving when we make mistakes.

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