Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 764

As readers uncover the motives, desires, and faults of the characters, the gap between "the facts" related in the initial newspaper account and the "truth" from various perspectives becomes apparent. Although one might easily discern who killed whom, the blame of who is at fault is less clear. In one...

(The entire section contains 764 words.)

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  • Themes
  • Characters
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As readers uncover the motives, desires, and faults of the characters, the gap between "the facts" related in the initial newspaper account and the "truth" from various perspectives becomes apparent. Although one might easily discern who killed whom, the blame of who is at fault is less clear. In one way or another, the whole cast of characters implicate themselves in wrongdoings.

Mary and Dick Turner are completely mismatched, unable to understand one another's actions and motives. After an unhappy childhood, Mary is not prepared for marriage but feels society's pressure to find a mate. Dick, idealistically dreaming of a wife and children to accompany life on the farm, marries Mary just as blindly. Mary's discomfort and disdain for the physical hardships on the farm, however, dampen Dick's pride in roughing it to maintain one's own land.

Unhappy to the point of leaving, Mary flees to the city, but Dick goes to find her out of obligation as a husband rather than love for her. From the point of his taking her back home to the farm Mary exhibits resignation and a physical exhaustion brought on by depression. As Mary and Dick's relationship disintegrates, Mary's sexual behavior with other men intensifies, and her husband only attempts to ignore it. That Dick does not confront Mary as she does him indicates the lack of respect that she develops for him and he develops for himself.

The Turners do not assimilate with the neighbors, foreshadowing a disastrous end to their attempts at farming. Before the reader is even introduced to the consciousness of Mary Turner, the narrator's exploration of the newspaper article asks:

Who was Charlie Slatter? It was he who, from the beginning of the tragedy to its end, personified Society for the Turners. He touches the story at half a dozen points; without him things would not have happened quite as they did, though sooner or later, in one way or another, the Turners were bound to come to grief.

Charlie Slatter represents one who is best able to take advantage of any situation, and so he gains possession of the Turner's farm. That his wife is repeatedly referred to as Mrs. Slatter reinforces the woman as little more than an extension of her spouse.

Because readers see little but deferential treatment from Moses, the servant, until the end of the novel, his characterization is ambiguous. As a field worker, Dick considers him one of the best. Mary, however, initially changed the relationship by striking him with a whip when she takes charge during Dick's first bout with malaria. Ironically, he is the one Dick assigns to the house last. By Dick's second bout of malaria the difference in Moses' relationship with the Turners is immense. Mary has acquiesced in fear to her changing sense of Moses as she confuses his presence with that of her father.

Only in the last couple of pages of the novel do the readers encounter the murder. Yet they are left without a definitive motive, as the narrator observes:

Though what thoughts of regret, or pity, or perhaps even wounded human affection were compounded with the satisfaction of his complete revenge, it is impossible to say. For, when he had gone perhaps a couple of hundred yards through the soaking bush he stopped, turned aside, and leaned against a tree on an ant heap. And there he would remain, until his pursuers, in their turn, came to find him.

Lessing's ending woefully indicates that the native African, as represented by Moses, is still not provided a complete voice within the society in which he functions.

Indeed, the white farmer's lack of regard for human dignity is emphasized by Marston's presence. Marston's provides an outsider's view of the situation. Through the initial questions he asks, the reader is guided to find out more. Most often the narrator fills in most of the gaps, but one key scene that Marston witnesses affirms the sexual relations between the white woman and her native servant, a breaking of a social code even wider than those of the district. Although Marston expresses bewilderment at the proceedings after the discovery of the murder and questions what he has seen and suspects, he only half-heartedly challenges the proceedings to protect the due process of the victim or the accused. Because the narrator reveals to readers that Marston exhibited the "progressiveness of the idealist that seldom survives a conflict with self-interest," they can assume that his initial discomfort with the situation he finds himself in will dissipate as he assumes his new role in this society.

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