We are first introduced to Mary as being an independent young woman. However Lessing’s character soon shows signs of being an insecure woman, who cares deeply what other people think about her. The reader is forced to sympathise with this self-destructing character. Throughout the novel Mary is described as being in a state of tension and under strain. Mary is unable to adapt to her new life on the farm with Dick, she is constantly longing for the town she left behind. The linear plot is about Mary Turner’s life, going back to her childhood and progressing to her characters fatal ending. The narrator tells of Mary being raised by “frustrated parents” and the hatred she felt towards her father. Her body is treated with discust,”She smelt the thick stuff of his trousers”, a possibility that some sort of child abuse occurred, which would account for her arrested sexuality, the fear and repulsion of sex. Mary becomes a friendless character who receives no help from her Husband and no loyalty from the servant.
However violent Mary becomes with her servant she never actually commits a crime. Mary is driven to marry Dick after she over hears people mocking her and she feels she is being ostracized. The reader views Mary as a heroine who has lost her struggle. We are told by the narrator that evil was not contained within this woman but that evil was all around her. Throughout the novel the author’s disapproval of sexual and political prejudice and the colonialism in South Africa is constantly reinforced. This in turn influences the reader not to adapt to the main characters viewing of the world.
Lessing’s novel can be seen as Mary’s constant struggle to preserve her authenticity and sense of self but she fails to overcome her struggle due to the forces and conditions that surround her. Mary’s failures are rooted in her family and culture that in turn dooms her to her death. Although at the beginning of Mary and Moses’s relationship, Mary exerts all her power and authority, we soon see a role reversal and a curious relationship develop when Moses insists on being treated like a human. From the beginning of the novel we become aware of Mary’s family struggles of poverty.
Lessing intentionally tried to make the reader constantly switch from sympathising with Mary to despising her. Both Mary and Dick are identified as being tragic figures because of their failure to communicate and to address the practical and emotional difficulties in their lives. Mary believed that she was as a white person is superior to the black natives in every way.
The relationship that Mary develops with her black servant Moses shatters the complacency of the whites in Africa. Moses’ power in the relationship is unquestionable and real. His action in murdering Mary is simply a demonstration of the control which he exerts over her and in general which the blacks have in their own country still. The whites only retain a hold based on lies and corruption
The land is what kills Mary. Mary’s efforts to assert her white authority over a black man continually backfire and leave her with less control. “While it is never explicitly stated, the novel suggests that Mary succumbs to him sexually just as her mental faculties begin to disintegrate”(40)
Mary’s cognizance of the murder as one compounded by her own guilt and by vengeance, rather than unwarranted aggression, shows a strange ability to forgive her own murderer even as he performs the act that she knows he is compelled to do.(42)
Theshadow of regret, followed by the desire to explain and to be absolved of guilt, marks the first and only moment in the novel in which Mary is conceived as a self-possessed agent of her own destiny(43)
The reader never consent to Mary’s view of the world but they can relate to the traditions and cultures that she was raised in that influenced her behaviour. Mary had been brought up to be afraid of black men:
“She was afraid of them [the natives], of course. Every woman in South Africa is brought up to be. In her childhood she had been forbidden to walk out alone, and when she asked why, she had been told in the furtive, lowered, but matter-of-fact voice she associated with her mother, that they were nasty and might do horrible things to her”(chapt4)
“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.”(chap.7)
The reader identifies with Mary’s Emotional failure as a white woman, a wife that rendered from her childhood upbringing and formed her into this insecure woman.