Doris Lessing


Doris Lessing Essay, Research Paper

Doris Lessing Doris Lessing wrote many novels, short stories, and plays. Most of her recognized works are in a series called “Children of Violence”. This work consists of a five part series starring a character named Martha Quest, whom portrays Lessing’s real life trials. In the first book Martha Quest, is primarily about a young girl growing up on a farm with her parents. The second is called A Proper Marriage. In this book Martha is in conflict about being in a conventional marriage with some one she has no idea why she married. The third part of this sequel is called A Ripple from the Storm. Here Martha has already left her husband and daughter, has joined a communist group, and has gotten married for a second time. In the fourth novel,Landlocked, Martha realizes that her second marriage is now breaking up. Last but not at the least is The Four-Gated City. This is the novel that brings the saga, Children of Violence, to an end. She has left her two husbands, a daughter and is now independent. In the two novels, A Proper Marriage and A Ripple from the Storm, Martha has gone through many difficulties. Martha including other characters find themselves in social, political, sexual and marriage struggles (Masterplots 254). The characters take different measures in confronted with certain situations. My primary focus in this paper is to talk about racial pressures that Martha encounter throughout her life. To better understand what is going on I am going to change this topic and give a brief history of the time frame in which Martha’s early life has revolved around. The year was 1939. Most European countries were trying to expand their market of products and gather raw materials. Zimbabwe, an African country was colonized by Britain. World War II was starting and Britain had sent hundreds of soldiers to this colony to protect it from being invaded by other expanding nations. Zimbabwe had similar laws to those of Britain and the people were adapting its customs. Like any other part of the world, Zimbabwe is considered a plural society. In this plural society, new British immigrants, together with their systems of government, customs and culture imposed their beliefs on the natives. The conflict which was going on between the British and the Africans was virtually inescapable (Racial Themes 23). Some of the conflicts that Doris Lessing deals with in, A Proper Marriage and A Ripple from the Storm, were the ideas that every one had towards the natives. The major issues were, the way the land was divided between the black and white population, the way natives were treated, the way that colonist acted towards them, and finally the types of help groups that were formed. Through this research paper I will attempt to give evidence and comments to support the statements that are stated above. I will first discuss the attitudes that the characters had towards the natives. Some of the characters believed that the blacks were not equal to them. The colonist also believed the blacks were not smart enough to be equal. The colonist were also scared of native uprising. Martha’s mother, Mrs. Quest, had cruel ideas of the natives. In one part of the book Mrs. Quest was talking to Martha and said, “Matty, Mrs Talbot told me that you let the black girl sleep in Caroline’s room when you go out-they have all kinds of diseases, it’s awful. Well, you must boil the sheets afterwards (Proper Marriage 262).” One might think that Martha’s mother was talking about a dog or some kind of animal. In another part of the book she says,”It is dangerous to have a boy (black boy) in a place where there is a small girl, because he was bound to rape her (Proper Marriage 176)”. These two statement made by Mrs. Quest makes her sound prejudice. She speaks as if she does not value life. Mrs. Quest does not have a peace of sympathy for the natives. She is cruel and disrespectful. Mrs. Quest is not the only character that thinks of the natives in this manner. An example of this is clearly shown in a conversation between Mrs. Lowe-Island and Mrs. Maynard which goes as stated: Mrs. Lowe-Island flushed again and insisted, “They tell me they have niggers at their meetings.” Mrs. Maynard half closed her eyes , and remarked,”Aggie, dear, there are parts of Africa where Africans sit in Parliament.” “But we don’t want that to happen here” “It surely depends how it happens?” Her smile at Mrs. Lowe-Island was an invitation to allow the mills of thought to begin to turn; but Mrs. Lowe-Island snapped, “I wouldn’t sit down in the same room with a Kaffir.”(Proper Marriage 185) This is an example of racism. Some people in the book thought that the native’s did not have the intelligence or the skill to be in a position of power. These ideas were thought by almost every character and had effected everyone in one why or another. One might think that racism was a virus that was spreading around and that no one was immune to it. An example of this is clearly stated in A Ripple from the Storm. This hurt had been crystallized by the defection of Elias Phiri, who vanished from group life after the meeting which was also the last for the R.A.F. group. Jasmine had gone down the Magistrate’s court to enquire from him, urging his attendance on behalf of his nation. When he arrived at the next meeting he was drunk, sat through two items on the agenda with a look of sullen withdrawal, and then interrupted with a long speech, delivered on his feet as if he were at a public meeting, against his people who, he said, were all backward savages and fit for nothing but servitude. He left them at the conclusion of his speech, which was, “I tell you, they’re all pigs and Kaffir dogs (Ripple 153)!” After reading this, one might think that there was a plan to make the natives think of them self just as the white colonist did. This made the natives think of them selves as useless and stupid. It also made them fight among them selves. This kept them from uniting and fighting the real the problem; people whom held them back (the white colonists). Martha had grown up around people with these idea’s although her mentality was different. She treated the natives as being equal to her. When Martha moved from the apartment into a house, her first husband, Douglas got servants for her. She did not like to give them orders, because she did not feel comfortable and she did not like to treat them as servants. She was constantly leavening Caroline, her daughter, in the care of the servants. One day Martha’s mother found her granddaughter in the lap of the garden boy and told Martha, “I put her there, she’s safe there. Do you know, she was sitting on the garden boy’s lap”, (Proper Marriage 256). Martha did not realize what her mother was trying to say. Martha never had a good relationship with her mother and had become accustomed at ignoring her. When Martha realized what her mother was trying to say she got up and left the room. A little later, Mrs. Quest tells Martha that she is leaving Caroline alone with those “black things” too much. Martha finally has had it and tells her mother,”Oh, shut up and get out of here. I’ve had enough (Proper Marriage 260).” Her mother tries to explain to her that she is trying to help her, but Martha does not want to hear it. One might think that Martha is a strong character because she never lets herself be influenced by things that she does not believe in. Now that it is established how the people of the colony thought of the natives, we can deal with their separation from the white population. The two races were divided by two things, one was the law and the second by people that were scared that if they helped, the natives would revolt. An example stated in A Proper Marriage, “The natives were on the point of rising. In any colony , a world crisis is always seen first in terms of a native rising (Proper Marriage 120).” The laws that separated them were called the “colour bar”. The colour bar included several laws controlling the native and in a way the white colonies. The natives lived in a designated area called a reservation. They were not allowed out of the reservation after dark without a pass, and if they had no pass then they were subject to a large fine.

As stated in the beginning, when World War II broke out soldiers from another part of the world came to the small colony. They did not know the customs of the people of this colony. They talked, danced and became friends with the natives. Some of the things the soldiers did are stated in the following paragraph: Not before a number of disturbing incidents had occurred. For instance, several innocent men had brought Coloured women into the bars of an evening, and had violently resented being asked to leave. Others were observed offering black men cigarettes on street corners, while talking to them, or even walking with them. It was rumored that quite a number had actually gone into the homes of the servants of the city, in the native location. But this was not the worst; it was felt that such behavior was merely the result of ignorance; a short acquaintance with local custom would put things right. No, it was something more indefinable, something inarticulate, an atmosphere like an ironic stare, which, since it was not put into words, could not be answered (Proper Marriage 165). From this paragraph one could conclude that the colonist wanted foreigners to their colony to treat the natives as they did, they were thought of as violating and disrespecting their customs. Some of the people of the colony were so bothered that one person said, “I heard from Edgar that they have no idea how to treat natives. Not their fault, of course, poor things. I suggested to him a course of lectures on native policy, that sort of thing, before they arrive in the country (Proper Marriage 167).” The local government made laws that regulated the soldiers. One of these laws stated that the soldiers or A.R.F. could not go to the native locations after dark. Other laws prohibited them from associating with the native as they had done previously. These R.A.F. men did a little more than make the white colonist complain. The numerous R.A.F. now stationed near the city lead Martha and others in the left-wing organization to think more about the possibilities of advocating the end of the “colour bar” than the white Africans had earlier. The British military, were far less concerned with the rigid racial categories of African, “Coloured”, and white than were the white controlling the city (The Novels Of D.L. 24). This left-wing organization was not the only one to appear. Many organizations had appeared maybe because of the guilt that they had for the way that colonist had treated the natives. There were two types of groups that had been formed. One was the kind of group that actually helped the natives and the other was a group that talked about what they should do but, really did nothing to help them. The group that helped the natives did so in several ways. They ran the welfare office were the natives could come in and ask for help with medical problems. They also helped in finding the natives jobs. In today’s society they would be considered social workers. They did not mind helping out the natives with their problems, and did not care what the other white colonist said about them. Martha on the other hand was in a group that tried to stay secret. They did not what the colonists to know what they were doing, in part because they were a communist group. This group dealt with everything from women’s right to the way they treated the natives. They also argued about what measure should be taken in order to help the natives. They delivered newspapers they wrote, on a weekly basis, to the natives location. One day they went to one of the native’s home and saw a young boy sick. He did not want to go to the hospital for the natives, “coloured”, because he was scared. A couple of the members of the group worked together to convince him to go to the hospital. The boy finally went. When they went to the next meeting the group leader told them that they should not have done that because they risked the group becoming public. In the same meeting one of the group members said: “But it’s so hard to change. Today on the job I did something very bad. I was fitting a pipe with my mate. And one of the Kaffirs brought the wrong pipe and I shouted at him. But if I did deferent, the blokes on the job’d think I was mad. I’m just an apprentice, and it’s hard to be different from the grownups. And there’s Piet. I saw him today on the job with some Kaffirs unloading stuff and he was talking to them just the way he always does-and listen to me, I use the word Kaffir and I shouldn’t, it just slips out.” He ended in despair, almost in tears (Ripple 70). From this, one could conclude that the members of the group did not know if they were suppose to be helping the natives or not. There was a kind of disorder that caused some of the member to be confused. Martha believed that word and action went hand in hand. She says,”All the same, I’ve been thinking…..we talk and talk and analyze and make formulations, but what are we doing? What are we changing (Ripple 88)?” This shows the lack of communication within the group. They were willing to speak but, were not willing to do anything about it. Doris Lessing lived through all these pressures in her life. From her writings I could tell that she hated the idea that the native people of Zimbabwe were robbed of their land and treated like animals. I believe that Lessing is now smiling as she is seeing the free elections in South Africa and is remembering what she lived through. In reminiscing and seeing today’s South Africa it is a pleasure that the African people have gained independence and have finally won their native home. back and seeing what is happening today, must be pleased that the African people have gained control over their native home. Bibliography Bloom, Harold,ed. Modern Critical Views Doris Lessing. New York:Chelsea House Publishing,1986. Brewster, Dorothy. Doris Lessing. New York:Twayne Publishers Inc,1986. Doris, Lessing. A Proper Marriage. New York:Penguin Books,1952. Doris, Lessing. A Ripple from the Storm. New York:Pengui Books,1958. Frantz, C. and Rogers, Cyriil A. Racial Themes In Southern Rhodesia. New York:Kenninkat Press,1962. Magill, Frank N. “Children of Violence”. Masterplots II, British and Common Wealth Fiction Series. 1990,ed. Mlambo, Eshmael. Rhodesia The Struggle For a Birthright. London:C. Hurstt Company,1972. Nelson, Harold D.,ed. Zimbabwe a Country study. Washington D.C.:US G.P.O.,1983. O’Meara, Patrick. Rhodesia Racial Conflict or Coexistence? London:Cornell University Press,1975. Palley, Claire. The Constitutional History and Law of Southern Rhodesia 1888-1965 With Special References to imperial Control. Oxford: Clarendon Press,1966. Schlueter, Paul. “Doris Lessing”. Dictionary of Literary Biography, British Novelists. Detroit:A Bruccdi Clark Book,1983. Schlueter, Paul. The Novels of Doris Lessing. London:Feffer & Simons Inc,1973. Sprague, Claire and Tiger, Virginia. Critical Essays on Doris Lessing. Boston:G.K. Hall & Co.,1986.

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