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Race, Gender, and the Dilemma in Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing

He Yujiang


This paper aims to analyze Mary’s dilemma regarding to gender and race in the light of Julia Kristeva’s signification process which consists of two elements, the semiotic and the symbolic. The two joust for supremacy, but neither can totally exterminate the other. A healthy balance between them will bring an integrated self, while the imbalance will cause psychosis. The symbolic, representing the patriarchal and colonial laws, represses the semiotic which is Mary’s desires and feelings. Under the repression, the semiotic can’t find appropriate way of expression in such a patriarchal colonial society. In the colony, the symbolic has absolute dominance over the semiotic. The unbalance between the two puts women in a dilemma which is mainly manifested in the aspects of gender and race. Mary prefers to be an independent and single woman, but the symbolic—the patriarchal society impels her in to marriage where her efficiency and energy are suffocated. Finding no way of expressing the semiotic, she has to transfer the expression to her husband Dick (a white man) or transforms into the form of the symbolic. The transgression of racial code revives her sexuality and brings her a true selfhood. But it is soon held down by the colonial ideology. Her final death immortalizes true selfhood which cannot be realized in a patriarchal colonial society that imposes her the inextricable dilemma. Kristeva’s psychoanalytical approach is also applicable for the further research on the behaviors of certain other characters in The Grass is Singing.

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