BOOK REPORT: The Grass is Singing | Doris Lessing

Published in 1950, The Grass is Singing is the first novel Persian-born British author Doris Lessing. The book focuses on the tragic fate of the protagonist—Mary, a white Rhodesian woman and the wife of a famer. Taking place in southern Africa during the late 1940s, the story deals with racism, sexism and materialism and depicts the whole picture of African society at that time.

The Grass is Singing opens with the death of Mary Turner, who is found murdered on the porch of her home. However, compared to the crime, people’s reaction is odder. The whole community chooses to keep silent and persons involved turns to guard it as a secret. The way people work this case out suggests that everyone knows everything although nothing has been talked straightforward. We have to see the whole thing from the very beginning, back to our victim’s early life before her disastrous marriage. Mary’s childhood is everything but happiness. Living in poor family of a drunken father and bitter mother, she doesn’t find a relief until parents died and began her single life with a satisfying job. Happy days don’t last long before she is in her thirties and decides to get married after overhearing friends’ insulting talk about her singlehood. That’s when Dick Turner appears and takes her to his farm which he struggles to make profitable after marrying her.

There has been a while when life is peaceful except their marriage turns out to be a relationship without love and understanding. The leave of their first old black house servant become a turning point. Dick finds that Mary, like most Rhodesian woman, is racist and cruel to the native blacks. Mary finds that Dick has a weak personality and shows incompetence in farm practice. They begin to constantly change their house servants. They often quarrel about Mary’s overly hostile treatment to their native black workers and Dick’s decision on farm work. Mary even once escaped to city and back to life that she lived before. They live a solitary life with no social activities except some rare visits from their neighbor Slaters. Poverty keeps them away from the white community and even farther since Mary refuses Mrs. Slater’s invitations because of pride. Dick is badly ill after Mary’s escape, which pushes Mary to go to the farm and oversees the farm labor. She is repressive and shows contempt for the natives. Once, she even whips on the face of a worker who talks to her in English. Farm work doesn’t get any better with Dick getting well and running a series of failing experiments. Dick bring a new house servant whose name is Moses, the native who Mary had whipped.

Mary finds herself feel fear and contempt with a complicated relying on this man. As time goes by, Mary depends more and more on Moses. Their intimate relationship is found by Slater during his visit. He used it to successfully convince Dick to sell his farm to Slater and take Mary away. During those days they prepare to leave, Mary has seen with Moses by Tony, the assistant hired by Slater. In their confrontation, Mary chooses the side toward Moses, which irritates him. The day before they leave, Moses kills Mary and waits for police nearby giving up his planned escape.

This is a great work both in story-telling and theme-revealing. It presents directly the cruel reality of African social situation and people’s destined tragic life living in this society. Mary is murdered by Moses but she is the victim of the society. Mary grows up in a typical white family in Africa which suffers from poverty while keeps feeling superior to the natives. Memories of childhood have a great influence on Mary in many ways, especially in her values of marriage. However, she marries a man that she doesn’t really love in order to fulfill her friends’ and this society’s expectation. The marriage is not an end but a beginning. As a well-educated woman, Mary has her own way of life which is contradicted to her position as a wife in wedlock. She gets ability that nowhere to put to use since husband is the decider of a family as the rule of this society. She has been good at her working and got a well wage, but after her marriage, although Dick asks her opinions of farm but never takes it seriously. She trusts her friends with all her heart only to find that they have spoken ill of her behind her back. When she lives a solitary life with her husband, they again are criticized and despised by the whole community for disregarding the white integrity. As the society forces deeply in her mind, she believes that the natives disgusting and animal-like and treats them bitterly. When she feels the sincerely caring from Moses and begins to learn to see him through heart, she finds some consolation in this harsh society.

Nevertheless, she isn’t strong enough to fight against social force of racism and choose the opposite side against Moses and her true feeling. Her compromise to the society is at the cost of her life.
Moses, the murder, is also nothing but a victim of the society. Different from most of the natives, he gets some education when he works for church. Knowledge gives him fresh eyes to see the cruel world but does not point out a way to change it. He thinks about human nature and unequally social situation but never gets an answer. Having a pure heart, he decides to stay when he understands the misery Mary suffers even she treat him harshly. He takes care of her and tries to bring her life some happiness, but a harmonious relationship between white and black is taboo of the society. When he is betrayed by Mary, anger makes him hold the knife and kills Mary. In the end, he gives up escaping as he planned and waits for punishment. Maybe he knows at that moment, there is nowhere to escape from this kind of destined tragedy, death is a relief.

The Grass is singing is a great success when it is first published. It not only covers varies aspects of African social reality but also portrays the beauty of African lands. Rich meaning underlies in interesting story. It is penetrating and thought-provoking. In a word, it is a book that you don’t want to miss.


BOOK REPORT: To Kill a Mockingbird |Nelle Harper Lee

A Book Report on To Kill a Mockingbird

Published in 1960 and won Pulitzer Prize later, To Kill a Mockingbird is a semi-autobiographical book by Nelle Harper Lee and a classic in American literature. An extraordinary work and probably the most widely read book about racism, it represents the battle of justice and prejudice, goodness and evilness which prevails in humanity from a little girl’s point of view. It covers a span of three years during which both Maycomb, the small town, and people there, especially Scout Finch and her brother Jem underwent significant changes.

Scout Finch, our narrator and protagonist, grew up in a close-knit town of Alabama where people have clear social stations according to their living conditions and their family history in the town. The Finch family fell rather high up in the social hierarchy in this town because of Scout’s father Atticus, an honored man and respectable lawyer. All began in the summer when Dill came and kids enjoyed their adventures with new friends. Despite their age, they knew their neighbors pretty well, except Arthur Radley whose nickname was Boo. They figured him who had been suppressed in his childhood and barely came outside as ugly and scary. It had been their daily venture to try to get him out. When summer ended, school life began. There Scout found those differences and conflicts which she considered normal and natural before become tense and acute. Scout tried to get a conclusion with fist-fighting to understand the way life exist beyond the world she knew. Through the process she went a further step in toleration and learned to see the world in different perspectives. The trail that Atticus took to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, brought dramatic changes to their life. A barrage of racial slurs and insults had been poured upon them because of Atticus’ role in that case, including threats from the accuser’s father Ewell who was a nasty drunkard and fell at the bottom of the social stations as “trash”. However, Atticus insisted his point and explained to kids the reason that he chose to fight for justice both as a lawyer and as a father. On the day of trail, Jem and Scout went to see how the case went. Atticus pointed out the loopholes in Ewells’ testimony with sharp questions and proved with evidence the impossibility for Tom to commit the charged crime. Although the innocence of the black man was obvious even to the eyes of children, the jury convicted his guilty based on his skin color. Tom’s death later in his escape ended the case but not the story. On their way back home from Halloween party, Jem and Scout were attacked. When the man attempted to hurt Scout after Jem out of consciousness, Boo came out and saved them. It turned out that Ewell fell on his own knife and died as sheriff insisted despite the truth that Boo killed him for protecting the kids. Scout showed her understanding comparing this to the mockingbird killing. After took Boo home, standing on his porch, Scout gained her new value of life. And there at home, Atticus waited beside the bed for Jem to wake up.

Throughout the book, going along with the classic transition of Scout and Jem from innocence and maturity, there have been some different themes. However, all of them come finally to the exploration of humanity and morality. To Kill a Mockingbird presents us the constant conversation regarding the inherent goodness and evilness of people. There will be conflicts and battles both between inside and outside and between good and evil, in the end, goodness will suppress the evilness.

When the story started, life seemed to be simple and people were all as ordinary as any folks. Scout and Jem hadn’t been much aware of the truth covered by the quietness until the hour of awakening came. The trail was like a stone hitting on a calm surface of the lake making everything different. Neighbors began to show their different side. Through eyes of Scout and Jem, we see beautiful hearts twisted by rumors and crime imposed on innocence by “honored men”.

Ting well with the title of the book To Kill a Mockingbird, goodness has been well explained and presented by “mockingbird” in the community. In chapter 10, Atticus talked about rifles and told Scout and Jem that “it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because mockingbirds are harmless creatures who do nothing but singing for our enjoyment”. In the story, Tom Robinson is clearly one of the “mockingbirds” who is killed both by fear and by prejudice. He is a kind-hearted and hardworking man and just like the mockingbird never did anything harmful to anyone. He symbolizes the innocent part of our humanity which is shot to death on its way escaping from injustice and prejudice. Atticus, our honored hero, is obviously another “mockingbird”, who fighting on behalf of justice and righteousness against evilness. He represents the bright side of our humanity, being upright and bravery, he had always been the “rays of light” that dark power afraid of. Arthur Radley, our Boo, who had been suppressed by his family then the whole society but never lost his beautiful heart, is also a “mockingbird”. He presents the goodness which has been misunderstood, repressed and even twisted by the society. We also have kindhearted Calpurnia, gentle Miss Maudie and even the old, weird Mrs Dubose who showed no harm and bravery in her sickness. In addition, Scout and Jem, gradually understanding the world and gaining a new value of life, would follow the steps of their father became “mockingbirds” too.

On the other side stands the evil part. The ignorant fear and hatred to the black people is the greatest one, represented by Bob Ewell and white mob. Although it seemed to be powerful and caused the death of Tom Robinson, this ignorance and hatred is nothing but bluff. No matter when it encountered with goodness, outside the jail, outside Tom Robinson’ house or even on the court, it stepped back and feared. In the end, when Ewell was killed and “death buried death”, goodness prevail evilness. When Scout stood on Boo’s porch and watched around, seeing the whole world around with refreshed eyes, we knew hope and goodness will never disappear even in the darkest days and it will wait for someone to “climb into one’s skin and walk around it” to find.

In a word, To Kill a Mockingbird is a book that no one wants to miss through which we learn about American history of fighting race discrimination and through which we learn to see the goodness inside people. It will be the eternal theme of our life.

BOOK REPORT: Winesburg, Ohio | Sherwood Anderson

     Winesburg, Ohio, great.

     Sherwood Anderson, great.

     Winesburg, Ohio, published in 1919, is defined a masterpiece of Sherwood Anderson and also world’s finest literature. This is not about boasting or following the suit. The tales and persons are vividly portrayed, imagined though, in a perfect way.

     There are 21 short stories totally. I would rather not say that it’s a collection of short stories concentrated on different people and different personalities, but a novel which is essentially made up of several short stories that are appeared independently while connected somehow.

     I was impressed, first of all, by his good command of English. The description of the appearance, characteristics, utterance of people is way to amazing which is the result of his keen observation. According to a letter Anderson wrote to his novelist friend, he had made “a serious of intensive studies of people in his hometown and there is a sad note running through them. One or two of them get pretty closely down to ugly things of life.”

     In Chapter II, Hands, Anderson exerted his efforts to portray the hands just like the way he did to a person. Wing Biddlebaum, the major character, was talked about, mocked, remembered for that pair of hands which like a signature of him that he hated and blamed. “The man was bald and his nervous little hands fiddles about the bare white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled locks.” The story of Wing Biddlebaum is a story of hand. “The slender expressive fingers, forever active, forever striving to conceal themselves in his pockets or behind his back, came forth and became the piston rods of his machinery of expression.” More miserable, “their restless activity, like unto the beating of the wings of an imprisoned bird, had given him his name. Some obscure poet of the town had thought of it.” What a tragedy! Linguistically speaking, the power to name implies the power to control. I have read this several times and every time I read it a strong feeling of anxiety and grief strikes me. There is a deep fear in this man. It is the fear that made his life miserable and more. The tragedy did not linger. It spreads to his whole life and captured him like a nightmare. But there was a moment that for once he forgot the hands. “You must try to forget all you have learned. You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices.” He is the one that shut the door to get relief for himself.

        “Upon the veranda of his house by the ravine, Wing Biddlebaum continued   to walk up and down until the sun had disappeared and the road beyond the field was lost in the grey shadows. Going into his house he cut slices of bread and spread honey upon them. When the rumble of the evening train that took away the express cars loaded with the day’s harvest of berries had passed and restored the silence of the summer night, he went again to walk upon veranda. In the darkness he could not see the hands and they become quiet. Although he still hungered for the presence of the boy, who was the medium through which he expressed his love of man, the hunger became again a part of his loneliness and his waiting. Lighting a lamp, Wing Biddlebaum washed the few dishes soiled by his simple meal and, setting up a folding cot by the screen door that led to the porch, prepared to undress for the night. A few stray white bread crumbs lay on the cleanly washed floor by the table; putting the lamp upon a low stool he began to pick up the crumbs, carring them to his mouth one by one with unbelievable rapidity. In the dense blotch of light beneath the table, the kneeling figure looked like a priest engaged in some service of his church. The nervous expressive fingers, flashing in and out of the light, might well have been mistaken for the fingers of the devotee going swiftly through decade after decade of his rosary.”

     “在靠近山涧的房屋前廊,飞翼手比德•鲍姆来回徘徊不停,直到夕阳消逝了,田野那边的道 路隐没在灰色的阴影里。走进屋子,他切了几片面包,涂上蜂蜜。晚间的火车载着全天收获的浆果,隆隆地驶去,夏天的夜晚恢复了宁静,他再一次走到游廊上。黑 暗中,他无法看见自己的手,它们也保持着安静。他依然渴望着少年的到来,通过这个中介他才能表达对人类的热爱,可是这盼望再一次成为他的孤独和期待的一部 分。点亮油灯,飞翼手比德•鲍姆清洗了简单的晚餐弄脏的几只盘子,然后把折叠床安放在通向走廊的纱门背后,准备脱衣就寝。桌子旁整洁的地板上撒着一些面包 屑,他把油灯移到一张矮凳上,检起面包屑,以让人难以相信的速度丢到自己嘴里。在桌子底下的一束束光斑中,他跪着的身体像极了教堂里正在祈祷的牧师。紧张 挥舞着的手指在光线中出没,极容易被人们误解为某个虔诚的人正迅速地一个个数着手中的念珠。”
     This is the very last paragraph of “Hands”, and I regard it as a sketch of the whole life of the character, Wing Biddlebaum.

     It is always truly acknowledge for me that a good work is like a allegory. No matter how tiny a molecules, it is meantime a vast world.

     I think that “小镇畸人” is a very good translation for Winesburg, Ohio. Most characters in Winesburg, Ohio are portrayed in a moment of crisis. They are repeatedly driven by sudden impulses and overwhelmed by strange compulsions that can be neither mastered nor understood. The prevailing mood—expressed in a colloquial and lyrical style—is one of misunderstanding and loneliness, restlessness, dissatisfaction and disillusionment. Anderson boldly depicts the destructive passions that swirl beneath the apparently calm surface which is opposite to the traditionally idyllic portrayal of small-town life.

     “That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such a thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.”

     “起初,世界年轻的时候,有许许多多的思想,但没有真理这东西。人自己创造真理,而每一个真理都是许多模糊思想的混合物。全世界到处是真理,而真理通通是美 丽的。一个人一旦为自己掌握一个真理,称之为他的真理,并且努力依此真理过他的生活时,他便变成畸人,他拥抱的真理便变成虚妄。”

     The so-called “Grotesques” include everyone of us, I assume.

     And I dare not to read it too many times, for once is enough to ensure myself not forgetting.


BOOK REPORT: My Country and My People | Lin yutang

     Lin Yutang, born in 1895, was a world-renowned novelist, essayist, philosopher, philologist and lexicographer. The New York Times said at the time of his death,” Lin Yutang had no peer as an interpreter to western minds of the customs, aspirations, fears and thought of his people.” My Country and My People was finished in 1935. In the book, he surveyed the mental and moral constitution and ideals of the Chinese people, as well as society, literature and the art of living.

     The book was divided into two large parts, Bases and Life. In each part, he further divided it into several categories which then were analysed explicitly with several aspects.

     Part I, Bases, was constituted by four chapters, namely, the Chinese People, the Chinese Character, the Chinese Mind and Ideals of Life.

     In the first Chapter, Lin Yutang mainly focused on five aspects of Chinese People. Firstly, apart from the cultural unity which bind the Chinese people as a nation, the southern Chinese differ probably as much from the northerners, in temperament, physique and habits, and happily, within orbit of the Chinese culture there has not been a rise of nationalism, but only of provincialism. Second, man in China has adapted himself to a social and cultural environment that demands stamina, resistance power and negative strength, and he has lost a great part of mental and physical powers of conquest and adventure which characterized his forebears in the primeval forests. Third, today the Chinese people possesses a large extent the racial vigor which can be explained as the infusion of new blood. Fourth, the racial stamina and racial vitality enables the Chinese people to survive political disasters and regenerate itself through foreign blood, is party constitutional and partly cultural. Among thecultural forces making for social stability must be counted first of all the Chinese family system and the complete absence of established classes be another. Fifth, the Chinese are culturally old but racially young.

     In Chapter II, the Chinese Characters are discussed. Firstly, Lin Yutang began withmellowness which suggest the qualities of a civilization built for strength and endurance rather than the qualities for progress and conquest. Then comes the three worst and most striking characteristics, patience, indifference and old roguery. The quality of patience is the result of racial adjustment to a condition where over population and economic pressure leave very little room for people to move about and is, in particular, a result of family system, which is a miniature of Chinese society. Indifference is largely due to the lack of legal protection and constitutional guarantee for personal liberty. Old roguery is due, for lack of a better word, to the Taoistic view of life. All these qualities are products of the same environment. Chinese pacificism is largely a matter of temperament as well as of human understanding. The spirit of cheerfulness and contentment is found in both the literature and illiterate classes, for such is penetration of the Chinese racial tradition. A strong determination to get the best of our life, a keen desire to enjoy what one has, and no regrets if one fails: this is the secret of the Chinese genius for contentment. Chinese humor is more in deeds than in words. No portrait of the Chinese character would be complete without a mention of its conservation.

     In Chapter III, Lin Yutang leads us to know things concerned the Chinese Mind. He suggested that Chinese suffer from an overdose of intelligence. And in many respects the Chinese mind is akin to the feminine mind. According to the author, the certain characteristics of Chinese thinking enables us to appreciate the cause of our failure to develop natural science. Chinese logic is based on the Chinese conception of truth, which according to the Chinese, can never be proved: it can only be suggested. The Chinese have resorted largely on intuition. The world of imagination in China is not confined to the illiterate. And to Lin Yutang, the most characteristic creatures of the Chinese imagination are the lovely female ghosts.

     In Chapter IV, Lin Yutang explored the ideal of life in China. To understand the Chinese ideal of life, he put, one must try to understand Chinese humanism, which implies, first a just conception of the end of human life; secondly, a complete devotion to these end; thirdly the attainment of these ends by the spirit of human reasonableness of the Doctrine of the Golden Mean, which may also be called the Religion of Common Sense. It has been pointed out that the Confusion outlook on life is positive, while the Taoistic outlook is negative. Taoism is the Great Negation, as Confucianism is the Great Affirmation. Confucianism, thought its doctrine of propriety and social status, stands for human culture and restriant , while Taoism, with its emphasis on going back to nature, disbelieves in human restraint and culture.Buddhism is the only important foreign influence that has become part and parcel of Chinese life.

     In Part II, Life, Lin Yutang also observed it through five directions, that is Woman’s Life, Social and Political Life, Literary Life, the Artistic Life and the Art of Living.

     In the discussion of Woman’s Life, Lin Yutang examined eight aspects including the subjection of woman, home and marriage, ideal of womanhood, education of daughters,love and courtship, the courtesan and concubinage, footbinding and emancipation. And it is from nine aspects that Lin Yutang looked into social and political life in China, absence of the social mind, the family system, nepotism, corruption and manners, privilege and equality, social classes, the male triad, the female triad, the village system, and “government by gentleman”. The literary life and artistic life also have very much details that reveal the true meaning of Chinese culture. Finally comes the particular Chinese art of living.

     What impresses me most is Lin Yutang’s good command of English, which is not his mother tongue. The language is accurate and beautiful indeed. Clear structure has been delivered. It is not hard for me to follow him all the way to the end of the book. And he has also examined this country and the people in very details. He provided us a general content of the whole country and people, then cut it into pieces and deeply analysed it and then show us the connection among them which in turn helped us to build the general conception in whole. In this way, we could better understand it.

     He wrote,” China is too big a country, and her national life has too many facets for her not to be open to the most diverse interpretations. I can lay bare her troubles because I have not lost hope.” To be put as a “her”, China becomes a mother-like figure which is correspond with my mind. China born and China nerd, I couldn’t love her more. “When one is in China, one is compelled to think about her, with compassion always, with despair sometimes, and with discrimination and understanding very rarely.” This sentence in his prologue of Part I suddenly striked me with realizing that no completely understanding of China-my country-is in my mind. Then I follow the organized details in this book step by step along with the increasing understanding of my country and my people.

     In the very last Chapter, Lin Yutang showed us a new perspective of life. The human spirit, according to him, is used to beautify life, to extract its essence, perhaps to help it overcome ugliness and pain inevitable in the world of our senses, but never to escape from it and find its meaning in a life hereafter.

      “In every aspect of knowledge and art of living, the test of life holds. It accounts for our pleasures and our antipathies. The test of life was with a racial thought, wordless and needing no definition or giving of reasons. It was that test of life which, instinctively I think, guided us to distrust civic civilization and uphold the rural ideal in art, life and letters, to dislike religion in our rational moments, to play with Buddhism but never quite accept its logical conclusions, and to hate mechanical ingenuity. It was that instinctive trust in life that gave us a robust common sense in looking at life’s kaleidoscopic changes and the myriad vexatious problems of the intellect which we rudely ignored. It enables us to see life steadily and see life whole, with no great distortions of values. It taught us some simple wisdom, like respect for old age and the joys of domestic life, acceptance of life, of sex and of sorrow. It made us lay emphasis on certain common virtues like endurance, industry, thrift, moderation and pacifism. It prevented the development of freakish extreme theories and the enslaving of man by products of his own intelligence. It gave us a sense of values, and taught us to accept the material as well as the spiritual goods of life. It taught us that, after all is said and done, human happiness is the end of all knowledge. And we arrange ourselves to make our lives happy on this planet, under whatever vicissitudes of fortune.”

I love the way he expresses the test of life. Yes. Life is precious that when we know something truly satisfied us, we hold on to it tight, as a mother hugs her baby close to her breast in dark, stormy night. So much of life is merely a farce. It is sometimes just as well to stand by and look at it and smile, better perhaps than to take part in it. Like a dreamer awakened, we see life, not with the romantic coloring of yesternight’s dream but with a saner vision. We are more ready to give up the dubious, the glamorous and the unattainable, but at the same time to hold on to the few things that we know will give us happiness.

     He then compared the national life and human life to the year with four seasons.

“For we are now in the autumn of our national life. There comes a time in our lives, as nations and as individuals, when we are pervaded by the spirit of early autumn, in which green is mixed with gold and sadness is mixed with joy, and hope is mixed with reminiscence. There comes a time in our lives when the innocence of spring is a memory and the exuberance of summer a song whose echoes remain faintly in the air, when as we look out on life, the problem is not how to grow but how to live truly, not how to strive and labor but how to enjoy the precious moments we have, not to squander our energy but how to conserve it in preparation for the coming winter. A sense of having arrived somewhere, of having settled and having found out what we want. A sense of having achieved something also, precious little compared with its past exuberance, but still something, like an autumn forest shorn of its summer glory but retaining such of it as will endure.

I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So i like best of autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colors richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content. From a knowledge of those limitations and its richness of experience emerges a symphony of colors, richer than all, its green speaking of life and strength, its orange speaking of golden content and its purple of resignation and death.

I never mean to use these long paragraphs to make my report look sufficient in length. When I typed these words by single letters, I try to permeate it into my heart and my philosophy of life. I want to remember these words deeply in my heart.