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Published: 07-09-2019

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Lessing's "A Sunrise on the Veld": Critical analysis

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007, Doris Lessing crafted fiction that is deeply infused with autobiographical touches, specially from her experiences in Africa. All of her works center around modern themes such as the clash of cultures, the gross injustices of racial inequality, the struggle amongst the opposing forces within an individual’s own character, and the conflict among the individual’s conscience and the collective great. Her brief story “A Sunrise on the Veld” documents the protagonist’s initiation from youthful arrogance to the maturity of encounter.

This story enfolds in its narrative the transformation of a young boy’s belief in his superiority over the world to his understanding of how vulnerable he is and how related he is to the other inhabitants of the veld. The author shows an intense mastery of craft in projecting home her viewpoint through the persona on the boy, namely, life is unpredictable. Written in third particular person narrative, the plot of Doris’ narrative is complex in nature. Lessing portrays a boy (who does not have any specific name, creating him a symbolic character) who is over filled with vainglorious sense of pride at his total mastery more than his body:

“he played with it for the exciting of being aware of that it was a weakness he could defeat with no effort”

His hubris is evident from his sense of superiority over the forces of nature, as the boy believed in his adolescent triumph: “Even my brain- even that! I can manage every component of myself.” Deluded by his euphoria more than his belief that he is a usurper upon the forces on nature the boy prided in the truth that he had proved his merit, that he had defeated the undefeatable forces of nature by sheer will energy alone. As the boy reminisces:

“he had once stayed awake 3 nights running, to prove that he could, and then worked all day, refusing even to admit he was tired and now sleep seemed to him a servant to be commanded and refused”

The boy was completely entrenched with a feeling of invincibility and he sought the globe with adolescent wonder and excitement. Unable to support with the vigorous joy of life the boy asserted his individuality by his exultant attitude and an ecstatic dash through the veld. Ironically like any standard youth the boy believed himself to be a fully mature man with utter and total command more than his life. As the boy himself muses:

“I am fifteen! Fifteen!… There’s nothing at all I can not grow to be, nothing at all I can not do.. I include the globe. I can make of it what I want. If I pick, I can modify everything that is going to happen”

In order to initiate the method of maturity Lessing puts the boy via a test of merit. His jubilant and exhilarated state of happiness comes to a sudden halt when the boy notices a contradiction: “in the deep morning hush that held his future and his past, there was a sound of pain… a type of shortened scream.” The boy loses his animation altogether and becomes alert and focused so as to determine the supply of the strange sound. It doesn’t take him extended to pin point the origin of the strangled scream to a mangled buck that looked like:

“a figure from a dream, a strange beast that was horned and drunken legged… it seemed to be ragged”
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