EnglishShort Story

The setting of “A Sunrise on the Veld” by Doris Lessing

The setting of story takes place in an African Veld. A veld is like an open space of land somewhat like grasslands. The boy’s home was also the setting at the beginning of the story where he had got ready to start his day early in the morning without the knowledge of his parents. The author talked about the setting a bit describing the tall grass and beautiful atmosphere around the boy. “The grass stood to his shoulders, and the trees were showering a faint silvery rain.  He was soaked; his whole body was clenched in a steady shiver.”

African Veld

As well as described the floor of the boy’s home as cold and hard which shocked his feet when it had met contact with the ground. “As soon as he stepped over the lintel, the flesh of his soles contracted on the chilled earth, and his legs began to ache with cold.  It was night:  the stars were glittering, the trees standing black and still.  He looked for signs of the day, for the greying of the edge of a stone, or lightning in the sky where the sun would rise, but there was nothing yet.”  

Here the boy’s looking for the signs of day symbolizes his looking for self-realization which he is going to have after seeing the dying buck. The description of “the trees standing black and still” creates a sort of loneliness that is perhaps required for the change the boys going to face later in the story. The passage above is also an excellent example of a natural description. “Then he tiptoed to the room where the dogs slept, and was fearful that they might have been tempted to go before him, but they were waiting, their haunches crouched in reluctance at the cold, but ears and swinging tails greeting the gun ecstatically.”

In this excerpt, the visual description of the room of the boy’s dogs not creates a sort of suspense but also tells us about the boy’s character who even does not want the dogs to have an edge over him. “…and was fearful that they might have been tempted to go before him.”

The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening; Doris compares the sun to this young boy who is learning about mortality when he is still young at heart.  The child is obtaining knowledge of the various intimations displayed by mortality. The fact that the boy is realizing another side of life does not necessarily mean that death did not exist before. It is just that some new reality has dawned upon him and he has started understanding the reality of life.

This reality, this new light has been compared to sunrise. The story can also be approached by keeping in view the setting. The author has richly employed a suggestive style that is likely to parallel the boy’s vivid emotional state. The warmth in the boys’ bed and the cold morning are very much suggestive and symbolic. Here, warmth is a sign of life while the chill outside is an allusion to death. This change of weather from warmth to cold is shown when he suddenly experiences the mortality behind the wounded buck; his innocence and self-absorption receive a sudden halt.

Another alluring aspect of nature that makes the setting of the story vivid and more powerful is when we find the boy marching towards the veld with his gun and dogs. It seems as if he were in competition with the stars, leaving even with the nature and fast pacing time. “He would have to hurry.  Before the light grew strong, he must be miles away; and already a tint of green stood in the hollow of a leaf, and the air smelled of the morning and the stars were dimming.”

While going towards the veld the boy seems to control nature and nature seems as if it were saying her welcome. He was the only human being among the powerful elements of nature. “Soon he had left the cultivated part of the farm.  Behind him, the bush was low and black.  In front was a long vlei, acres of long pale grass that sent back a hollowing gleam of light to a satiny sky.  Near him, thick swathes of grass were bent with the weight of water, and diamond drops sparkled on each frond.”

Further, when he hears the sound of the dying buck, an incident that is about to change his future and his outlook towards life is a description that makes the setting of the story very much effective.            “There it was again.  In the deep morning hush that held his future and his past, was a sound of pain, and repeated over and over:  it was a kind of shortened scream, as if someone, something, had no breath to scream.” 

Standing near the buck he feels something new in his mind and soul. Here we find not only the climax of the story but also, so to speak, a sort of epiphany for the boy. “Suffering, sick, and angry, but also grimly satisfied with his new stoicism, he stood there leaning on his rifle, and watched the seething black mound grown smaller.”

In the climax of the story and afterward, the writer has beautifully presented the theme of life and death. Unto now everything for the boy was life and happiness. But after it a new reality of life dawns upon him and that reality is the reality of death. This theme of life and death is stressed through the boys talking to the ants. "Go away!” he said to the ants, very coldly.  "I am not for you – not just yet, at any rate.  Go away.”  And he fancied that the ants turned and went away.”

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