A Sunrise on the Veld by Doris Lessing - Summary and elements

Sunday, July 24, 2016


The story is about a boy who is filled with excitement and thinks he controls, possesses and humbles everything around him, even his family. At the end, he faces the truth that living things must die. The story explores the feeling of invincibility that young people always have. It also shows the feeling of fear and grief that most humans feel when they must face the reality of suffering and death. When the boy witnesses the death of a small helpless buck, he realizes that he cannot control everything in life.

The boy is fifteen years old. His age is significant as Lessing wants to show that the boy is about to be an adult and so he feels powerful, but throughout his journey in the African bush, he will see a buck being eaten by the ants and he will learn how to be responsible for his actions.

As for the story, the boy wakes up early in the morning without an alarm clock. He feels he can control himself and his environment. He feels invincible and full of life. Afterwards, he got dressed in the cold, then he crept through the house not wake his parents. He took his gun and his dogs and went outdoors. He began to run madly with joy as he feels he is in the heyday of his youth. He thinks he can “contain the world and make of it what I want.”

While in his state of liveliness, he heard painful cries of a creature. The boy went to investigate the source of the cries. He saw a buck in the grass dying and covered with ants. He was filled with terror and pity. The buck fell and the boy realized he could not do anything for the animal. He found out that he could not control this. He says, “I can’t stop it. I can’t stop it. There is nothing I can do.” In fact, the boy suffered and became sick. However, he shouted at the ants saying, “Go away! I am not for you—not just yet at any rate. Go away.” He thought the ants were afraid of him and went away. The boy still believes that he has control over things in his life.

The boy went to examine the skeleton of the buck. His mind started to compare between its current state and when the buck was a live and running like him in the veld and sniffing cold morning air. The boy thought that some rival might have broken the light, lively leg of the buck. His feelings were a mixture of sadness, wondering and discovering new things in life. He became face to face with death and knew it happens to all living creatures. He also realized that there are things in this world that no one can control. He became aware of the knowledge of fatality for the first time. At the end, he says, “yes, yes, this is what living is.” In truth, the story is about the insignificance of life and the inevitability of death.


The story is about main incident. The keyword of the story is the word “control”. The story is in the third person narration. It takes place during the sunrise. Time and place (setting) are significant. The time indicates the moment from darkness to light. It is light of knowledge and truth. The boy is overconfident and that is clear at the beginning of the story, “But he played with it for the fun of knowing that it was a weakness he could defeat.” He feels he can control and challenge everything including the nature and his parents. He also can control his body, as the story reads, “I can control every part of myself.” He thinks he can defeat his lack of sleep and the sense of being tired. The boy has a sarcastic tone about his parents which means that he can defeat authority. This is considered an irony by the narrator since he is not even 16 yet. There is another irony when the boy thinks the echo of his voice is that the mountains are answering him back. He is not afraid of the weather, the darkness and the circumstances. The point of identification between the boy and the buck is life; the hollowness of life. To conclude, the elements of the short story are applied here as there is one character, one event, no long description of character, the stability of the narrative voice and the ironic tone. Although the story is about the experience of an individual, it has universal significance. The moral here is that control is a false idea and that everybody should admit the fatality of the world. Therefore, the boy saw the world through new eyes. He faced new facts to him and accepted the change towards knowledge. Although he suffered and felt anger, he was satisfied with what he realized about the cruelty of life.