No Witchcraft for Sale by Doris Lessing - Summary

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The story is about an incident in the life of a black servant cook and his employers, a white South African missionary couple and their boy Teddy who becomes a great friend of the cook, Gideon. The relationship between the boy and the cook is warm and based on respect until one day the boy shows racial prejudice, and then Gideon still respects the boy but keeps a distance. One day Teddy is spat in the eye by a venomous snake and there are fears that he will go blind. Gideon finds a root and uses it to treat and rescue Teddy’s eye sight with. The parents are forever grateful to Gideon for saving Teddy and give him a raise and presents for his family.

Not long after this, a scientist appears at the home, forcing the Farquars into persuading Gideon to reveal which plant he used for the treatment. Gideon got angry quietly and then shows the scientist some useless plant and the relationship between the Farquars and Gideon is now tense. The Farquars fail to understand that Gideon is a kind of a sacred man in his community, the knowledge he has about plants was passes to him from a chosen man and he will pass it to another carefully chosen person in the black African community. Gideon also fails to see the Farquars point of view. They cannot understand why he refuses to share the magical drug with others. They think he is being stubborn and selfish. After some time the family starts to carefully joke about Gideon’s behaviour in a beloved manner and Gideon is brave as he laughs politely with them. However, Lessing tries to show the reader that racial prejudice establishes barriers among people. People can easily avoid that gap if only they understand the point of view of one another.

Doris Lessing is a multi-cultural writer who appreciates the other. She shows that the Africans have culture and they are not inhuman. The narrator reflects Lessing’s point of view to indicate that some white people are racist. She wants to say that the idea of the white man’s burden is false.

The story wants to show that the kind relationship between the boy and the servant cannot last forever. Although the servant raised him up, plays with him, tells him stories and the boy is attached to him, the circumstances will differ, because when the boy understands and begins to know the facts of life, there will be barriers between them.

The situation which affected the relationship between them goes back when the boy was about six years old and used to make circles with his scooter around the black child until he was frightened and went away. When the servant blamed him and asked about the reason, the boy said, “He’s only a black boy,” and laughed. Gideon turned away from him without speaking and soon the boy brought an orange to Gideon saying, “This is for you.” He could not say sorry as the social barriers taught him that he is a master and he cannot apologize for a black person, but instead he brings oranges as an apology. It is clear that he could not lose Gideon’s affection. The idea of discrimination is obvious. However, this incident is a turning point between them.

It is very sarcastic how a scientist cares only for money. This is shown through the character of the scientist who wants to find out the secret of the plants. According to him, it is not about science, but about material benefits, whereas the black man with all his simplicity he understands the value of saving people. In fact, the idea of the black man is mocked, since it is the white man who comes to benefit from the culture of the black. The black recognizes that the white man does not care about civilization. So, he refuses to give away his culture only to bring him money.

Applying the features of the short story, it is an individual experience that has a universal significance. It is about the idea of the black and the white. The story deals with the conflict between traditional medicines (the witchcraft) which was free and the pharmaceutical industry’s profit interests. It also deals with cultural differences and social classes. There is unity of action and unity of place but there is not a unity of time as the story does not mention chronological order for the development of the boy.