Written by Evelyne Blais


the Role of the Non-Verbal in “Wine”

            Doris Lessing was born in Persia, in 1919. At the age of eighteen, she moved to London where she started to write and became socially and politically involved. She is recognized for never making events appear more beautiful and interesting than they really are. Her works are known all over the world and belong mainly to conventional Realism. Through them, she denounces cultural conflicts, racial inequalities, capitalism, colonialism, as well as gender discrimination. She wrote a short story entitled “Wine” which was published in her book; The Habit of Loving. In it, she depicts the nature of relationships between men and women lovers. The following paper describes the role played by what is left unsaid in “Wine” and exposes what it reveals to the reader.

            Doris Lessing, being a realist writer with a concern for depicting, as faithfully as possible her characters as they appear, without embellishment and interpretation, is reflected in her work. The non-verbal conversation taking place between the man and the woman in “Wine” is typical of real-life situations. It points to the fact that in everyday life, people do not need to say everything they have on their mind to get their message across. Sometimes a smile, a glance, or a moment of silence can be worth a thousand words. As an example, in the short story, the passage where the man “was gazing at the distant demonstrator with a bitterly nostalgic face” demonstrates that the man does not need to verbalize his feelings since the woman only has to look at his facial expression to know what emotional state he is in at the moment.  

 What is being unsaid, but understood, in the dialogues of the short story is part of the style adopted by its author. In fact, diction is one of the means writers use to express themselves in their own way. Since diction refers to the words an author chooses regardless of the context into which they are being incorporated, I believe that the avoidance of using some words also constitutes part of the author’s writing style.

First, in her short story, Doris Lessing, by privileging body instead of verbal language, leaves the reader free to interpret the characters’ reactions, emotions, personality, and relationship according to his or her personal understanding of the non-verbal. In fact, just by analysing the eye-contact the characters have with each other throughout the story, the reader can notice the silent conversation taking place between them. For instance, while the characters are waiting for their coffee order, “the man turned and looked at [the woman] critically, and she looked back. Desire asleep, they looked. This remained that while everything that drove them slept, they accepted from each other a sad irony; they could look at each other without illusion, steady-eyed” (Lessing, 1957, p. 906). This excerpt obviously shows that the characters, without a word, talk together. They share a moment of consciousness because they are both, at that precise time, aware of the irony of their situation. Only by noticing the absence of passion in their eyes, they came to the conclusion that they no longer had an illusive perception of their love relationship. Right after this passage, their eye-contact fills the woman with sadness and let the man’s characteristic cruelty show through. Nonetheless, no word is being spoken. The unsaid therefore plays an important role in the knowledge the reader has of the characters since it allows him or her to witness the lack of passion in their relationship, their emotions such as the woman’s sadness, as well as their personal features such as the man’s cruelty. Consequently, it is legitimate to assert that the author uses the unsaid in order to characterize the characters; to progressively reveal them to the reader through the verbal and non-verbal dialogues.

Second, the usage of the non-verbal also confers an enigmatic character to the plot which brings the reader to doubt whether or not his or her interpretation of the story is right. Although the story has a starting point, the opening of the story remains opened and quite nebulous to the reader. At the beginning, no information is given by the author about the relationship uniting the two characters. The only thing the reader can assume is that since the characters come out of a hotel, they probably are lovers and had sexual relations the night before. During the unfolding of the plot, the characters’ thoughts and reactions, which are not told, but sometimes described, are responsible for the development of the action which is mainly psychological. The ending of the story is unresolved and opened because the characters change the subject by coming back to their usual habit of drinking wine, without putting an end to their previous discussion. The emptiness of the dialogues throughout the story, which is due to the fact that some things are left unsaid, then demonstrates Doris Lessing’s will to keep the reader in uncertainty as the plot unfolds. This indubitably confirms that she uses the unspoken as a means to sow doubt in the reader’s mind from the start and feed it until the end. It also explains why the resolving of the story relies on the reader’s personal understanding of the story.

In conclusion, the non-verbal elements in the dialogues of “Wine” are part of the author’s style and respect the fundamental principles of Realism, where life and people are described objectively and as they really are. The non-verbal is used to reveal the character’s thoughts, emotions, personality, and relationship to the reader in an indirect and progressive way. They also contribute to making the story enigmatic, so the reader’s curiosity grows as the plot unfolds.  Finally, what is being unsaid gives freedom to the reader because it suggests many different interpretations. As a result, the reader ends up being unsure of the validity of his or her hypothesis.  The role it plays is therefore primordial because it holds the essence of Doris Lessing’s subtlety and it is conveying the main theme of the story which is “the separateness of [the two characters] in each of them” (Lessing, 1957, p. 907).  

Work Cited

Education, 2004.