Written by Evelyne Blais
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.
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).
Lessing, D., “Wine”, Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Fiction, New Jersey: Pearson