A Sunrise on the Veld: Word Craft

The first word that stands out to me in the short story A Sunrise on the Veld, by Doris Lessing, is “eternity” because of how the boy is able to say that children wouldn’t understand the meaning of it, then goes on to not show any recognition of the actual meaning of the word when the animal died before him. Eternity means infinite; unending, and the boy can see no further purpose in living than to die at the end of it, rather than to look forward to eternal spiritual living afterwards.

Another term used by the author with symbolic meaning is triumph. In context, every morning the boy would wake before the alarm clock and press the knob down triumphantly. Triumph is to be successful in a great achievement, and so it seems strange for the boy to give waking up before the alarm clock, which would inevitably wake him up anyway, as a great success. It also raises the question of why he has the alarm clock if he just turns it off every morning without it ever fulfilling its purpose. Early in the story Lessing is able to cause thoughts about existentialism, even if it is just about an alarm clock.

Another word worth mentioning is “superfluity”. Lessing describes how the boy when he was in an open area suddenly lost control, when he had earlier made a point of being able to control himself, and later claims to be able to control anything he wants, when suddenly he was hit by this impulse of madness over being to late to hunt in his usual manner. He ran about carelessly, without seeing the risk to himself in the tangled grass he ran on. Superfluity means to have an excessive or unneccessarily large amount of something. In having a superfluity of youth, it means he was acting childish, or as context describes, “clean crazy”.

A fourth word that seemed unique in this story was the use of the word marbles. It was used as a figurative term for all the years of the boys life, which he could remember. They were described as shining and beautiful, this serves as foreshadowing for the harshness of reality he would later face. Marbles is a game in which you literally lose your marbles, and its interesting that he had gone mad earlier, which some people call losing one’s marbles. These “marbles” were compared to the slow moving water, the rich soil, and most importantly the air that “smelt like a challenge.” People challenge each other when playing marbles to get better, larger, or stronger marbles so that they can become the best and watch other people hopelessly attempt to beat their greatest marble. This connects with the boy’s drive for control over himself and all the world around in that he thinks he already has the best marble, but is soon to be shown the harsh reality that he is a pushover in comparison to the real world.

The final word of recognition is the word “eddying”. The boy was alone by a river and had been singing to himself and had just stayed still waiting for his echo, which pleased him, even though the sound was eddying, that is, a circular, unending motion, much like eternity, which he also didn’t understand. He couldn’t get enough of hearing his voice bounce back at him off of rocks all throughout the gorge, which dragged on until he suddenly was confused to hear a different voice. He was put on edge, as if not used to hearing the words of others, only his own. This is much like the Greek story of Narcissus, who would stand by still water all the time and just stare at his reflection, which he loved. Narcissus could only bask in his own beauty, which was his trap, as he stood and looked until he died. Narcissus had a view of himself which was only cut short by death, and the boy in the story has a trap he could fall into within listening to his echo forever.

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