Third-Person Omniscient Narrator
‘‘No Witchcraft for Sale’’ is told by an unnamed narrator from the third-person omniscient point of view. A third-person narrator is one that refers to events and characters objectively (as, for example, ‘‘she’’ or ‘‘they’’) and does not participate directly in the story. The narrator is an unidentified and all-knowing being, one who can read the inner thoughts and feelings of more than one character in the story. In this story, the reader knows something about all of the characters’ inner lives. This approach lends the reader maximum insight into the characters and their motivations. The interplay of conflicting motivations is also intriguing and entertaining, as is the case when the Farquars and the head scientist wish to learn which plant Gideon used to heal Teddy. The Farquars want to do good for humanity, and the scientist wants to turn a profit. On the other side of the divide, Gideon wants to do neither, as he feels betrayed by his employers and wishes to keep to himself this last part of his cultural heritage.
One drawback to this narrative approach is that it distances the reader from the action. The reader is never given an opportunity to identify closely with any one character (as would be the case in a story with a first-person narrator).
Though the use of dialect in the story is subtle, its effect is not. Mr. and Mrs. Farquar and the head scientist, even six-year-old Teddy, all speak in grammatically correct English. Gideon and the other servants, however, speak broken and ungrammatical English. This difference underscores the gaps of wealth, privilege, and education that exist between employers and servants and between white and black.
Lack of Detail
Lessing’s ‘‘No Witchcraft for Sale,’’ while rich in plot, action, and the inner lives of its characters, is remarkably lacking in detail. For instance, the location of the Farquars’ farm is not mentioned, nor is the name of the town nearby. That the tale is set in colonial Africa can be gathered only from the action that takes place in the story. The crops that the Farquars farm are never mentioned, nor is Mr. Farquar’s general absence from the story (he appears only in relation to Teddy’s near loss of eyesight and the resulting events). Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Farquar’s first name is ever mentioned. The head scientist is never named, nor is Gideon’s son or the host of servants who coo over Teddy. This lack of detail gives the story a universal quality, as if it could happen anywhere or among group of people. It also gives the tale the feeling of a parable, a generic story that exists mainly to communicate a moral or educational lesson.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Doris Lessing, Published by Gale Group, 2010