At its heart, Lessing’s ‘‘No Witchcraft for Sale,’’ illustrates the rather incomplete nature of the subjugation (oppression) of one race by another. While the Farquars represent the stereotype of white colonial settlers, Gideon serves as the stereotype of the (seemingly) complacently compliant servant. It is clear that Gideon genuinely loves the infant son of his oppressors. The affection that the two have for one another is an instant and natural bond. If there is any question as to the sincerity of Gideon’s love, it is erased when he rushes out into the night to retrieve the plant that will save Teddy’s eyesight. This natural affection is also illustrated in other instances as well, as when Gideon dubs the boy ‘‘Little Yellow Head.’’ However, when Gideon tells Mrs. Farquar, ‘‘Little Yellow Head is the most good thing we have in our house,’’ his sincerity is questionable. It has the seemingly unintended effect of earning the cook a substantial pay raise. Not only is Mrs. Farquar flattered by Gideon’s love for Tommy, but she is moved by his use of the word ‘‘we,’’ which indicates that he thinks of himself as part of the family. Gideon’s actual motivations in making this statement, however, remain a mystery. The statement may be heartfelt, but it may be a gesture meant to appease his employers and benefit Gideon.
That Gideon is a good-natured man is illustrated throughout the story. He cares for his young charge and saves his eyesight despite the consequences of doing so. Although the Farquars deeply offend Gideon by demanding that he reveal his sacred and secret knowledge of the bush, he ultimately forgives them. His sunny disposition reasserts itself, and he is later able to joke about the incident with Teddy and his employers. However, Gideon’s behavior is also occasionally obsequious (flattering). This is perhaps most evident early on in the story when Gideon remarks upon the wildly different fates of two babies born around the same time. He notes that the black baby will be raised to become a servant and that Teddy will be raised to become the manager of his own farm. Mrs. Farquar observes that the same thought had crossed her mind, and Gideon is then quick to add that this ‘‘is God’s will.’’ By doing so, he ensures that his observation is not perceived as a challenge to the status quo.
Still, Gideon’s true feelings as to the unjust nature of his situation are, at times, apparent. The first such occurrence is when Teddy treats Gideon’s son cruelly. When Gideon admonishes the Teddy for doing so, the child replies arrogantly, ‘‘He’s only a black boy.’’ This insensitive and deeply racist declaration cuts Gideon to the core, and he turns his back on Teddy. Gideon also shows his feelings, and the precarious nature of his position, when he ‘‘unwillingly’’ accepts Teddy’s peace offering. Gideon has not truly forgiven the boy. (Teddy has not actually apologized, nor can he bring himself to do so.) However, Gideon must appear to be appeased so that his persistent upset does not reveal his true feelings about the injustice surrounding him. Of course, it seems to go without saying that if Gideon displeased the Farquars, he would put his income, his job, and the security of his family’s home in jeopardy. Gideon, then, becomes complicit in his own subjugation—that is, he must play a part in his own oppression. He must participate in it not only willingly, but happily. Nevertheless, despite Gideon’s surface acceptance of Teddy’s peace offering, the relationship between boy and servant is forever changed. Gideon no longer plays with the boy and keeps his distance as he prepares himself for the ‘‘inevitable,’’ that is, Teddy’s future destiny as master of his own farm. Teddy’s behavior changes as well, and he forever after addresses Gideon ‘‘in the way a white man uses towards a servant, expecting to be obeyed.’’
Gideon’s suspect sincerity shows itself again when the Farquars request that he show them the plant he used to effect Teddy’s miraculous cure. Here, even the Farquars seem aware that they are overstepping their bounds. However, their certainty that doing so will benefit humanity gives them to courage to proceed. Lessing’s brilliant portrayal of the Farquars in this instance demonstrates their belief that the ends justify the means. Their religious faith also underscores this belief. It is the very set of beliefs that supposedly drove worldwide colonization in the first place; by subjugating native people, colonialists claimed they were introducing God and religion to a host of so-called heathen peoples whose souls would otherwise have remained unsaved. However, although the Farquars have justified their transgression to themselves, they quickly abandon their reservations when confronted by Gideon’s anger. Gideon’s sullen and belligerent reaction comes as an affront to their self-righteous faith in their own good intentions. This anger, then, incites the Farquars to persist and even creates a sense of entitlement in their endeavor to do so.
Gideon seems to sense this, and so he makes a great show of giving them exactly what they’ve asked for. First, he gives all manner of conflicting explanations regarding the existence (or nonexistence) and whereabouts of the plant itself. Next, he leads the head scientist, the Farquars, and Teddy on a two-hour-long wild goose chase through the swelteringly hot bush. As he does so, he puts on a show of inspecting the plants around him. Finally, he selects a blue-flowered plant without a second glance, a plant identical to those the group has passed several times throughout their two-hour trek. In this way, Gideon ensures that neither the head scientist nor the Farquars will take his selection seriously. However, the question of Gideon’s possible sincerity arises when Teddy and the Farquars later tease Gideon about the incident. When Mrs. Farquar makes a joke of the misadventure, Gideon slyly replies, ‘‘But I did show you missus, have you forgotten?’’ This statement could lead the reader to consider the possibility that Gideon has been clever enough to lead his employers and the scientist to the actual medicinal plant while simultaneously guaranteeing that they will never use it.
These suppositions are also supported textually. For instance, Gideon, for all his apparent good nature, is essentially mysterious. He is mostly portrayed by the omniscient narrator through his actions. The Farquars, on the other hand, are not; rather, they are mostly portrayed through their thoughts and feelings. This subtle difference creates characters of varying dimensions. Where Gideon is all ‘‘show,’’ the Farquars are all ‘‘tell.’’ This interesting approach reflects the social and political moment in which the story is set. Gideon lives in a world where the greatest act of transgression is the act of revealing one’s innermost thoughts.