Because ‘‘No Witchcraft for Sale’’ is set in colonial Africa, racism is inherent in the basic social structure in which the story takes place. This is because the story accurately portrays a white upper class (which was historically British) ruling over a black (native) servant class. Although the Farquars are otherwise kind, loving, and Godfearing people, they see nothing wrong with the racism inherent in their way of life. Even Gideon seems to accept the status quo (the way things are). For instance, as he gazes at a native baby born around the same time as Teddy, he comments, apparently without criticism, that one will become servant and one master. The thought has also occurred to Mrs. Farquar.
As a child, Teddy innocently accepts the world around him, instantly understanding that as a white child, he is set above the black servants around him. This is made painfully evident when Teddy treats Gideon’s son cruelly, racing his scooter around the boy until he is so frightened that he runs away. When Gideon chastises Teddy for his unkind behavior, the boy replies, ‘‘He’s only a black boy.’’ Furthermore, although Teddy is sad that he has upset Gideon and attempts to make peace by bringing the servant an orange, he finds himself unable to apologize or admit any wrongdoing on his part. That Gideon accepts Teddy’s peace offering ‘‘unwillingly’’ is also a sign of the power of race. Gideon, as a native African, must bend to the will of a six-year-old white boy. Gideon understands that Teddy will one day run his own farm, ‘‘and that is how our lives go,’’ he says. Gideon accepts the racism around him as ‘‘something inevitable.’’ Still, the event is not without its consequences. Gideon and Teddy’s close friendship has come to an end. Gideon treats Teddy with the same distant formality he would any white person. In exchange, young Teddy addresses Gideon ‘‘in the way a white man uses towards a servant, expecting to be obeyed.’’
Other instances of racism are apparent in the way the scientist speaks condescendingly toward Gideon and finds it hard to believe that Gideon should possess any knowledge of the medicinal plants of the region. Even Mr. and Mrs. Farquar, despite their apparent love for their servant, are dismayed by Gideon’s resistance to their request to reveal the plant. Although they recognize that they are crossing a line by doing so, the basic fact of Gideon’s disobedience is affront enough to make them persist. Class and race are inherently intertwined. It is the racism of colonial Africa that dictates its class structure.
Although the theme of religion in ‘‘No Witchcraft for Sale’’ is subtle, it speaks significantly to the theme of racism. For instance, both Mrs. Farquar and Gideon are religious. For this reason (among others), the mistress of the house trusts Gideon. When both she and Gideon are meditating on the different fates of two boys born around the same time, fates dictated by the color of their skin, it is Gideon who is quick to add that this ‘‘is God’s will.’’ Whether or not Gideon is sincere is questionable. It is more than likely that he makes the hasty addendum to his observation in order to appear more agreeable and to avoid appearing as if he is challenging the status quo. This occurrence is echoed after Gideon saves Teddy’s eyesight. Mrs. Farquar says that Gideon is an ‘‘instrument’’ of God’s ‘‘goodness.’’ Gideon replies that God is indeed good. Again, there is something rather flat in Gideon’s tone, and it causes the reader to question Gideon’s sincerity.
It is inarguably clear, though, that the Farquars are sincere in their faith. They believe that Teddy’s cure was a ‘‘miracle.’’ When the opportunity to share the plant with the world arises, it is the prospect of benefiting humanity that appeals to the couple. In fact, the suggestion that the endeavor could also be profitable is entirely distasteful to the Farquars. They feel that money sullies the pure nature of the miracle and their intent.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Doris Lessing, Published by Gale Group, 2010