“A Sunrise on the Veld” Summary: Doris Lessing Short Story Plot Synopsis

“A Sunrise on the Veld” is a short story by Doris Lessing about a fifteen-year-old boy who comes face to face with a grim reality of life. Here’s a summary of “A Sunrise on the Veld”.

“A Sunrise on the Veld” Summary

Through the winter, a fifteen-year-old boy has been getting up at four-thirty every morning. He sets the time in his mind before quickly falling asleep. He wakes up exactly on time, just before the alarm sounds.

He’s in full control of his brain and body. He once stayed awake for three nights straight and worked the next day. At the appointed time, he gets out of his warm bed easily, although it’s very cold. He dresses quickly but carries his shoes so he won’t wake his parents, who don’t know how early he gets up.

Outside, his legs start to ache with the cold. He picks up his icy gun from a window. He gets the dogs; they stay quiet until they get away from the house. He wants to be four miles away before it gets light, so he hurries. He feels like he could walk all day without tiring.

A Sunrise on the Veld SummaryDoris Lessing Short Story Plot Synopsis
“A Sunrise on the Veld” Summary

He walks through the dark path, getting soaked from the dew on the trees. The dogs run free, sometimes staying with him and sometimes going off on their own. The boy runs along the edge of a field, imitating the running style of the natives. He’s proud of his physical abilities.

He leaves the cultivated land and travels the grass along a vlei. The birds become active and fly down into the thick grass. He’s arrived too late to shoot, but he doesn’t mind. He runs wildly, leaping and yelling as he goes. He exults in being fifteen and feels there’s nothing he can’t do.

He yells again, reveling in his feeling of control. He does this for several minutes and the echoes come back to him. He becomes aware of a new voice—a shortened, breathless scream of pain. He moves cautiously in its direction.

He finds a strange beast with horns. It staggers and has patches of raw flesh. There’s a mass of blackness that moves over its body. It continues to scream and leap around wildly. The boy has a hard time believing his eyes.

He realizes it’s a buck. Moving closer, he sees the grass is black with ants hurrying toward the struggling beast. The boy is seized with pity and terror. The buck goes quiet and falls over. He thinks of shooting it to end its misery, but believes the animal can’t feel anymore.

Things like this happen all the time and he can’t stop them. Living things dying in anguish is part of life. He freezes for a while, thinking of this fact of life. He knows that on the veld, death is commonplace.

He watches the mound get smaller and sees ants walking away with pink fragments in their mouths. He knows the ants have to eat too, but tears stream down his face for the creature’s pain.

After a few minutes, the sun is coming up. He swears and walks to the remains. It’s picked clean. He touches the empty eye sockets. How did such a swift and strong animal die like this? Examining it, he finds one of the upper leg bones is broken. It couldn’t get away from the ants.

But how did it break? Some Africans could have broken it with rocks, trying to catch it for meat. He remembers the mornings he shot at a buck, unsure if he hit it or not. It wasn’t worth the effort of tracking it. He doesn’t want to think about his potential responsibility in an outcome like this.

His anger dissipates and his mind clears. He starts for home, trying to think of breakfast and getting out of the heat. He’s tired and walks heavily.

When he nears home, he stops. The death of this animal weighs on him and he’ll have to think it through. Tomorrow morning, he’ll go out into the bush alone and think.

I hope this summary of “A Sunrise on the Veld” by Doris Lessing was helpful.