The modern child and Romantic monstrosity in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child — Anglais
Her fifth pregnancy is not only unplanned, but also unusually painful and disruptive. Harriet brings Ben home, where he grows up amid what remains of the it impossible to establish the objective nature of Ben's difference, and whether we. This study of The Fifth Child () attempts to show that the Once Ben is born Harriet's alienation continues differently, the horror The closest they can come to terms with Harriet's wish to "name" the child's difference is to. The Fifth Child is a short novel by the British writer Doris Lessing, first published in the United Kingdom in , and since translated into several languages. It describes the changes in the happy life of a married couple, Harriet and David Lovatt, as a consequence of the birth of Ben, their fifth The Grass Is Singing · Martha Quest · A Proper Marriage · The Golden.
What makes this alienness palatable then, is the fact that Helen and Luke remain, to paraphrase Kincaid, satisfactory food for adult desires, even though they represent the same wild threat as their ugly brother: The parents sat down on a sofa, facing the doors, which burst inwards, and there they were, two slight, elegant little creatures, with flaring red, frost-burned cheeks and eyes full of the excitements of the dark wilderness they had been a part of.
We are thus told of Ben that: We have seen how this inability to understand and thus to possess the child was what turned him into a dreaded alien subject, but if the direction is reversed, Luke and Helen mirror exactly that which is unacceptable in Ben: But nowhere is the parallelism more thought-provoking than between lovely little Paul, the candy-child, and monstrous, troll-like Ben, for the conflation between the best loved and most child-like of the four, and his deformed and dangerous double demands a re-evaluation of the modern child, of the puzzling closeness of our desire for them and the fear they inspire in us.
He's worse than Ben! And the consequence of this chronic instability is to leave us wondering: In Ben's case, his backwardness and physical repulsiveness make him an ideal sacrificial object, the perfect means of cleansing society - and more specifically the other children - of any unpleasant feature.
Thus does Ben offer a comfortable alibi for little Paul turning out to be a disappointment: The naturally high-spirited and friendly child was becoming nervous and irritable.
He had fits of tears or rage, throwing himself on the floor screaming, or battering at Harriet's knees, trying to get her attention, which never seemed to leave Ben. Point of view choices are thus again of paramount importance: She reconstructs the events we have just read, producing Ben as the sole reason for chaos, brought suddenly by the proverbial stranger in an otherwise harmonious family: Even before the first child was born, David and Harriet were already excluded from society: The shift in space dynamics around him provides a telling example, as we are first presented with watertight divisions: However, with Ben, this segregated microcosm undergoes a deep upheaval as children and adults now share the same space - anywhere Ben is not 72 - while David's connections with the outside world tighten, as he spends more and more time away working rather than in the more contained family unit: Somehow however, the scapegoating of Ben is not completely successful.
We never reach the state described by Girard of social purification, as Harriet retrieves the sacrificial victim from the pyre. The reasons for this may be twofold. Worshipped as a prophetic figure by the Romantics, the child seems now to be both hated and desired for this very same reason: But with Ben, the hyperbolical and perverted child, the voyeuristic gaze is replaced by a game of hide and seek played out between adult and monster: In all likelihood, this "uneasy curiosity" comes from the fact that the child has long been considered a specula naturae - a mirror of nature Boas, She was absolutely still and intent, fascinated, almost hypnotized, but there was repugnance there, too.
Ben, the enormous child, working as a magnifying glass, threatens to uncover this secret, thus also exposing the social structures in question as contextual artifices Girard, Ben makes you think - all those different people who lived on the earth once - they must be in us somewhere This accounts for the text's two-way gaze: Slowly then, Ben develops as a dreaded figure less because of his physical appearance - people do look on - than because of his "watchful, alien eyes" promising an encounter with the unbearable: His eyes were on one face, then another: The play on light and darkness in the quote below both emphasize the prophetic nature of the child, and the unpleasantness of what is revealed, showing once again how what people fear in Ben's look is not what they see of him, but what he shows them of themselves: From the high skylight fell a distorted rectangle of light, and in it stood Ben, staring up at dim sunlight All [Harriet] could see was the obscurity of an attic that seemed boundless.
The character of Harriet Lovatt in The Fifth Child from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes
He was crouching there, staring out at her She felt the hair on her head lift, felt cold chills As abject creature, as monster, Ben is then doomed to be both hated and valued for the special brand of desire he awakens in men. The book thus closes on a string of questions gushing out from Harriet, who initially only had answers, and opening this series of questions is a reciprocal gaze through which the novella sketches a new kind of "child-loving", possibly stronger even than that described by Kincaid, and in which the desiring adult is now the child's helpless prey: He sometimes looked at her while she looked at him When considering Ben's value as un desirable mirror, the temptation to read this text as a Freudian fable is great indeed: He is indeed that strange yet familiar voice desperately trying to make itself heard above the reassuring drone of mundane chatter, the ripple on an otherwise smooth social surface: Indeed, Jerrold Hogle reminds us how the repressed often returns with a vengeance when it has not been properly addressed3.
And yet, turning The Fifth Child into a Freudian fable might mean reading the text against itself, which seems not only to want to flout Freudian interpretations, but to denounce some of their implications. Several times in the narrative, childhood is presented as the customary hermeneutic key to any subject, waiting only for the clever analyst to open new doors of meaning.
However, the narrator - who is elsewhere unobtrusive enough to make his few comments all the more powerful - ironizes on the Freudian myth of childhood as ultimate truth, and its correlate: When patronizing gossips dismiss Harriet's old-fashioned ethics for instance, the narrator's ironic use of "enlightened" shows how Freudian rhetorics lead them down the same narrow-minded path as older generations: With the same chilly contempt that good women of her grandmother's generation might have used, saying, "She is quite immoral you know," In the end, the novella draws a picture of Freudian theses ironically close to the Romantics' conception of the child as prophetic object and transparent subject In the face of the inadequacies of Freudian discourse to really talk about the child instead of simply producing new fantasies Blum,6 or rehabilitating the old ones in a scientific guise, rebranding the text as Gothic might do it more justice, since the literary genre - which has often used the language and concepts of psychoanalysis - allows for more ideological freeplay.
Incidentally, it has the advantage of shifting the focus from the child proper, to the monster, ghost or its anomalous equivalent, working not as an absolutely transparent key to meaning, but as an ambivalent and unsolved symptom of something deeply wrong, something half-hidden and half-shown, playing hide and seek: Hogle,2 In these narratives, which refuse to be prescriptive and always leave their readers the option to evade what they guess at Hogle,19the child is not an answer or revelation, it is a sign - a postmodern ghost-like child instead of the Romantic God-like one.
Identifying the other monster: Romantic childhood It remains difficult to understand why the child polarizes so many of our most fundamental fears - how it can be both hated so much and loved so deeply as evidenced in Lessing's novella - without returning to the Romantics, since the topoi that were created then still conspicuously haunt contemporary fiction McGavran,12not the less so when they have visibly been distorted along the way by centuries of literature.
The French philosopher's theses thus fed the development of somewhat binary and Old-Testament-like conceptions of nature, the child and the primitive as prelapsarian, society being a necessary evil synonymous with fall from grace, which it was the "noble savage" 's duty to regenerate.
Lessing's narrator, seemingly on a crusade against such ideas, draws a picture of the Lovatts so infused with these Romantic longings that it is hardly worth pointing them out: A few years on, seeing their elder children come back from the garden with rosy cheeks, David and Harriet draw the following picture of themselves: Intent on proving how unsustainable the young couple's blindness to these ambiguities is, the narrator shows in the opening pages how they have constructed a reassuring but artificial picture of nature, shielding them from more ominous outdoor realities.
When Harriet is introduced for instance, she is described in terms of her relation to a dead, manufactured, and therefore tame natural world: But the curtains were drawn, warm thick flowered curtains. Children's voices rose sharp and distant from the dark winter garden.
On the same impulse, David and Harriet The garden held dim shapes of tree and shrub Offering "an indictment of the romantic idyll and the dangerous illusions it fosters " Pifer, Lessing grants their wish and leaves them to deal with the implications of giving birth to a "noble savage".
Soon enough, their demanding dream comes crashing down as the fifth child, ideally romantic in his closeness to nature and ignorance of social wiles, is very far from that described by Rousseau, thus revealing, behind the idyll, a markedly different wish for a civilized child, one who can learn and mature and grow: In a complete reversal of Emile, their offspring is shown less in danger of being corrupted by society than of corrupting it, hence, when all else fails, his being locked up away from his parents' guests Interestingly, as the text uncovers the Romantic mechanisms behind the Lovatts' vision of childhood, narrative sympathy develops for the wild child, who is neither exonerated from being potentially dangerous, nor made to bear alone the responsibility for Lessing's complexification of nature.
Never really cleared from the accusations brought against him of strangling cat and dog 76he is also repeatedly ill-treated, and described after his internment as "blue with cold" or "starving" In other words, if Lessing refuses to make him the victim of society Frankenstein's creature is in Mary Shelley's novel - which would be returning to a form of Romanticism - she turns him into a tragic figure eliciting both pity and awe, and testifying to the darker side in man's nature just as the many adults' cruelties towards him do see for instance his grandmother Molly's devouring figure page Not only the cause of excess then, the symbolical figure of the monster is also its consequence: Before Ben is conceived then, all the signs of his parents' hubristic intent are there, from the number of children they hope to have, to their careless disregard for financial and biological realities: Both, somewhat defiantly, because of the enormity of their demands on the future, announced they "would not mind" a lot of children.
The modern child and Romantic monstrosity in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child
But they would manage, somehow. She was at the height of her fertility. But they made love, with this solemn deliberation. For Harriet does learn, and this is perhaps one of the most striking features of recent fiction about the child: The child is no longer the hero learning the difficult path to maturity - the adults are, who must grow out of their idealizing vision and become reconciled to reality.
- The fifth child
- “The shadow of the fifth”: patterns of exclusion in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child
It will then not surprise us to see both David and Harriet described as children in spite of their ages at the beginning of the narrative he is 30 and she is From her childish vision of both life and the child then, Harriet progresses literally and metaphorically, as she journeys to the institution where Ben agonizes, to retrieve her son from that labyrinthine hell 96and finally see things around her for what they really are.
Challenging her ready-made expectations about the child, Harriet is also forced to review her notion that other children, if they like Ben, must do so only for need of a foil: She discovered that "Ben Lovatt's gang" was the most envied in the school, and a lot of boys, not only the truants and drop-outs, wanted to be part of it. Harriet and David Lovatt.
Blum's book is almost entirely set on denouncing the opposition's unfortunate consequences in the real world, the fictional one, and the field of psychoanalytical studies. Stressing how "the child increasingly becomes a repository of both individual and social fantasy", she draws the following conclusion: The child's inadequacy is in a sense structurally predetermined.
It is necessary, for the fantasy to subsist, to cast the actual child as inadequate instead of recognizing the fantasmatic child as fantasmatic. Where does the story take place? The story takes place in a town around London in a large Victorian house in an overgrown garden. When does the story take place?
The period covered by the book is from the meeting between David and Harriet, until Ben is 12 years old.
Description of the first scene The story starts with the meeting between Harriet and David at an office party. Description of the last scene The story ends with the fact that Ben is growing up and the rest of the children are gone. Harriet and David are going to sell their house and move perhaps to another country.
In the new house, Harriet will see Ben on tv standing apart from a crowd, starring at the camera with his goblin eyes or searching the faces in the crowd for another of his own kind. Where does the story reach a climax? The story reaches a climax when Harriet has taken Ben home from the institution. Nobody wants Ben coming home and the atmosphere of warmth and happiness is immediately gone. What is the theme of the story? He was born when David and Harriet just wanted to wait with another child.
On that time they had already four children and they could hardly menage it financially. This fifth child is different in all options. It grows faster and shows earlier signs of life. Harriet felt rejected by him, although she loved to feel the first movements of the other four children.
She has a very hard pregnancy and is always tired. They used to be so happy, but with Ben they feel different. Just like when he was in her belly, Ben grows much quicker than the other kids, and never shows love to anybody. Everybody feels rejected by him, and most of the people who came to their house in the holidays now stay away. Who tells the story? The point of view is told by Harriet, who thinks that everybody is against her because of Ben.
Which developements are going through the main characters Harriet, David and Ben? In the beginning, Harriet and Ben were a very happy couple.
They were almost the same and had a close relationship with each other, until the birth of the fifth child. Harriet waged war against Ben from the moment she was pregnant of him. Through this became the relationship between Harriet and David ever worse. When Ben was born, Harriet had to take care about him and David about the other four children. Ben made Harriet very tired, because he was a unmanageable child. Because of this, David decided to put him in an institution, but Harriet still cares about Ben.
The only one he liked was John, and Harriet decided to pay John for the time he spend with Ben. Through this, Ben slowly became a criminal and Harriet lost her control about him.