Dorris lessing the fifth child

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  • Publié le : 24 mars 2011
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In the "free love" context of the nineteen-sixties, Harriet and David Lovatt are throwbacks to a more conservative, traditional, and family-oriented decade. Their life dream is to have a big house in the country filled with children, and it seems that they will succeed. After bearing four young children, however, Harriet is feeling the strain of years of childbearing, sleeplessness, moneytrouble, and her parents' and in-laws' disapproval of her fecundity.
Her fifth pregnancy is not only unplanned, but also unusually painful and disruptive. Harriet's doctor prescribes sedatives but finds nothing abnormal in her situation. When Ben is born, Harriet jokes that he is like "a troll or a goblin," but no one responds well to this unusually hairy and physically vigorous baby, who in turn doesnot respond to anything but his own desires and fears.
As he grows older, family pets and other children seem to be in physical danger. Health care professionals do not confirm the couple's conviction that Ben is not normal, but neither do they obstruct the decision to send Ben to a private institution, a removal that leaves the family temporarily happy until Harriet visits Ben and recognizes theinstitution for what it is, a place where all manner of "different" children are sent to live heavily medicated, physically restrained, and foreshortened lives away from families who do not want them.
Harriet brings Ben home, where he grows up amid what remains of the Lovatts' domestic fantasy, and finds community in a gang of thuggish older boys whom Harriet suspects are involved in variouscriminal acts. As the story closes, Ben has left home and Harriet imagines him in another country, "searching the faces in the crowd for another of his own kind" (133).

Harriet and David are something of a throw-back as a couple at the beginning of the sexual revolution. They meet in the early 1960s, but despite the new freedoms of the time, they marry almost immediately. Despite the trend towardsmaller families, they know they want “at least” six children. Despite their limited means, they purchase a large home, affordable only with both of their salaries. And despite needing both their salaries, Harriet becomes pregnant even before they’ve moved in. They are blissful. The second child comes along in rapid order, only 11 months after the first, and two more follow in quicksuccession. Four children in six years! Harriet is virtually an earth mother.
Yet all is relatively well, even if Harriet is very tired and needs increasingly more of her mother’s help and financial problems linger gently in the background. Harriet and David’s home becomes the center for all of the extended family, with long holidays for Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays, when scads ofrelatives arrive from all over England and stay for days on end. Even so, Harriet and David decide to wait at least three years to have another child after their fourth.
But fate intervenes, and Harriet is pregnant again far too soon, to her and David’s dismay. Worse, this pregnancy is exceedingly difficult. The baby is not just active in her womb; it is hyperactive. It beats and kicks at her as iftrying to punch its way out, until she must tranquilize herself – and it – almost into insensibility just to get through a day. It is born early, and in a hospital, the only one of the children not born at home. And it is, well, odd. He looks strange, “like a troll, or a goblin or something,” Harriet says, with eyes an odd greenish-yellow.
He is as incorrigible out of the womb as in, athreat to the pets, to property, to himself, to his brothers and sisters. He seems to have no understanding of right or wrong, but to have only very strong survival instincts. Is he a throwback to a subhuman species? He is clearly not emotionally, mentally or physically retarded, even though he cannot learn to read. He is tremendously strong. He is, simply dangerous. And just like that, the lovely...
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