In her novella, The Fifth Child, published in 1988, Doris Lessing tells the upheaval of a blissful family after the fifth child, a large, ugly, violent and uncontrollable child, is born. The passage under study is part of the incipit. Indeed, we are presented to the protagonists, the parents David & Harriet Lovatt when they first met at an office party in the 60s(their encounter, their backgrounds => past influencing their future).
Guideline : To what extent their respective backgrounds determine their future life and choices?
I A Romeo and Juliet-like couple
a) The party
They meet at an office party => they must be colleagues.
Very noisy : importance of music, everybody dancing.
Crowded : effect of numbers
b) Love at first sight =>everything goes fast
Love at first sight : “at once” (l.25), “at the same moment” (l. 2/3+4). Everything goes fast.
Idea of fusion: “together” (l.7) + repetition of “they”, “them” => they are already together.
Rapidity of the writing: one (long) paragraph about their first encounter, their moving together and their marriage (2 sentences only for the last two events). Short sentences + use ofadverbs.
c) From different backgrounds
Id card : Harriet is a “graphic designer” (l.36) and David is an architect. We can guess they work together. Both live in London.
Social : David’s family is richer (David and his sisters went to private expensive schools while Harriet went to public schools. David’s dad is a “boat builder” (l.68); his mother-in-law has “the cynicalgood humour of therich” (l.67). David lived in many houses (his real house with his mother / villa, yacht with his father). David can afford his own flat in London (l.25) while Harriet has “only a room in a big communal flat” (l.24-26)
Family : Harriet from traditional family (her father is dead) whereas David is part of a reconstituted family : his parents are divorced so he is torn between his “two sets of parents”,l.49 + echo with “adventitious and haphazard lives […] disturbed“(l.32-33). Not only social gap but discrepancy in the way they grew up.
Transition: However, we’ll see that this quick encounter makes them stand out in the context of the time.
II Two eccentrics
a) The party as a symbol of the swinging 60s
Party seen through Harriet and David’s eyes : the people dancing look strange.Bright colours, noisy, appearances => symbol of the changes in Britain at that time.
Both David and Harriet are puzzled : confrontation between Victorian ideals and the 60s’. David and Harriet symbolize Victorian England : the party is like a scary show.
The party as a symbol of the social unrest of the swinging 60s : noise, showing off, etc
b) A more romantic behavior
David & Harriet areagainst their time : love in “the old way” (l.75)=> old-fashioned behaviour They “talk” instead of making love. At the part : repetition of the word “talk” (from l.18 to 25). In the 60s, we expect “make love”. The “sofa” (l.11) is an implicit suggestion (a couple alone in a private office on a sofa should be tempted to make love). Instead, they chat all night. Link with “to his flat” (l.22) => inboth cases, they just chatted, they didn’t have any intercourse, contrary to other couples (l.12) => they are clearly apart from others.
c) Different plans
The 1960s : period of social unrest, particularly in family life (sexual emancipation); new leading role of women versus more traditional way of life (marriage, male domination) in which “family life was the basis for a happy one”(l.45).
What they plan is a “home” (l.86). They think about stability in the future (house, family: “birthright” (l.78 = procreation) instead of living for the present and having fun.
Harriet is both a modern (independent, she has got a job and lives on her own) and a traditional woman. She has a traditional vision of her future. She considers her life today as “an agreeable way of spending...