The fifth child passage1

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‘Harriet and David met each other at an office party neither had particularly wanted to go to’ to ‘they were made for each other’.


This is the opening passage of the novel The Fifth Child, in which Lessing introduces the reader to the two main protagonists, Harriet and David. She begins at the very “beginning” of “their” story, focusing on the moment they first met and fell in love.The scene is set at an end of year office party in Sixties London.

There are five main parts to this passage.

1. A description of the party and the people there, including a comment on what people think of Harriet and David.

2. A description of Harriet.

3. A description of David, through Harriet’s eyes.

4. A summary of their previously incomplete and meaningless lives before this"moment they had been waiting for."

5.The actual moment of meeting, which includes a "happy ending".

Lessing has one clear, overriding objective in the opening of her novel - she wishes to show Harriet and David at the defining moment in their adult lives - the moment that they meet for the first time. The office party is a moment of historic importance in their personal lives because it isthe moment where they go from being alone in the world, to finding a "soul mate". The office party is, in all senses of the word, the true "beginning" of their story.

At the same time, by the end of this passage, Lessing wants the reader to have a good understanding of her two main characters. She wants to show what brings them together, and what "separates" and distinguishes them from thepeople around them. She also wishes to capture the atmosphere of an office party in sixties London.

In the first part of my presentation, I shall deal with Lessing's description of Harriet and David in the opening of the novel. Then I will discuss and explain the presence of the fairytale elements in the text. Lastly, I will discuss the narrative voice in this passage and its overall importance inthe deconstruction of the fairytale romance.


As the reader might expect at the beginning of a novel in which the two protagonists are about to embark on a life together, the focus is on Harriet and David.
They are described in two different ways –

a) Collectively:

At times, the same adjectives and expressions are used to describeHarriet and David together, as if they were one, identical character. For example, the opening paragraph describes them as “conservative, old-fashioned, not to say obsolescent”; they both hold a “stubbornly held view of themselves”. Later on, they are collectively referred to by the omniscient narrator as “freaks and oddballs” and as “these two eccentrics”. These “collective” descriptionsemphasize the similarity between them and highlight the emotional distance between them and their peers.

The main point seems to be that Harriet and David, despite their physical differences, are both "misfits" in relation to the 'others'. They don't enjoy themselves like the others. They don't dance like the majority of people present. They are both observers. They reflect similarly on the externalworld around them. As Harriet observes to herself, “she knew his look of watchful apartness mirrored her own”.

b) Individually

On other occasions Lessing focuses on Harriet and David as individuals. In the third paragraph, for example, Harriet is described in almost “Camera eye” fashion. She quite literally doesn't stand out in a crowd. At first she is described as nothing more than a“pastel blur”, but then comes slowly into focus: curly dark eyes.... solidly built. As we shall in the last part of my presentation, the “Camera eye” technique is "colored" by the narrative voice, which is constantly insinuating and commenting on events and people through careful use of language.

The fourth paragraph gives a similar description of David, who is seen seen through...
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