The Fifth Child Essay

1338 words - 5 pages

The intricate complexity and astonishingly realistic descriptions of space in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child masterfully illuminates society’s dire inability to cope with it’s imperfection. Society demands immaculate perfection, a world free of defect, and the lust to live in a flawless utopia drives the identification and elimination of crude invalids. These desolate individuals are feared and deemed to be barbarous degenerates who must be placed beyond the boarders of functioning society to assure an uncorrupted world. Less desirable beings are cast into heterotopias or “counter-sites” while society denies their existence and feigns perfection. Lessing’s novel tears this image down and hastily exposes society’s despicable attempts to marginalize, blame, and exile those regarded as abnormal and dysfunctional in the supposedly immaculate world. In The Fifth Child the precisely executed heterotopia of the institution draws on this theory of a parallel space as a capsule for undesired bodies and Harriet, the mother of a repugnant beast, is victim to society’s brutality. Harriet is an outcast and her remarkably horrific interaction with the cruel institution further alienates her from her family and miserably casts her into her own tumultuous heterotopia.

Throughout the novel Harriet’s striking differences are juxtaposed against the societal trends of the time and she is commonly viewed as a misplaced oddity. Early descriptions in The Fifth Child define Harriet as abnormal and her image places her outside of the robust and transitional society in which she lives. Harriet is a curious misfit and she “sometimes felt herself unfortunate and deficient in some way” (10). This recognition of inexplicable peculiarities soon establishes that old-fashioned Harriet is aware of her distance from the modern world. Her conspicuous irregularities mark her as an individual who is undeniably outside of regular society. Correspondingly, Harriet’s unnatural differences allow her to be criminalized and she is set up for a disastrous encounter with an equally strange and bitingly irregular space. In addition to Harriet’s internal admission of her cultural flaws, the radically colourful and contemporary women chastise her for remaining a virgin. In response to the unbridled astonishment and shrieking remarks of the “dramatic”(1) women who surround her, Harriet reflects that her traditional nature is not “a physiological condition to be defended” (9). Harriet’s referral to her uncanny unusualness as a “condition” alludes to the idea of society’s marginalization of imperfect and abnormal beings in locales such as mental institutions and establishes the fate of this pitiable character as a criminal outcast. The early identification of Harriet as an outsider immediately establishes her unsettling nature and allows one to observe the ease in which she is later incorporated into a surreal and otherworldly space.

After the birth of her fifth child Ben, a confusing...

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