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Submitted Literature

The Fifth Child

By Doris Lessing


Lessing’s “The Fifth Child” and its sequel, “Ben, in the World” examine notions of humanity and animalism within the context of cognitive deficit and socio-environmental factors. 

Key Themes:

  • Carer Issues
  • Developmental / Learning Disorders
  • Isolation
  • Revealing Reads

Significant Quotes / Pages

75 – “Towards the end of the holidays, someone came bringing a dog, a little terrier.  Then could not leave it alone.  Wherever the dog was, then followed.  He did not pet it, or stroke it: he stood staring.  One morning when Harriet came down to stop breakfast that the children of the dog was lying dead on the kitchen floor.  It had had a heart attack?  Suddenly sick with suspicion, she rushed up to see if Ben was in his room: he was squatting on his bed, and when she came in, he looked up and laughed, that soundlessly, in his way, which was like a baring of the teeth.”

158 – “ Harriet sat there quietly, with the television sounds and their voices coming from next door; and she sometimes looked at Ben quickly, and then away; and she wondered how soon they would all simply go off, perhaps not knowing they would not return.  She would sit there, beside the quiet soft shine of the pool that was the table, and wait for them to come back, but they would not come back.

And why should they stay in this country?  They could easily take off and disappear into any number of the world's great cities, join the underworld there, live off their wits.  Perhaps quite soon, in the new how she would be living in (alone) with David, she would be looking at the box, and there, in a shot on the News of Berlin, Madrid, Los Angeles, Buenos Aries, she would see Ben, standing rather apart from the crowd, staring at the camera with his goblin eyes, or searching the faces in the crowd for another of his own kind”



Reference: Doris, Lessing. 1988. The Fifth Child. London: Flamingo, 2001


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 20th March 2009