The Fifth Child Essay

The Fifth Child Essay

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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 establishe...


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...ly illuminates and exploits the despicable views and problems in society. The novel exemplifies society’s elitist attitude and unjust marginalization of individuals who are regarded as degenerate, invalid and grotesque through Harriet. Her harrowing interactions with the magnificently developed and horrific institution highlights the pathetic attempts of society to displace individuals and dispose of them beyond their functioning boarders. In addition, Harriet’s parallels with the institution lead to her alienation from the world. She is regarded as grossly unnatural, criminalized, and left alone to raise her difficult son Ben. It is clear that Harriet’s unfortunate interaction and connection to the ghastly institution uncovers society’s unforgiving demeanor and demonstrates the terrible and irreparable rift between misunderstood, peculiar individuals and the world.

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