Grotesque maternity: reading "happiness" and its eugenics in Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child (1988)

Uematsu, Nozomi (2014) Grotesque maternity: reading "happiness" and its eugenics in Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child (1988). Gender and Sexuality: Journal of Center for Gender Studies, 09. pp. 5-29. ISSN 1880-4764

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This paper contexualises and reads Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child (1988) as a criticism towards the Family Acts conducted by Thatcher’s government in 1980s Britain. The article principally draws attention to the main and minor protagonist’s “annomalous” bodies and their relation to ablism that underlies the British government in its utilitarian campaign to strengthen the values of “conventional families”. Lessing’s text shows the way in which society makes a mother be intimate to her child, simultaneously distancing them from society, and relating the child’s heath to the idea of “happiness”.

To prove this close maternal relationship, first of all, we will look at the Family Acts that the Conservatives propounded in the eighties, and investigate the rhetorics involved in their justifying the blueprint of the “conventional family” (nuclear family, stable income, home purchase, moral for “healthy” reproduction and nurturing). Based upon this point, secondly, I will show how the couple Harriet and David internalise the “happiness” of the conventional family in Fifth, and the way in which their happiness is destroyed by the birth and growth of their fifth child, Ben, by the effect of the story’s Gothic narrative. Positioning Fifth in the neo-Gothic revival movement by women writers, I will argue how the Gothic narrative is employed in an effective manner in Fifth for blurring the boundaries of the bodies between mother and child: using the theories of Margrit Shildrick, I read it as the leakiness of the bodies in the text making readers uncertain as to who is the monster, the baby or the mother. The leaky maternal body, which represents the intimate physical relationship between the mother and the baby, and the Gothic narrative both lead to distancing the mother-and-child from society, as the mother/child are seen as monsters. Finally, this chapter will point out the narrative in which Ben is always closely associated with minor characters in the novel (the disabled and the unemployed). From these readings, Ben’s monstrous physicality and Harriet’s fixation on a “happy (conventional) family” shows Lessing’s accusation of the exclusive and utilitarian society that Thatcher made for Britain: behind the “happiness” that neoliberalism offers, the citizens in such utalitarian societies are asked to be productive and have able bodies, and especially for forming “happy conventional families”, mothers are asked to give birth to “healthy” children, who are productive for society at large.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Doris Lessing, Eugenics, Thatcherism, Happiness, Family
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0001 Literary history and criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0057 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0111 Women authors
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR6050 1961-2000
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Nozomi Uematsu
Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2014 06:46
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2019 23:50

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