VARIOUS TEXTS: Excerpt from: THE FIFTH CHILD (I) by Doris Lessing

He was not a pretty baby. He did not look like a baby at all. He had a heavy-shouldered hunched look, as if he were crouching there as he lay. His forehead sloped from bis eyes to his crown. His hair grew in an unusual pattern from the double crown where started a wedge or triangle that came low on the forehead, the hair lying forward in a thick yellowish stubble, while the side and back hair grew downwards. His hands were thick and heavy, with pads of muscle in the palms. He opened bis eyes and looked straight up into his mother's face. They were focused greeny-yellow eyes, like lumps of soapstone. She had been waiting to exchange looks with the creature who, she had been sure, had been trying to hurt her, but there was no recognition there. And her heart contracted with pity for him: poor little beast, his mother disliking him so much ... But she heard herself say nervously, though she tried to laugh, 'He's like a troll, or a goblin or something.' And she cuddled him, to make up. But he was stiff and heavy.


.... poor Ben, whom no one could love. She certainly could not! And David, the good father, hardly touched him. She lifted Ben from his cot, so much like a cage, and put him on the big bed, and sat with him. 'Poor Ben, poor Ben,' she crooned, stroking him. He clutched her shirt with both hands, pulled himself up, and stood on her thigh. The hard little feet hurt her. She tried to cuddle him, persuade him to soften against her ... Soon she gave up, put him back in his pen, or cage ... a roar of frustration because he had been put down, and she held out her hands to him, 'Poor Ben, dear Ben,' and he grasped her hands and pulled himself up and stood grunting and roaring with triumph. Four months old.
He was like an angry, hostile little troll.


One early morning, something took Harriet quickly out of her bed into the baby's room, and there she saw Ben balanced on the window-sill. It was high - heaven only knew how he had got up there! The window was open. In a moment he would have fallen out of it. Harriet was thinking, What a pity I came in ... and refused, to be shocked at herself. Heavy bars were put in, and there Ben would stand on the sill, gripping the bars and shaking them, and surveying the outside world, letting out his thick, raucous cries. All the Christmas holidays he was kept in that room. It was extraordinary how people, asking - cautiously - 'How is Ben?' and hearing, 'Oh, he's all right,' did not ask again. Sometimes a yell from Ben loud enough to reach downstairs silenced a conversation. Then the frown appeared on their faces that Harriet dreaded, waiting for it: she knew it masked some comment or thought that could not be voiced.

And so the house was not the same; there was a constraint and a wariness in everybody. Harriet knew that sometimes people went up,to look at Ben, out of the fearful, uneasy curiosity he evoked, when she was out of the way. She knew when they had seen him, because of the way they looked at her afterwards. As if I were a criminal! she raged to herself. She spent far too much of her time quietly seething, but did not seem able to stop. Even David, she believed, condemned her. She said to him, 'l suppose in the old times, in primitive societies, this was how they treated a woman who'd given birth to a freak. As if it was her fault. But we are supposed to he civilized!'
637 words

Source: The Fifth Child, Flamingo, London 1993, pp. 60/69/73

to crouch - kauern, sich duken
wedge - Keil
soapstone - Speckstein
troll - Berggeist, Troll
window-sill - Fensterbank
raucous - lärmend, laut
constraint - Gehemmtsein
wariness - Behutsamkeit
freak - eigenartiger Mensch, Monstrum

1. Why is it that Harriet cannot love her son Ben?
2. Later in the story, Ben is locked up in an faraway institution because his parents cannot handle Ben any longer. But after some time Harriet secretly recovers him from the institution where he has been treated like a leper (outcast). What do you think made Harriet change her mind as to her son's accomodation?
3. How is been lokked upon by friends and relatives and even Ben's father, David? 4. Ben, the Lovatts' fifth child, has completely changed his parents' life, the relationship between Harriet and David and between the 'outside world' and the Lovatts.
What society is it that cannot stand the look of human being like Ben?

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amazon.de The Fifth Child
Doris Lessing

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