Jump to content

Recommended Posts

6. Ben’s first words were ‘I want cake’. What do you make of that?

 

I thought this showed that he observed others until he felt ready to employ the 'skill' he had mastered, in this instant it was expresing a very direct desire for cake (a desire I can fully empathise with! :D ).

 

What I found surprising was the response of Harriet to the event,

 

Harriet did not even notice, at first, that he was talking. Then she did, and told everyone.

 

If she was so focussed on this anomalous child, and 'his voice was heavy and uncertain', how could she not have noticed? The other side to this for me was the sweetness of his siblings as they try to encourage his speaking by chatting with him.

Edited by Chrissy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Harriet knew he was "other" but she still loved him.

 

That's interesting; I never actually thought of Harriet loving Ben; I just saw her struggling to cope with him, but not being able to abandon him due to guilt.

 

.

If she was so focussed on this anomalous child, and 'his voice was heavy and uncertain', how could she not have noticed? The other side to this for me was the sweetness of his siblings as they try to encourage his speaking by chatting with him.

 

I agree, the other children's efforts with Ben were very touching. With regard to Harriet, I just imagine her as so beaten down by the day to day nightmare of life with Ben that it took some time for it to sink in (although that's based on my experience of sometimes living life in a fog of depression through which even nice events sometimes weren't instantly noticed).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's interesting; I never actually thought of Harriet loving Ben; I just saw her struggling to cope with him, but not being able to abandon him due to guilt.

 

I do think that Harriet had feelings for Ben, and perhaps tried to do right by him up to a point. However she had little if any support from the other family members especially her husband. At one time, when they were discussing taking Ben to the institution, and she sort of came to the conclusion that he is not expected to live long there, she told David 'He's a little child', 'He's our child', to which David replied, 'No he's not', 'He certainly isn't mine'.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I do think that Harriet had feelings for Ben, and perhaps tried to do right by him up to a point. However she had little if any support from the other family members especially her husband. At one time, when they were discussing taking Ben to the institution, and she sort of came to the conclusion that he is not expected to live long there, she told David 'He's a little child', 'He's our child', to which David replied, 'No he's not', 'He certainly isn't mine'.

 

Yes, David certainly managed to distance himself completely from Ben. I guess I had just thought comments like were more from a sense of duty, maybe pity too, than love. I do agree that Harriet tried to do right by him, but wasn't up to the struggle of pushing on when the medical establishment weren't any help; I have thought myself that the other adults in the family could have given her more support with that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

7. How do you feel about Harriet's decision to return for Ben?

 

This is really difficult to answer. On the one hand I can fully sympathise with Harriet for returning for Ben. As his mother it was her duty to see that he is cared for and is living a decent life. I believe if she had found out that he was leading a decent life, she would have left him there, either for longer or perhaps indefinately. However she could not abandon him once she saw the condition he was in, and her decision to get him back ultimately cost her her marriage and her family - and even her house. In fact it cost her 'The Dream'. I felt sorry for the other children, because their quality of life deteriorated because of Ben. Ultimately they also paid the price - they lost their mother, then the whole family unit crumbled down. It is really difficult to decide what would have been the best decision, as there did not seem to be any alternative care for Ben, so perhaps Harriet is justified in chosing what to her seems to be the lesser of two evils?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

7. How do you feel about Harriet's decision to return for Ben?

 

I think it was a real lose/lose situation for Harriet. Like you, Maureen, I think if she had found Ben cared for and safe she would have left him there - I tend to think indefinitely. But, on finding herself unable to leave him in the awful conditions she found him in, she sacrificed her other children and her marriage in order to bring him home. However, if she had left him there in that condition, I feel there was a good possibility that her guilt might ultimately have destroyed her home and family anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I . However, if she had left him there in that condition, I feel there was a good possibility that her guilt might ultimately have destroyed her home and family anyway.

 

Yes Ooshie, that is another possibility. A real lose/lose situation. Although Harriet was an irrisponsable parent with her earlier decisions, she was not a bad person, and I think the guilt would have been a heavy burden to bear.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

8. Who was your favorite/least favorite character? Why?

 

I think the best character of all is Dorothy. She was always level headed, mature, helped out a lot, tried to give advise without being overbearing. I think she did the best she could do in the circumstances, and was very supportive, even to the point of putting her own life on hold.

I don't like David at all. I have a problem with all of his decisions, to me he was always an immature selfish person who always tried to put his own interest first. I am also not overly fond of Ben - I really cannot understand him, possibly because we never get to hear about his point of view.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

8. Who was your favorite/least favorite character? Why?

 

Dorothy was my favourite character too, and for the same reasons. She seemed the most sensible and mature of any of the adults in the book and hardly ever showed frustration at having to give up her own life to help her daughters.

 

If we had got to know who the owner of the inhumane home Ben was sent to, he/she would definitely have been my least favourite! But, in the absence of that, David will have to be my least favourite too; his lack of support for Harriet as she tried and failed to cope with Ben was unforgiveable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9. There is a sequel to this book, called Ben in the World. Will you be reading it? What about more books by Doris Lessing?

 

Yes!! I had been meaning to buy this book, but a good friend send me a copy today. I really want to read it in the hope of getting to know Ben a bit more. I feel sorry for this kid, and think he was dealt a bad hand in life. (him and his family) I will also read more books by DL - she really managed to pack a controversial story in 154 pages.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I finished the book last week but have only just got around to posting my thoughts on it.

 

1. What did you think of this book?

I really enjoyed this book, if that is the word for it. It was a different writing style from what I am used to, no chapters and a lot of prose, but once I had read a few more pages I got into it. I had heard that it was a horror story, but I personally didnt think it was horror. To me it was a big eye opener.

2. What do you think about ‘The Dream’?

As an idea the dream for me was ok. If a couple want to have a large ammount of children and can afford to and be able to cope with anything that comes along then I have no problem with it. I have a problem when they cannot afford them or cope with it. For example, Harriet was happy enough to let her mother cope with the older children while she looked after Ben. I'm not saying that a woman should have to look after her children by herself, far from it, but it was the fact that Dorothy was almost lumbered with the children. Also david quite happily accepted the money to live on without almost a second glance. To me, this just didnt sit too well.

3. What do you think about Harriet as a mother and David as a father?

in a basic sense they did ok as parents. They didnt mistreat their children or anything horrific but they werent really good parents. Harriet had children very close together, again nothing against people that do that, but as stated when Ben was born, she had very little time for Paul who did suffer the most. Also, as time went on the older children were palmed off onto her mother which I don't think was right. Harriet was to preoccupied with Ben, but she needed to realise that she has other children too.

 

I didnt agree with David as a father and his attitude towards his children. He couldnt afford his house and his children, yet he continued to have more and more and accept money from his family. I can understand that as he was from a 'broken home' he wanted to have a big family all together but I don't think this excuses his behaviour. I also didnt like that as soon as Ben was born he took a back seat and left it all to his wife. He is the baby's father, he should be responsible for it.

 

I also didnt like how Ben was allowed to go off with the older kids when he himself was very little. He should have been looked after by his parents, not the teenage gardener.

4. What do you think about David and Harriet’s marriage?

I think they wanted the same thing out of life in the begining. They had 'The Dream' together and wanted a big family together. Sadly though as the book went on they drifted further and further apart. Harriet only had time for Ben and nobody else, and because of this Harriet and Davids marriage suffereed.

5. What are your feelings about Ben?

Now I wasnt sure if it was fair to call Ben a troll or things like that as I wasnt one hundred percent sure that there was something wrong with him in that way. I thought that he might have some behavioural issues or a condition and maybe these werent being adressed properly. I know he was taken to the doctors and they said there was nothing wrong with him, but something just makes me feel that there could have been an issue there. The one thing that I do know is that nothing was Bens fault, he probably didnt know that he was different in any way.

6. Ben’s first words were ‘I want cake’. What do you make of that?

Maybe Ben didnt feel the need to communicate in the usual way and that his basic needs were being addressed by his mother being constantly with him. As Ben was a different child he didnt need to commuicate in the usual way.

7. How do you feel about Harriet's decision to return for Ben?

I think that it was a mothers instinct. She couldnt leave her son in a place like that and no matter what he had done or is behaviour was like at the end of the day he was still her son.

8. Who was your favorite/least favorite character? Why?

My favourite was definitaly Dorothy. She was a real dose of normality and reality to the book. She had influence over all of the people in the book and was the voice of reason. She delt with everything that was thrown at her very well and coped brilliantly.

 

I really didnt like David. For me he was a bit of a wet blanket. He was quite happy to accept money from his family to live on, but wasnt willing to do more for his children.

9. There is a sequel to this book, called Ben in the World. Will you be reading it? What about more books by Doris Lessing?

 

Yes, I'm going to get that book, but I'm going to wait a little while before I do. I think I will read more books by the author too :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, I'm going to get that book, but I'm going to wait a little while before I do. I think I will read more books by the author too :)

 

That is one of the good things I got from this book too is to bring this author to my attention. Her books sound full of interesting and novel situations and strange ideas

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I found this interesting interview with Doris Lessing about Ben. http://www.dorisless...g/chat-ben.html It is in the form of questions from participants and her answers. Here is what she thinks of Ben.

 

 

Andrew Kolstad from Washington, DC: My memory of the Fifth Child is that it was told primarily from the point of view of the mother, which provided the reader with little understanding of what went on in Ben's mind. To me he appeared to be a force of evil. Yet your sequel, from the brief description on the Barnes and Noble site, appears to place Ben at the center and makes him much more sympathetic. Has Ben mellowed? What happened to the evil force in him? What should I be looking for when I read your new book?

DL: Well I never saw Ben as evil, other people said he was an evil force. I thought he was simply a creature in the wrong place. IF he had been a member of a tribe in a hillside or a cave he would've been perfectly ok, but he destroyed this nice civilized middleclass family. OUr culture is so complicated now that very simple people can't cope with it. What has happened to Ben is that he's grown up and he's understood that his violence, his rages, his savage impulses have to be controlled and in the new novel you see moments when he's doing this. He's matured. In a way, he's what we have to do when we grow up. Children are completely wild when they're very young and they have to learn they can't do that. Also I find Ben an infintely pitiable figure. I did before, but I was more interested in the family last time. This book originated, there was a lot of talk about Neandrathals aroudn when I wrote that book and some scientists said that probably Neandreathals mated with our progenitors and I thought if those genes are aroudn, why not other races that perhaps we don't know aobut? wWith both books I have been interested by the effect he had on other people. In this book, you see it thourhg his eyes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wish to thank all those who participated during the April circle. It has been a real pleasure discussing this book with you. I enjoyed reading this book, and discussing it with you made it all the more interesting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a few bits to add in the next few days, but wanted to say how much I have enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts on the book.

 

Thanks Mau, a brilliant month. :flowers2:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi! I'm very new to this forum but just read this book last week (very interesting discussion!). Realising the last post here was 3 months ago, is it too late to add my thoughts? Would it be better to perhaps start a general review thread? Thanks for any advice. :smile:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Welcome to BCF, neverendings! You're more than welcome to add to the discussion here. The reading circle threads are left open so anyone can come in at any time and continue the discussion. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the welcome. :smile: Okay, I will belatedly join the discussion, then.

 

I really enjoyed this book, although obviously enjoyed is not quite the right word, as it was also somewhat disturbing! I think part of the 'horror' element for me was in viewing a society which refused to accept there might be a problem with Ben. The (few) professionals consulted offered no understanding or even conception of Ben's condition, and therefore no potential insight or hope: a very bleak outlook.

 

Probably as a result of the parents' insistence that their child was some kind of throwback, or alien being, I was convinced that he was simply human, with extreme emotional, social & behavioural problems. For example, his father extends no attention to his son whatsoever (except for being the primary instrument in Ben's institutionalisation); he is kept locked away from his family overnight; he is kept shut away from the extended family whenever they visit. He is basically given very little opportunity to develop normal social & emotional skills, zero acceptance of self, and shown very little of what could be termed love, so of course all of these things combined would not lead to a 'normally' socialised little boy. By contrast, Amy (who is 'different' but in a different way) is initially treated by the extended family with wariness, but kept within the social unit, and ultimately flourishes.

 

Having read the spoiler somebody posted above from the interview with Doris Lessing I don't feel any less convinced of Ben's humanity. I don't believe the concept of the throwback versus the child with behavioural problems are necessarily mutually exclusive. And I think the fact that Lessing leaves Ben's condition undiagnosed and writes his story the way she does makes for a more ambiguous and successful story, overall.

 

Harriet and David built their idyllic life, with the assistance of and reliance upon their extended family. What I found interesting was the way this crumbled so readily in the face of a single instance of something slightly out of the ordinary: Ben. The extended family & support diminished to a most minimal level, and Harriet & David found themselves in direct opposition on how to balance the force of nature in their midst. Although they had craved parenthood, they did not really seem to comprehend the attendant responsibilities (like somebody above said, the decision to have a child is more usually a selfishly motivated act), and were not equipped to cope. They could not cope with their first four children without a lot of help. The manifestation of a child with even more demanding needs simply pushed them over the edge. I do believe that Harriet loved Ben and was motivated by more than guilt to care for him; but her care was not sufficient for his needs and came at the expense of her other childrens' needs.

 

Ben was the catalyst for the disintegration of David & Harriet's dream. This story was for me less about the fifth child himself, and more about his impact on the family unit around him, and the way this fell apart. I am of course fascinated by Ben, and am definitely going to be reading Ben in the World, as soon as my copy arrives. I will be intrigued to see life through his eyes rather than Harriet's.

 

6. Ben’s first words were ‘I want cake’. What do you make of that?

I've heard of children before who simply observe what is going on around them for longer than is usual, but then begin speaking in full sentences. In Ben's instance, it just struck me as something which was typical of his 'difference' but not especially odd, in a more general sense.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I really enjoyed this book, although obviously enjoyed is not quite the right word, as it was also somewhat disturbing!

 

Yes, I can understand what you mean - it's like being fasinated but repelled at the same time.

 

 

 

Having read the spoiler somebody posted above from the interview with Doris Lessing I don't feel any less convinced of Ben's humanity. I don't believe the concept of the throwback versus the child with behavioural problems are necessarily mutually exclusive. And I think the fact that Lessing leaves Ben's condition undiagnosed and writes his story the way she does makes for a more ambiguous and successful story, overall.

 

I find it difficult to accept the theory of a throwback too - some people which society labels as different are obviously handicapped by behavioural problems, but that does not make them throwbacks.

 

Harriet and David built their idyllic life, with the assistance of and reliance upon their extended family. What I found interesting was the way this crumbled so readily in the face of a single instance of something slightly out of the ordinary: Ben. The extended family & support diminished to a most minimal level, and Harriet & David found themselves in direct opposition on how to balance the force of nature in their midst.

 

I do not really agree that the assistance ceased when Ben was born. The grandmother gave up her personal life to help her daughter and son-in-law with their other children. She was the first to advice that they are being too hasty in bringing more and more kids into the world, but she still stood by them and helped as best as she could.

 

I have Ben in the World to read still - I am waiting for the weather to cool down a bit, so I can concentrate properly and give this book my full attention. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I do not really agree that the assistance ceased when Ben was born. The grandmother gave up her personal life to help her daughter and son-in-law with their other children. She was the first to advice that they are being too hasty in bringing more and more kids into the world, but she still stood by them and helped as best as she could.

 

Oh, I completely agree that they did still have some support! But the interaction with the very large extended family came to an abrupt end, and the circle of support did diminish dramatically. The grandparents had to make the best decisions for themselves after doing everything they reasonably could to help Harriet & David - one grandmother later focusing her energies on Amy, and the other grandmother and grandfather each 'adopting' one of Harriet's other children. I think Harriet & David initially took a lot of practical & financial support for granted, and even if the nature of that support ultimately altered, they still could not have got by without it. They were both very dependent on their parents, even if they did not necessarily see it that way. It seems to me that their own children, though, would not be able to turn to Harriet & David in the same way, as they grew older. They started out with a dream of a perfect family life, but they simply were not able to sustain it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now



×