The Fifth Child Classic Horror Story English Literature Essay
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: English Literature|
|✅ Wordcount: 1409 words||✅ Published: 1st Jan 2015|
The Fifth Child does indeed follow the criteria’s to land its self as a ‘classic horror story’, however, it is more than that; the novel blends its elements of horror and gothic, with a closely observed domestic realism, like that of Lessing’s early ‘Martha Quest’ novels, as well as themes of the supernatural, brought together with an almost edge of science-fiction genre. But typical to Lessing, it also breaks some of the conventions of the ‘classic horror’ genre; using the nuclear family, and using the social context of the ‘swinging-sixties’ and what novelist Tom Wolfe calls the ‘me decade’ of the nineteen-seventies. Lessing also uses this favoured 19th century gothic fad of rejection in the family, notable with both the protagonist (Harriet) and antagonist (Ben).
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Although, with hindsight of Lessing’s 1962 novel, ‘The Golden Notebook’, one would have trepidations about trying to fit it in cosily into any specific genre, especially seeing how the latter novel invoked Lessing’s anger at feminists who hailed it as a ‘feminist classic’, and vice versa. But it is fair to say ‘The Fifth Child’ draws upon a wide range of genres, each genre giving it various captivating effects, which is no doubt while it has been labelled a ‘modern classic’.
For one to explore Lessing’s description of the novel we must first define the horror genre, a genre that times has been surpassed by the popularity of the modern horror film. In his 1982 anthology Prime Evil, author Douglas Winter stated, “Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion”. If we are to accept this as true, than Lessing’s description of The Fifth Child is indeed adequate, with it invoking the emotions of the reader, using the ‘most ancient fear’ of giving birth to a monster, in this case Ben Lovatt.
However, Lessing makes it impossible for the reader to pin-point the true nature of Ben’s difference, and whether we are meant to see him as monster, a supernatural being figure of science fiction, a symbol for the construction of racial, ethnic, or class difference, or a figure of social realism, whether that is a mentally disabled, or autistic child, or even a child with disabilities, produced by Harriet’s ‘sedative’ use during her pregnancy. But despite these possibilities, he remains a key representation of horror in the novel, but mostly because Lessing allows us to see him from the point of view of his family; chiefly his parents, Harriet and David Lovatt.
Lessing introduces us these two eccentric characters, and later their happy family- using her quick style of narrative to quickly build up this family, which are not perfect or idyllic, but there is their charm; and then even quicker she tears that down.
That starts when the reader hits Harriet’s highly significant fifth pregnancy, 45 pages in and Lessing starts to disintegrate David and Harriet’s relationship, with Harriet’s feelings of ‘rejection’ (45); she becomes alienated and separated, because she was forced to give all her attention to ‘battle’ the foetus. By trying to battle with the pain, Harriet was forced to leave the bedroom, the place, where David and Harriet connected the most, and Lessing uses this disintegration to set Harriet up to fulfil her lone heroic journey.
Lessing again quickly starts to build up pace implementing the horror theme through this monstrous foetus inside Harriet, whom is convinced that it can respond to ‘her thoughts’. The idea is a disturbing one, yet it is followed by many more, such as Harriet’s belief that the foetus is intentionally inflicting pain. Lessing carefully balances Harriet’s character, at first she is presented as a victim, but Harriet’s use of ‘tranquillizers’ in her attempt to douse the ‘enemy’ is horrifically spine-tingling, especially when it could well be interpreted that she is undergoing a hard pregnancy, nothing more. For the remainder of the novel, Harriet’s character feels ‘criminalized’ by her family, and social institutions, yet her heroic rescue of Ben allows the reader to warm to her again; and despite Lessing’s criticism of feminism, it disposes of the patriarchal aspect of the suppressed woman, often common in both horror and gothic fiction. Also, readers from a certain generations will make connection from Harriets of use tranquilizers and the Thalidomide trauma that happened in England in the late 1950s through the early 60s; Thallidomide aimed to cure morning sickness, yet resulted in thousands of birth defects. Lessing is obviously allowing interpretation that Harriets drug use is perhaps the cause of Ben’s ‘deformity’.
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These connotations with science and drug use again pick up on the popular theme used in horror. Throughout the 19th century, we see the genre of horror and gothic entwined with science, and even the most prolific novelists and literary greats have used science to develop the most horrific creatures, such as Frankenstein’s ‘Creature’ in Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’, and Hyde in Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Caseâ€¦Jekyll and Hyde’. The character of Ben has much in common with both characters; Victor Frankenstein expresses “horror “and “disgust” towards his creation, Harriet and David express the same emotions, and like Frankenstein’s creature, Ben is alienated because of his difference, and later rejected- this rejection could be in interpreted as the cause for Bens destructive nature, as was the case with the ‘creature’. And like in Shelly’s novel the horror is invoked from the truth of what could happen when Humans ‘play god’, like Victor Frankenstein, or even unintentionally so like Harriet Lovatt. Lessing’s novel also has elements in common with Henry James’s ‘The Turn of the Screw’; a novel which remains spine-tingling because of it’s theme of ‘The Corruption of the Innocent’; society dictates that children are innocent, and when we are presented by a child with a destructive nature, intent on causing pain, it invokes the emotion of fear, an emotion that family of Ben Lovatt know well.
It is an adequate ‘horror story’, and not because one is simply too scared to argue with Ms. Lessing, indeed, critics have argued this novel to be about the Palestine ‘problem’, anti-Semitism, and one French journalist argued that ‘Of course The Fifth Child is about AIDS”, all to which Lessing tartly responded that she ‘would have written a pamphlet’ to highlight such issues. But the horror of the novel does not lie in gothic architecture of their suburban house, or even in ‘nameless deformity’ of Ben Lovatt. The true, sophisticated horror is in the truth of the novel- the children’s reactions of ‘hysterical relief’ to Bens removal are sickening, yet full of truth; it is very easy to see why Lessing was ‘sweating blood’ rewriting this more ‘honest version’. The 7 pages of the look at a 1960’s institution are a shock reminder to the collective conscience, a horrific symbol reminding us how we once treated the mentally ill.
The added themes of gothic, realism, and the supernatural do not take anything away to make it any less adequate of a horror; perhaps, you could argue that they make it less of a classic, but horror fiction is can not be defined like other genres, because as our fears and terrors change with time, so too will the definition of horror. And Lessing’s method of combining themes help to remind us that that the novel speaks of the human condition and forcibly reminds us of how little we actually know and understand. The supernatural theme invokes the fear of the unknown, and the use of domestic realism literally brings it closer to home, and thus makes it more horrifying.
Word count: 1321
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