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The Fifth Child
Doris Lessing

A Gothic novel of moral depth about mental health, social pressure, belonging and a family dream that turns into a dark nightmare. The birth of Ben, the fifth and rather unusual child of Harriet and David, threatens and disrupts their ordinary and happy family life. Ben’s violent, aggressive and reckless behaviour, which is due to a mental condition, isolates the family from their friends and each other – even his brother Luke determines that Ben “[…] isn’t really one of us.” After his aggressions culminate in the killing of the family’s dog and cat, David and Harriet finally decide to send their son to a psychiatric asylum, where Ben is ‘treated’ with straitjackets and strong medications. When Ben returns home, his family is again confronted with his uncontrollable and wild nature…

This relatively short novel provides reasons to talk about disabilities, mental health and family relations. The open ending demands for a classroom debate on how the story could move on.

· · 1988

Critical edition

Lessing, Doris. The Fifth Child. HarperCollins, 2007. 160 pp., ISBN 9780586089033

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In favour of this entry

  • Award-winning
  • Classic
  • Silenced voices
  • Students can identify with the text
  • User suggestion
  • Recommended by a federal state: Rhineland-Palatinate