Book Reports / The Role Of Motherhood In The Fifth Child And The Summer Before Darf

The Role Of Motherhood In The Fifth Child And The Summer Before Darf

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Autor:  anton  24 October 2010
Tags:  Motherhood,  Summer,  Before
Words: 5022   |   Pages: 21
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Motherhood is a traditional role for women. From the time they are young, girls are taught to grow up, marry and become mothers. Of course they can do other things with their lives like play sports, have careers, and travel, but an overwhelming amount of women want to be mothers no matter what else they accomplish with their lives. It is common knowledge that being a good mother is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It is to forever have a special link with another person or people and have a tremendous influence, maybe the most tremendous influence over their lives. Motherhood is a roller coaster ride for women, full of ups and downs, fears and accomplishments. But what happens when motherhood defines who a woman is? All children grow up, and while a woman is always a mother, children need their mothers less and less until eventually their dependence is very minimal. What happens to the woman whose singular role and purpose is no longer needed? In The Summer Before The Dark, and The Fifth Child, the maternal roles of Kate Brown, and Harriet Lovatt are analyzed and traditional motherhood behavior is deconstructed due to these characters’ experiences and relationships with their children.

Kate Brown is the typical middle class, attentive mother who dedicates her entire life to raising her children and being a supportive wife to her husband. She has been a mother for the vast majority of her life, and that is the only role she has known. “Her first child had been born at twenty-two. The last was born well before she was thirty” (Lessing, 18). This novel takes place when Kate is forty- five, so for 23 years, Kate has been a mother and a wife. This has been the basis of her existence. “Kate’s four children have structured her existence, as can be seen in her almost “maternal” responses to young people she encounters in her life” (Lee, 17). All Kate knows how to do is be a mother and take care of other people. This is apparent in her relationships with people at Global Food, (the place where she is hired to be a translator), and with both Jeffrey her younger lover) and Maureen, (her roommate). Her maternal instincts are extremely strong and at the beginning of the novel, it seems that is all that defines her. She comes to the realization that her youngest son, Tim, will be gone over the summer, and the rest of her older kids will be away from home as well as her husband. With her husband and children gone, Kate realizes that she will have absolutely no purpose and nothing to do. It is at this point that the epiphany reveals itself, she is no longer needed. “ Kate is not alone as a middle-aged mother in a middle- class family who finds that she is no longer wanted, after devoting precious decades of her life to take care of the needs of others” (17).

Luckily, the opportunity presents itself, in the form of her husband’s good friend, for Kate to work during the summer at Global Food. Kate is reluctant at first at the opportunity, but after gentle prodding from her husband, she realizes that it could be something worthwhile for her to do. She is a success at the company and gets a promotion, due in part, to her excellent mothering skills. While she gets promoted from translator to a higher position, she reflects, “Kate had been promoted: because she had allowed herself to emanate an atmosphere of sympathetic readiness, which had been “picked up” by the bureaucracy of the organization?” (Lessing, 39). Basically, Kate was promoted because she demonstrated maternal qualities that her co-workers and bosses picked up on. She was the mother hen who everyone turned to for advice and comfort. Of course, she was skilled at being a translator, but her maternal instincts are what differentiated her from the rest of the translators and why she was chosen to get a promotion over them. In Kate’s opinion, it all made sense,

“ This is what women did in families- it was Kate’s role in life. And she had performed this function, together with the beautiful young woman from Africa for the committee that was now over. She was going to fill the role again in Turkey. It was a habit she had got into. She was beginning to see that she could accept a job in this organization, or another like it, for no other reason than that she was unable to switch herself out of the role of provider of invisible manna, consolation, warmth, “sympathy.” Not because she needed a job, or wanted to do one. She had been set like a machine by twenty-odd years of being a wife and mother” (Lessing, 46).

Kate felt unneeded and unwanted by her family, so she exerts those maternal qualities and instincts into her career and her relationships at the workplace. Even though the objects of her affection change, her children, Global food, Jeffrey, Maureen, they attention she places on people is all the same- that of a mother.

When Kate is introduced to Jeffrey, she thinks he is attractive and she wonders whether or not she will have an affair with him. Even though this consideration seems like a normal thought that a woman who shares a mutual attraction with a younger man would have, this thought itself, is based on Kate’s role as a mother. She considers having an affair with Jeffrey, and not feeling guilty about it because for years, her husband has been cheating on her with her knowledge. Kate has accepted his “occasional, discreet affairs, with young women who would not be hurt by them” Lessing 63) because she wanted her family to stay together. She thinks about how other marriages have resulted in divorce, due to their inability to withstand infidelity, and she is grateful that her marriage has stayed together because she and her husband “do not expect too much from each other” (63). Clearly, Kate has allowed her role as mother and wife to captivate her identity. Knowing that her husband cheats on her on a regular, if occasional, basis and accepting this fact is degrading and humiliating. However, Kate must feel that she has to accept this arrangement with her husband, otherwise she risks losing him and her family. If she is not a wife and mother, who is she? These are the only roles she has ever filled and as a middle-aged woman she is not prepared to reexamine and reassess her life at this point, so she recognizes her husband’s infidelities as an annoying habit that reduces the amount of respect she has for him. Yet she never considers leaving him, because this would eliminate the only identity she has ever known.

Instead, she considers her own affair with Jeffrey, thirteen years her junior. They go out on a date and go back to the hotel to have sex. Afterwards, Kate feels indifferent. It had not lived up to her expectations. Yet she had fulfilled yet another man’s desires. Her whole life she had been filling men’s desires, as a child, a wife, a mother to her son, and now as an older woman to a younger man. After assimilating into the work world and recognizing that men still found her attractive, that in fact, she was still quite attractive, Kate “ became aware of the fact that her body has, since the time of her adolescence, been implicated in a system of sexual signification and objectification” (Leonard, 10). Ever since she spent the summer with her grandfather in Lourenco Marques, she has been fulfilling traditional roles of motherhood even before she was a mother! Her grandfather was extremely strict and old-fashioned and because she was a woman, she was “ sheltered and distrusted” (Lesing,13). Due to the fact that she was a woman, she had a minor role in his life, much like his wife and daughters had (13). Kate exemplified the role of a young, sweet, virginal woman who was to be admired but not touched. This image of herself shaped her in years to come. She longed to be like her grandmother, who was beautiful, and had a family. She met Michael and they married. It would have been insane for her to do otherwise, because that was not traditional. Women were supposed to get married and have families, just like her grandmother and mother. Kate fulfilled the desires of her grandfather, to be a young, sweet, innocent girl. She fulfilled the desires of her husband, to be a dutiful, devoted, caring wife and she fulfilled the desires of her children, three boys and one girl, to be a sympathetic, compassionate, and attentive mother until they wanted otherwise. Kate’s traditional maternal roles stemmed from the longing to be like her grandmother and acquire the respect of her grandfather and the other men in her life.

Finally, Kate comes to the realization that motherhood has changed her. The woman she was on track to becoming before she had children was nothing like the woman she became after being a mother. Her children reformed her identity and turned her into the woman she became. Kate Brown’s children made her Kate Brown. She reflects on the qualities that her children instilled in her:

“Nothing in the homage her grandfather paid womanhood, or in the way her mother had treated her, had prepared her for what she was going to have to learn and soon…With three small children, and then four, she had to fight for qualities that had not even been in her vocabulary. Patience. Self-Discipline. Self control. Self abnegation. Chastity. Adaptability to others- this above all. This always.”

Her children transformed her from a spoiled, indulged, beautiful young woman into a patient, devoted, attentive mother. Kate realizes that her role as a mother has defined who she is and what she has become. Author Susan Klein believes the title; The Summer Before the Dark has an exclusive reference to Kate Brown’s role as a mother.

“We find that the dark has a more specific referent-motherhood, or rather, the dementia that it has become for Kate Brown. As she compared her present self with the girl on the verandah, she recognizes how motherhood has changed her, and how it has become an obsession. Her recognition of the “dark” that motherhood has become allows her to escape from the mother role and allows us to predict an optimistic future for her, free from the confines of this role” (www.galilelo.usg.edu).

Kate realizes that motherhood has consumed her entire life, and she can not separate Kate Brown, the woman, from Kate Brown the mother. The two are interchangeable and she as an individual has no separate identity from her role as a mother. This is when she understands that in order to save herself, and what chance at happiness and self-fulfillment she has left, she must gain a better knowledge of who she truly is as a person, devoid of being a mother.

While Kate Brown subconsciously slipped into being a mother, Harriett Lovatt dove right in with full expectations of the great impact motherhood would have on her life, or so she thought. Harriet and David Lovatt made the conscious decision to get married and start a family. They wanted a big family and a huge home to accommodate their family. While Kate Brown was a young woman who did not really ever form her true identity before she started having children, Harriet, though still young, was older, had graduated from college and was a working woman before she settled down and started her family. Her first four children, Luke, Helen, Jane, and Paul were all beautiful specimens. They were adored by the huge family that inhabited the Lovatt household on regular occasions throughout the year. Harriett loved being a mother and Paul loved being a father. While they struggled financially, they were able to make it with help from David’s father, who was a wealthy man. They were never short on love, however, or happiness.

“Happiness. A happy family. The Lovatts were a happy family. It was what they had chosen and what they deserved. Often, when David and Harriet lay face to face, it seemed that doors in their breasts flew open, and what poured out was an intensity of relief, of thankfulness, that still astonished them both: patience for what seemed now such a very long time had not been easy, after all. It had been hard preserving their belief in themselves when the spirit of the times, the greedy and selfish sixties, had been so ready to condemn them, to isolate, to diminish their best selves. And look, they had been right to insist on guarding that stubborn individuality of theirs, which had chosen, and so obstinately, the best- this.

(Lessing, 21)

The Lovatt’s wanted a big family; because they believed they would be the epitome of what a good, loving, functional, wholesome family should be. The father worked hard, but loved his family and spent all his time away from work with them. The mother was attentive and caring, and showered her children with affection. Both parents had been educated and the family was middle- class, never wanting, or needing anything. They would live in a huge, comfortable house that was the central family spot and people would love to be around them because their house was the very definition of what a home should be. For home is where your loved, and there was no shortage of love in the Lovatt family. Truthfully, both Daivd and Harriett wanted a big family to fill a void they had in their lives. Neither one came from an extremely close, supportive family and they wanted what they had never had. A big family where everyone got along and loved each other was their ultimate dream come true. It lasted for the first four children, but then the fifth child came.

Even during her pregnancy with her fifth child, Ben, Harriet felt a sense of uneasiness and discomfort. This pregnancy was not like the others, and while she had experienced difficulties with her other four pregnancies, they were minuscule

compared to the agony she was in with her fifth pregnancy. First of all, the concept of motherhood with the fifth child was extremely volatile. While Harriet and Ben had never officially planned out their first four children, their fifth child was an absolute mistake. “Harriet was pregnant again. To her utter dismay, and David’s. How could it have happened? They had been careful, particularly so because of their determination not to have any more children for a while” (Lessing, 32). Unlike her first four children, Harriet was upset with this pregnancy- the fifth child. She was tired, emotionally and physically from having four children so close together. The fifth pregnancy was a shock and an unresolved situation.

After discovering she was pregnant, and being unhappy, Harriett went on with the pregnancy, which was pure agony. Her fifth child ravaged her insides and seemed like he was trying to tear his way out of her. After finally giving birth to him, Harriett did not feel any of the connection that she felt with her first four children. “Her heart contracted with pity for him: poor little beast, his mother disliking him so much” (Lessing, 49). The disconnection that Kate Brown felt from her children after they were grown and she realized she had given up her identity for them is similar yet different to the disconnection that Harriett Lovatt feels for her fifth son, because she is afraid of him. She refers to him as “Neanderthal baby” ( 53) because of his insatiable appetite and extraordinary strength. She says that he is anything but ordinary and takes him to the doctor to see what is wrong with him. She knows that there is some abnormality with her son, but she does not know what it is and the unknown scares her.

Harriett was a woman who planned motherhood. She wanted to have many children, and a house full of family. She planned to be a devoted mother and be attentive to her children’s needs and wants. However, like most mothers, she did not plan on her children not meeting her expectations. She and David had done everything right. They had purchased the house, provided the loving family and were living the dream they wanted- until their fifth child came along and ruined their plans. Harriet had not expected to be a mother to an unlovable child. “Harriet remembered how they all looked at Ben, there would be a long, thoughtful stare, puzzled, even anxious; but then came fear, though everyone tried to conceal it. There was horror, too: which is what Harriet felt, more and more (57). Mothers can handle having disabled children- they need more time and effort to succeed. Mothers can handle having special needs children- they possibly need extra time and attention. But what mother can handle having a child that she fears is evil for no reason?

Harriett did think that Ben was evil. She saw how his eyes glistened with malice, and he did not want to be loved or admired by anyone like his siblings had (59). Instead of feeling relief when she walked in on Ben standing on a willow-sill and caught him before he fell, she felt defeated. “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 (60). After Ben was born, motherhood took an entirely different meaning for Harriet. The one thing that she valued and wanted more than anything in life- motherhood, was the very thing that destroyed her family. Being a mother was the greatest and worst experience of her life.

She loved and adored her first four children and wished for the accidental death of her fifth child.

Similar to Kate Brown, motherhood engulfed Harriet Lavott. But only one child took over her existence. Kate Brown was a typical mother who spread her love evenly or as evenly as a mother can amongst her four children. Harriet Lavott, tried to spread her love amongst her five children, but failed miserably due to the overwhelming need of her fifth child, Ben. He consumed all of her attention and focus, and his siblings despised him for it. He caused terror among everyone, including grown adults. When he sprained the arm of his older brother Paul, and a dog and cat were mysteriously found murdered, everyone realized how monstrous Ben was. Harriet had to keep him locked away, for fear he would hurt something- or more importantly, someone else. It must be one of the absolute worst feelings in the world for a mother to be scared of a child she has brought into the world. How can one love someone they are petrified of? How can a woman be an attentive, caring, mother to a baby she wishes would die. The situation of Harriet Lavott was definitely not conventional motherhood; it was a mother’s worst nightmare.

Due to the extreme amount of attention she placed on Ben, Harriet was forced to neglect her other four children. Her second to youngest son, Paul, had severe emotional problems because when he was an infant, his mother’s attention had been placed on her fifth child, and he lacked her care and love when he needed it the most. The other children were forced to lock their doors at night for fear that their baby brother would come in while they were asleep and try to harm them. This combination of fear, anger, and hostility shattered the LaVott family and ruined Harriet’s vision for motherhood. She was unable to be a mother to all of her children, and yet she could not stop being a mother to the one child that put an end to her dream of motherhood. She could not leave Ben in the institution where his grandparents had taken him, she felt too guilty. Yet, she knew that she could not give him all the attention he needed, even with the vast amount he received from her on a daily basis.

Eventually, the other children realized they would always be second best to Ben. The older they got, the more eager they were to leave the sad, bleak house that had once been a happy home. Luke and Helen decided to go to boarding school. Jane went to live with her aunt, and Paul withdrew totally, until he began to see a psychiatrist and latched on to him, so he could feel like he was part of a normal family- so unlike his own. Harriet’s youngest child forced her other children to leave her. Her dedication to being a good mother to this creature she was afraid of caused her to lose the children she so desperately loved and cherished. In fact, Ben, not only caused Harriet to distance herself from her other four children, he stopped her dream of ever becoming a mother again to another baby. Harriet and David feared that if they had any more children, they could possibly turn out like Ben and one Ben was too much to handle. As the old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” Harriett LaVott wanted nothing more than to experience motherhood and enjoy her famil, instead her family ruined her existence and made her life miserable. She told her husband that Ben was a punishment for their presumption. “We are being punished for presuming. For thinking we could be happy. Happy because we decided we could be” ( Lessing, 117). Harriett feels that her fifth child is punishment from God for assuming that people can dictate their destiny, which explains why she feels the need to care for him and she can not put him in an institution. He is her curse for forgetting that humans do not decide the outcome of their lives, that is a matter beyond them.

Traditional constructions of motherhood are torn apart in these two novels. Kate Brown, is the mother who after years of being in demand, is no longer wanted or needed. Her whole existence has been based upon pleasing her family and her husband. She has no identity, because they are her identity. Once she removes herself from her family, she is forced to confront who she is and what she wants. After her brief affair with Jeffrey, who she tries to mother and nurse back to health, she realizes that he is not her concern.

“Kate demonstrates her freedom from the mother role by leaving her ailing lover and returning to London. Deserting Jeffrey is an act that the former Kate would have judged as inconceivably heartless and irresponsible. This act is the first sign of her success in leaving behind her maternal role. She realizes that she owes Jeffrey nothing and that the only way she can help him is by neglecting herself, which she will no longer do (www.galileo.usg.edu).

When she discovers that she is sick, and checks into the Bloomsbury hotel, Kate is finally the recipient of some mothering and the motherhood roles are deconstructed. The two maids, Silvia and Marie take care of her and give her the attention she needs so desperately, due to her illness. They take care of her, like she has always taken care of her family, and for once, Kate Brown is on the opposite spectrum of the only role she has ever known- she is being mothered, instead of mothering someone else.

The next phase of Kate Brown’s emerging from her only identity is when she moves in with Maureen. Instantly, Maureen reminds Kate of her daughter, Eileen. In the beginning of their relationship, Maureen asks Kate for advice on whether or not to marry, Phillip, a man she does not love. Just like any mother, Kate gives Maureen her opinion, until she realizes what she is doing. “Anyway…. I am not going to be saddled with the responsibility of you breaking up with Phillip” (Lessing, 205). Kate begins to draw parallels between Maureen and her own daughter, Eileen. She realizes that Maureen acts in similar ways to her daughter, regarding their treatment of women they see as mother figures. “You’re saying this to me because you have never been able to say it to your mother. Probably at this moment somewhere in America Eileen is screaming at some poor female because she never has at me (205). The fact that Kate can differentiate Maureen from a daughter figure and tell her exactly how she feels without worrying about her feelings as a mother would, shows that Kate has freed herself from her obsession with motherhood and she can relate to Maureen on another level, as a person. This also indicates that she will be able to relate to her own children as people, instead of just as her children, when she returns home.

Author Susan Klein states,

“ The ultimate goal of mothering is the independence of our children. We constantly work toward a time when we will no longer be needed, at least at the level of involvement necessary when our children are young. It is Kate’s need, and her children’s, to change the level of involvement that precipitates her revelations about the confinement of the mother role. Perhaps for Kate Brown, at this point in motherhood, viewing the many years of mothering as a form of imprisonment from which she wants to escape is necessary, even physiologically healthy” ( www.galileo.usg.edu)

Kates’ acceptance of the fact that motherhood was a form of incarceration of her identity, forces her to realize that she must break free from this strain and allow motherhood to be a part of who she is, and not define her totally.

While Kate Brown works to free herself from the imprisonment of motherhood, Harriet Lavott is still behind bars in her personal jail. In her case, motherhood did not define who she was, rather it erased her totally. She was happy being a good mother, and essentially, that is all she wanted in life. But her youngest son, Ben, took over her world and prevented her from accomplishing her dreams of being a good mother and having a loving family.

Eventually Harriet, much like Kate Brown, realizes that she can not live her life just to be a mother. However, she recognizes that she can not be a mother to only one of her children, which is what she has been doing. Kate Brown was trying to be a mother to everybody, while Harriet LaVott was just tying to be a mother to her fifth child. David tells her, “We have no children Harriet. Or rather, I have no children. You have one child” (Lessing, 125). As Ben gets older, Harriet realizes that he is going to do what he wants to do, without regard to her. All her years of agonizing over him and making sure he did not hurt anyone, were in vain because now that he is grown, she realizes that if he wants to steal, he will and if he wants to run away, he will. Her authority over him has subsided, finally. She has broken free from the concept of “saving Ben,” because no one can save anyone who does not want to be saved. Harriet realizes that she deserves some measure of peace and a sense of happiness. “She was a ferment of need to start a new life. She wanted to be done with this unhappy house and the thoughts that went with it” ( 128). At the conclusion of The Fifth Child, Harriet realizes that in order to save herself, she must let Ben go. This means total release of the responsibility of him. She allows him her approval to go into the world and lets him know she will be there if he ever needs her.

Just as Kate Brown had to release herself from the imprisonment of motherhood, so did Harriet Brown, they just accomplished this goal in different ways. Kate Brown had to release her attachment to motherhood as her identity in order to release herself from imprisonment. Harriet Lovatt had to relinquish the sense of responsibility she had over a son who she could not and would not be responsible for her entire life. Both of these mothers had to defy the traditional roles of motherhood in that they had to be selfish and think about themselves for once. They had to disassociate their roles as mothers from their roles as people. Too often, women associate one with the other, and the two are different. Kate Brown did not have a strong identity, or sense of self when she became a mother due to her young age and lack of exposure to the world. Harriet Lovatt had experience in the world but unleashed it when she became a mother in hopes of dedicating all her efforts to being a good mother, until eventually this very drive to be a good mother caused her world to crumble. She realized that in order to save herself, she would have to liberate the relentless drive to attain her goal of being a good mother. She had to let go just as Kate Brown did. For “ the woman with grown- up children and not enough to do, whose energies must be switched from the said children to less vulnerable targets, for everybody’s sake, her own as well as theirs” (www.galileo.usg.edu)

The last part of this quote is pivotal. The mothers must consider everyone involve, including themselves. They must take their own interests into account and care about how they will turn out in the long run. This act, itself, defies traditional motherhood roles. In all actuality, mothering is a selfless act and mothers think about themselves last, if at all. But sometimes, for the sake of themselves, their souls, and their families, mothers have to put themselves first for the sake of everyone involved.



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