Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Link to Elizabeth Canon's Senior Art Thesis

Doris  Lessing

Elizabeth  Canon 
Ruth First: Anti-Apartheid Journalist

Doris Lessing: Female Sacrifice in Modern Society

Doris Lessing’s protagonists represent female sacrifice in modern society. These women abandon their dreams in order to fulfill the standards established by their societies. Frances, in The Sweetest Dream, indefinitely postpones her dream of becoming an actress in order to provide for her children, the wayward teenagers that find shelter in her house, and to support her ex-husband and his new family. She puts her dreams on hold in order to become the nurturing, dependable mother society expects her to be. Similarly, in The Fifth Child, society blames Harriet for her son’s illness, and she is seen as a bad mother as a result. Harriet’s dream of having the perfect, happy family is destroyed. Her son’s violent tendencies only make matters worse, as evident when he strangles the family dog to death. Harriet tells her husband David “I suppose in old times, in primitive societies, this is how they treated a woman who had given birth to a freak. As if it was her fault. But we are supposed to be civilized!” (The Fifth Child 60). Supposedly civilized societies, however, often ostracize individuals who do not conform to previously established standards.

Ruth First, a prolific South African journalist and author, worked to end the system of apartheid put in place by early European settlers. These settlers believed in the superiority of their civilization and in their right to exercise authority over the native African people. The belief that the white man was more advanced than the black man was applied to the structure of South African society, which in turn deprived native black South Africans of their inalienable rights. This prejudice expressed itself in a series of restrictions and laws against black South Africans, known as the apartheid system. First, the child of two devoted communists made it her life’s mission to inform the public of the injustices endured by black South Africans. First joined the Communist Party of South Africa, which was the only party that supported putting an end to the cruel system of apartheid. First was also an active member of the South African Peace Council and South African Congress of Democrats. First and other Communist writers represented and defended the anti-apartheid movement which the Afrikaner government so ruthlessly tried to suppress during the early twentieth century.

Major Works Consulted:

Beck, Roger B. The History of South Africa. Westport: Greenwood, 2000.
Lessing, Doris. The Fifth Child. New York: Vintage, 1989.
---. The Sweetest Dream. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
Pinnock, Donald. Writing Left: The Radical Journalism of Ruth First. Pretoria:Unisa, 2007.
Photo Credit: Lessing, Doris. The Grass Is Singing. New York: Harper Collins, 2000.