The Golden Notebook Essay - Critical Essays

Doris Lessing


The structure of The Golden Notebook is perhaps its most important feature and the most overlooked aspect of the novel when it was first released. Critics immediately pronounced the novel to be simply about the “sex war,” a notion which provoked Lessing into adding a preface directing the reader’s attention to the shape of the novel and the theme of “breakdown” which is reflected in the shape. Anna Wulf cannot write about her world as a whole, because it no longer fits together for her, so she breaks it down into parts in hopes that she can discover an underlying meaning which will bring a new order. Anna understands that she is herself internally divided when she examines the discrepancies in her belief system or sense of self and her actual behavior. By allowing herself to move into these contradictions and to live them rather than suppress them, Anna is eventually able to break through into a new paradigm.

A large part of this novel considers the function of language as ideology, and therefore a way to stop or to control the thinking process. Each section adds to this theme in its own way. The Black Notebook interrogates literature, the relationship between Anna’s memories and the novel that she wrote out of them, and how literature is coopted by cultural ideology. The Red Notebook separates out and examines the ideology of political life. Anna discovers how she is manipulated, how her identity is shaped, by the surrounding cultural belief systems. She knows that the Communist Party has become corrupt, that members (including herself) will say one thing when alone or with one another and adopt or be taken over by another “viewpoint” while functioning in an official Party capacity. Yet this does not stop Anna from participating in all this activity even while she is ironically...

(The entire section is 741 words.)