The Golden Notebook Essay - Critical Evaluation

Doris Lessing

Critical Evaluation

The structure of The Golden Notebook is its most important feature, and this structure was 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 that provoked Doris Lessing into adding a preface directing the reader’s attention to the shape of the novel and the theme of breakdown that is reflected in that 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 the hope that she can discover an underlying meaning that will bring a new order. Anna understands that she is internally divided when she examines the discrepancies between her belief system or sense of self and her actual behavior. By allowing herself to move into these contradictions and live them rather than suppress them, Anna is eventually able to break through into a new paradigm.

One theme of this novel is considering the function of language as ideology (belief system), a way to stop or control the thinking process. The Black Notebook looks at the relationship between Anna’s memories and the novel she writes out of them, and how literature is controlled by cultural ideology. The Red Notebook 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. This does not stop Anna from participating in all this activity even while she is ironically aware of its irrationality. The Red Notebook also ends with clippings and a story about a man whose whole life is built on the delusion that the Russians will one day send for him to set the history of the Party straight.


(The entire section is 801 words.)