Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In Lessing’s essay “A Small Personal Voice,” she writes that she very clearly meant for the theme of Children of Violence to be “a study of the individual conscience in its relations with the collective.” She continues that one must fill the gap between the public and the private conscience that permits the world to produce acts of violence out of fear and ignorance. Ultimately, it is easy to see this thread winding its way through all five volumes, even in the adolescent dreams of Martha in the first volume in which she has her utopian vision, a “foursquared” city, which becomes the overriding image of the series. Along with this come others which are as central to the novels: the quest, which for Martha comes to be both an inner and an outer journey; the many-roomed house, which again represents “places” of both internal and external realities; the mirror through which Martha’s external vision gives way to the internal; and the tree, with its trunk and branches existing on the outside, yet its roots, its life’s blood, hidden below the surface. Each image finds it way into the novel, in some form, depending on Martha’s stage of development.

As for the structure of the novels, they are conventional narratives, except for The Four-Gated City, with its scenes of madness and internal dialogues. Because of Martha’s name “quest,” it is difficult to ignore that the novels do fall into the genre of Bildungsroman, for...

(The entire section is 425 words.)