The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

One of the most completely realized characters in modern literature, Anna Wulf represents the New Woman. Although she believes that she is emotionally fulfilled in a love relationship with a man, she does not rely on a man for her position in the larger society. Doris Lessing’s achievement is in tracing the development of such a woman from her early twenties to her midthirties. Part of that development is an honest portrayal of the character’s sexual identity. As a young woman, Anna was not fulfilled sexually in her relationship with a young Communist in Africa. It is only after she has moved to London and has established a relationship with Michael, the lover who eventually leaves her, that she feels sexually fulfilled. Significantly, it is after Michael has left her that she feels her identity undergoing a crisis.

In addition to having a lasting, meaningful relationship with a man, Anna feels the need to make a commitment which will give meaning to her life. Joining the Communist Party is one attempt at making that kind of commitment. A sensitive, highly intelligent woman, Anna longs to bring social justice to the world, and she believes that the Communist Party is the most effective avenue toward achieving that goal. As a girl in South Central Africa, she witnessed the terrible results of racial discrimination, and she wants to do something to change it.

Yet Anna discovers that the Communist Party is not finally the avenue she must follow; it contains inner paradoxes which will not allow her the freedom to experience a more subjective, individual meaning—a meaning she believes she must develop in order to live an...

(The entire section is 674 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Anna Freeman Wulf

Anna Freeman Wulf, the protagonist, a sensitive, highly intelligent woman, a writer who labels herself as a “minor talent.” Neat, delicate, and prim, she is small, thin, and dark, “with large black always-on-guard eyes,” a “pointed white face,” delicate hands, and “a fluffy haircut.” She must force herself to take the lead, as she is by nature shy and self-effacing. She lives on the royalties of a commercially successful novel about her 1940’s experiences in southern Rhodesia and is compiling four notebooks to exorcise her personal demons and to explore the meaning of her life and its relationships. These record her present life (psychoanalysis, friendships, affairs), her African days (the hypocrisies of apartheid, her fear of domesticity), her political change (from liberal to communist to disillusioned idealist), and various drafts and ideas for story lines. Her thirteen-year-old daughter, Jane, produces her sense of emotional stability; past failed relationships with men produce her sense of inadequacy. Ultimately, her real sources of strength are her role as a mother, her sisterhood with a fellow divorcee (Molly), her relationship with the exasperating Saul Green, and the self-knowledge that comes from analyzing herself and her past in her notebooks and from undergoing a process of fragmentation and breakdown that ends in an integrated self.

Molly Jacobs

Molly Jacobs, a worldly-wise Jewish actress, Anna’s best friend, both her complementary opposite and her mirror image, “a free woman.” Although she is tall and big-boned, Molly appears slight, even boyish, with rough, streaky gold hair, cut like a boy’s, and a varied wardrobe. Fluent in half a dozen languages, “abrupt, straightforward, tactless,” and frankly domineering, yet full of life and enthusiasm, she is forty years old (in 1957), with an adult son, Tommy. In 1935, when she met Anna, she worked for the Spanish Republican cause while supporting her husband, Richard, a failed artist. She...

(The entire section is 835 words.)