Themes and Meanings
Lessing develops the central theme of the fragmentation of modern society through Anna’s emotional “breakdown.” In this painful psychological experience, Anna breaks through the false patterns which society has created in her, patterns that have resulted in her fragmented life. She moves through the self’s false dichotomies and divisions to a “self-healing” which enables her to share fully in another’s life—Saul Green’s—and to have that other share fully in hers.
The individual dichotomies which Anna must overcome are developed in the separate notebooks, with a different emphasis in each. In the red notebook, the tensions between the two political ideologies—Communism and capitalism—are explored; in the black notebook, the tensions between two races, the white imperialist and the black African native; in the yellow notebook, the tensions between male and female; and in the blue notebook, the tensions between Anna as an artist—and Anna as a person. Each represents a different aspect of Anna, a different fragment; it is these separate fragments which society has created in her that break down and dissolve into a new self in the healing process. With her new, integrated self, Anna enjoys a rich emotional life that enables her to create as an artist an integrated life symbolized by the golden notebook.
In a preface to the novel, Lessing discusses this central theme; she believes that, in general, the novel, or “stories,” teach the social ethic. They contain the “intellectual and moral climate” of an age. That intellectual and moral climate also is reflected in other important themes of The Golden Notebook. In the African setting, the injustice of racial discrimination which arises from the economic and cultural dichotomy between white and black is one such theme. In the London setting, the intellectual as well as the emotional relationship between Anna and Molly generates another, the theme of sisterhood. The moral climate of the novel also is reflected in the very character of Anna. In her psychological action to resolve the tensions that those dichotomies have created in her, she triumphs over the destructive forces of division and thus asserts the individual’s ability to achieve meaning itself.