Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The novel seems primarily an analysis of female victimhood; Alice is the typical daughter who rebels against her mother and then grows up to be exactly like her. It is also about female masochism and the inability of women to walk away from men who abuse them and offer nothing in return for years of care and devotion.

At first, Alice seems deserving of the reader’s sympathy. Certainly she is the hardest worker of the group. Though the others criticize her for caring more about fixing up the house than for their political causes, the sincerity of her feelings is never in question; again and again she is moved to tears by the injustices of her world. Yet Doris Lessing’s portrait constantly emphasizes the excessiveness of her responses: “her heart full of pain” at the sight of such a beautiful house left “unloved,” hysteria—to the point that Pat must shake her to stop her sobbing—over a bird’s nest that crashes to the ground.

Alice may very well see herself as an unloved child who has been kicked out of her home, but the evidence suggests that her parents have always cared for and even indulged her. At thirty-six, she has no more control over her emotions than does a sixteen-year-old. Unfortunately, it is not simply herself she hurts: Alice’s naivete and indiscretion, in combination with her childlike need for approval and love, are ultimately to blame not only for her mother’s plight but also for the murder of innocent people. It is Alice who first approaches Comrade Andrew, acting as if she knew all about him. He tries to seduce her and then to bribe her, yet when crates of guns are delivered to the commune, she makes no connection...

(The entire section is 688 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Questioning the moves and motives of the bureaucracy underlies not only the political stance of the group but their general outrage....

(The entire section is 441 words.)