A House Like a Lotus Critical Essays

Madeleine L'Engle


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Madeleine L’Engle is not afraid to tackle the tough themes—death, sex, love, responsibility, forgiveness, trust. A House Like a Lotus touches on all these, both in its story line and in the discussions between characters. At one point, Polly muses that she is “far more comfortable with ideas than with ordinary social conversation,” and A House Like a Lotus is full of conversations about ideas. It is also a coming-of-age novel, in which Polly leaves the self-centeredness of childhood to learn to understand and have compassion for other people.

Max begins this growing-up process for Polly, helping her to see how a teacher whom Polly dislikes may actually be lonely and unfulfilled and, simple as it may seem, that her parents are separate individuals, with strengths and weaknesses of their own. Polly needs to learn that “all human beings betray each other and that we are going to be let down even by those we most trust.” The trick that the mature person has is to be able to forgive the betrayal and view the betrayer with compassion. Polly ends up learning this lesson the hard way: Max’s attempt to seduce her betrays their friendship in the most taboo way possible, since Max is a lesbian and regards Polly as the child she did not have. Polly must learn to look beyond this incident to the person Max really is and to have compassion for the pain and fear that drove Max to her uncharacteristic actions.

A House Like a Lotus also tackles the question of what love is: the love between...

(The entire section is 630 words.)