Iris Murdoch

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Student Question

In The Bell, what is Dora's moral dilemma?

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This fascinating novel deals so much with the theme of relationships and what it means to love somebody else. This is shown not just in Dora, but also in a number of the key characters, such as Michael and Toby. The moral dilemma facing Dora is of course her relationship with her husband, whom she is afraid of, and wants to leave at the beginning of the story. Dora has to choose between making a choice to leave him and accepting the consequences of that decision or staying with him and putting up with the way her marriage is. Note the following quote, that deals with the importance of love and relations in the novel:

God can always show us, if we will, a higher and a better way; and we can only learn to love by loving. Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love. Imperfect love must not be condemned and rejected but made perfect. The way is always forward, never back.

What Dora comes to realise, thanks to the support and love of those around her in the community, is that the way of love is "always forward," and she is able to accept both her own failures and the failures of her husband before finally deciding to leave him and having the courage to live an independent life where she can be free.

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