Landlocked Summary
by Doris Lessing

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Landlocked Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Landlocked covers the years 1944 to 1949 in Martha Quest’s life. In an irrational world of organizational corruptions and personal frustrations, Martha enters a love affair and finds a temporary solace. Paradoxically, this relationship becomes both a balm for her troubled soul and the most profound emotional experience of her entire life. The visionary heights that Martha achieves through her sexual expression with her new lover reflect Lessing’s view that, from the release of intense feeling and passion, one can achieve a sense of connection and balance in the universe.

At the outset, Martha is offered a promotion at her law firm. Instead of being happy for the opportunity, she refuses the offer, believing further commitment to a collective that she does not esteem will only detract from her search for self. After refusing the job, she dreams that she is a “large house . . . with half a dozen different rooms in it,” but that in the center the house is empty, ready to be filled. She accepts the dream as an “image of her position” and reasons that a man is needed to fill her inner space.

Martha’s choice becomes Thomas Stern, a Polish Jew who escaped from Poland but discovered later that the Nazis murdered all members of the family that he left behind. Thomas’s passionate outrage toward Nazis stirs Martha and alerts her to his potential for filling her empty center with emotions that could ignite her true self. Although Martha is still married to Anton Hesse, she has no reservations about becoming Thomas’s lover because the marriage is an acknowledged sham by both herself and Anton. She responds to Thomas in a way that she can compare only to pregnancy. With Thomas, her body becomes “a newly discovered country with laws of its own.”

Yet Thomas is a tormented man, having the “eye of an insane artist.” The lack of continuity in his life because of his loss of generations to the Holocaust proves too much for him to bear. Feelings of alienation lead him to “the long process of breaking down.” As Martha watches Thomas slip into madness, her imagination expands, and she starts to comprehend the incipient darkness that she knows will soon take him away.

By the end of Landlocked , Martha has ended her “in name only” marriage; she has abandoned her revolutionary dream; she is now suspicious that, in leaving Caroline, her daughter, she has not released her from being victimized by history; finally, she has lost the love of her life to a bizarre illness, which he has recorded in a final rambling manuscript. With these...

(The entire section is 625 words.)