(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although one can trace how Kate Brown represents another of Lessing's female characters who break out of traditional roles and values, Kate is the first one that depicts a different stage of life, that of the aging woman who recognizes both her psychological and physiological life changes and eventually embraces them. Lessing portrays women in such instances who do not necessarily experience a radical breakdown but whose biological tendencies allow them to be receptive to a change in life, albeit not initially. When the reader first encounters the middle-aged Kate, she is unaware and resistant to changes in her accustomed role as mother and wife, even though her children are grown and repeatedly leave the home environment she has provided. Shaped by the typical biological and societal roles of mother and wife, Kate's personality has developed accordingly.

The demands of the newfound job take Kate on a journey, but the metaphorical journey she must undertake becomes more important. Kate realizes that her quest is to leave behind her familiar nurturing relationships and focus on her own needs and desires to determine what direction she wants to take. When Kate is on the steps of her back porch, she is already attempting to identify this search for a new role in life: "She was trying to catch hold of something, or to lay it bare so that she could look and define; for some time now she had been 'trying on' ideas like so many dresses off a rack." By the time...

(The entire section is 366 words.)