Dan Sandman

44: Ben in the World by Doris Lessing

In Books, Fiction on 28/10/2016 at 12:00 pm

ben-and-the-world-by-doris-lessingBen is eighteen, although he looks much older than this. He is different to everyone else. His shoulders are extremely broad and his eyes respond very sensitively to light. The world is unkind to Ben because he has the innocence of a child. Ben is a neanderthal living alone in the world. The human beings in his life exploit him for being different. Those who care for him either abandon or betray him. This is the second part of his sad story: a sequel to The Fifth Child.

In part one of the story, we observed how Ben was treated unkindly by his family and sent to an institution. Part two deals with much the same themes, but now we see how the world treats Ben. His first experience is with an old lady who is kind to him. But when she encourages him to find a job, Ben’s troubles continue. Whilst working on a London building site, he meets a prostitute called Rita and her pimp Johnston. Rita is also kind to Ben but lets him be used as Johnston’s drug smuggler. In France, Ben is spotted by movie director Alex who takes him to Brazil to shoot a film. Eventual Alex abandons the idea to film Ben, leaving him with Teresa who is kind to him. When Teresa allows Ben to be sent to a scientific facility, things take another turn for the worse.

This sad story uses the authorial voice of the past-tense to create irony. It is a plot-driven narrative orchestrated by an authoritative voice. The irony comes from the juxtaposition of this voice alongside the unlikely coincidences. The overall effect on the reader is an uncanny blurring of the real world which Ben must navigate. We know Ben’s world is not real, but we non-the-less suspend our disbelief. This lack of strict realism makes the novel more discursive. The point is to make us think about / discuss Ben in the real / unreal world. How does society treat those who don’t fit in? Why is Ben such a tragic character? Do we feel pity for him or something less easy to define?

Food for thought and discussion.


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