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The Role Of Motherhood In The Fifth Child And The Summer Before Darf

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Autor:   •  October 24, 2010  •  5,022 Words (21 Pages)  •  896 Views

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Motherhood is a traditional role for women. From the time they are young, girls are taught to grow up, marry and become mothers. Of course they can do other things with their lives like play sports, have careers, and travel, but an overwhelming amount of women want to be mothers no matter what else they accomplish with their lives. It is common knowledge that being a good mother is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It is to forever have a special link with another person or people and have a tremendous influence, maybe the most tremendous influence over their lives. Motherhood is a roller coaster ride for women, full of ups and downs, fears and accomplishments. But what happens when motherhood defines who a woman is? All children grow up, and while a woman is always a mother, children need their mothers less and less until eventually their dependence is very minimal. What happens to the woman whose singular role and purpose is no longer needed? In The Summer Before The Dark, and The Fifth Child, the maternal roles of Kate Brown, and Harriet Lovatt are analyzed and traditional motherhood behavior is deconstructed due to these characters' experiences and relationships with their children.

Kate Brown is the typical middle class, attentive mother who dedicates her entire life to raising her children and being a supportive wife to her husband. She has been a mother for the vast majority of her life, and that is the only role she has known. "Her first child had been born at twenty-two. The last was born well before she was thirty" (Lessing, 18). This novel takes place when Kate is forty- five, so for 23 years, Kate has been a mother and a wife. This has been the basis of her existence. "Kate's four children have structured her existence, as can be seen in her almost "maternal" responses to young people she encounters in her life" (Lee, 17). All Kate knows how to do is be a mother and take care of other people. This is apparent in her relationships with people at Global Food, (the place where she is hired to be a translator), and with both Jeffrey her younger lover) and Maureen, (her roommate). Her maternal instincts are extremely strong and at the beginning of the novel, it seems that is all that defines her. She comes to the realization that her youngest son, Tim, will be gone over the summer, and the rest of her older kids will be away from home as well as her husband. With her husband and children gone, Kate realizes that she will have absolutely no purpose and nothing to do. It is at this point that the epiphany reveals itself, she is no longer needed. " Kate is not alone as a middle-aged mother in a middle- class family who finds that she is no longer wanted, after devoting precious decades of her life to take care of the needs of others" (17).

Luckily, the opportunity presents itself, in the form of her husband's good friend, for Kate to work during the summer at Global Food. Kate is reluctant at first at the opportunity, but after gentle prodding from her husband, she realizes that it could be something worthwhile for her to do. She is a success at the company and gets a promotion, due in part, to her excellent mothering skills. While she gets promoted from translator to a higher position, she reflects, "Kate had been promoted: because she had allowed herself to emanate an atmosphere of sympathetic readiness, which had been "picked up" by the bureaucracy of the organization?" (Lessing, 39). Basically, Kate was promoted because she demonstrated maternal qualities that her co-workers and bosses picked up on. She was the mother hen who everyone turned to for advice and comfort. Of course, she was skilled at being a translator, but her maternal instincts are what differentiated her from the rest of the translators and why she was chosen to get a promotion over them. In Kate's opinion, it all made sense,

" This is what women did in families- it was Kate's role in life. And she had performed this function, together with the beautiful young woman from Africa for the committee that was now over. She was going to fill the role again in Turkey. It was a habit she had got into. She was beginning to see that she could accept a job in this organization, or another like it, for no other reason than that she was unable to switch herself out of the role of provider of invisible manna, consolation, warmth, "sympathy." Not because she needed a job, or wanted to do one. She had been set like a machine by twenty-odd years of being a wife and mother" (Lessing, 46).

Kate felt unneeded and unwanted by her family, so she exerts those maternal qualities and instincts into her career and her relationships at the workplace. Even though the objects of her affection change, her children, Global food, Jeffrey, Maureen, they attention she places on people is all the same- that of a mother.

When Kate is introduced to Jeffrey, she thinks he is attractive and she wonders whether or not she will have an affair with him. Even though this consideration seems like a normal thought that a woman who shares a mutual attraction with a younger man would have, this thought itself, is based on Kate's role as a mother. She considers having an affair with Jeffrey, and not feeling guilty about it because for years, her husband has been cheating on her with her knowledge. Kate has accepted his "occasional, discreet affairs, with young women who would not be hurt by them" Lessing 63) because she wanted her family to stay together. She thinks about how other marriages have resulted in divorce, due to their inability to withstand infidelity, and she is grateful that her marriage has stayed together because she and her husband "do not expect too much from each other" (63). Clearly, Kate has allowed her role as mother and wife to captivate her identity. Knowing that her husband cheats on her on a regular, if occasional, basis and accepting this fact is degrading and humiliating. However, Kate must feel that she has to accept this arrangement with her husband, otherwise she risks losing him and her family. If she is not a wife and mother, who is she? These are the only roles she has ever filled and as a middle-aged woman she is not prepared to reexamine and reassess her life at this point, so she recognizes her husband's infidelities as an annoying habit that reduces the amount of respect she has for him. Yet she never considers leaving him, because this would eliminate the only identity she has ever known.

Instead, she considers her own affair with Jeffrey, thirteen years her junior. They go out on a date and go back to the hotel to have sex. Afterwards, Kate feels indifferent. It had not lived up to her expectations. Yet she had fulfilled yet another man's desires. Her whole life she had been filling men's


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