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Margaret Thatcher became England’s first female prime minister in 1979. The 10 years in which she was in power were characterized by many changes in policy. Thatcher had such a great impact on the country that her beliefs and way of rule are now known as “Thatcherism.” The novel The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing was written in the year 1998 and takes place throughout the later decades of the 20th century, a time period dominated by Thatcherism. Lessing’s story is, in many aspects, reflective of thatchers ideas and the effects of her rule in the UK.
The novel starts with Harriet and David, a young couple with fantasies of a perfect family. Up until the birth of their fifth child, Ben, they lived this “perfect” life, with their large house, extravagant dinner parties with extended family, and perfect young children. Lessing portrays this seemingly unattainable life as a commentary on the idealistic “traditional family values” which were at the forefront of Margaret Thatcher’s ideology. Thatcher believed that, in order to create a more perfect and peaceful England, society must be built upon the value of respectability, and that “conventional” families would help to improve lives. Harriet and David’s little family was the perfect example of “conventional” until Ben came along. When Ben was born, the family fell into turmoil and eventually was torn apart. Although there was clearly something wrong with Ben, nobody would admit it. I believe that this is a commentary on how thatchers perfect world built upon traditional values and conventional, respectable families is not a reality. Similar to the way in which Ben, a monstrosity of sorts, is born into a perfectly average family, disasters and misfortune occur in society, even when the government is doing everything they can in order to try to form a “perfect” world. The ‘Ben’ to Thatcher’s England can be illustrated by a number of things, from divorce rates, to unemployment, to recession. Even though, statistically, things seemed to be getting worse for the UK under the power of Margaret Thatcher, she kept focusing on the things that we’re going right, like the attempts to reverse the effects of inflation, and ignored the negative effects of her policies, like the growing pay gap between men and women and above average unemployment rates due to the governments attempts to prevent massive inflation. In The Fifth Child, doctors keep insisting that nothing is wrong with Ben, because physically he is healthy. This could be a metaphor for the way Margaret Thatcher and her administration tried to keep up the front that everything was going well while the statistics showed otherwise. Lessing’s novel uses themes such as perfection and family values to comment on the social norms set at the time was a result of Thatcherism.
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