The Fifth Child

by

Doris Lessing

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Ben Lovatt Character Analysis

Fifth child of Harriet and David, and youngest sibling to Luke, Helen, Jane and Paul. Ben is heavy-shouldered, stout and hunched. His forehead slopes from his eyebrows to the crown of his head, his yellowish hair coming low on his forehead. He has green-yellow eyes. His hands are thick and heavy and he is referred to by others as a troll, goblin, dwarf, throwback or changeling. Ben is unusually strong and tenacious, seemingly lacking sympathy for all other living things, despite the concerted efforts of Harriet to love and mother him into behaving as her previous children have. He watches the behaviors of his siblings, but fails to imitate them properly or understand why they behave the way they do. It is assumed that he is the one to have killed both a dog and cat in his youth, and he injures his siblings and caregivers with little remorse. His motives remain inexplicable throughout the book, though he does take clear pleasure in triumphs of his own strength and will, regardless of any malicious underpinnings. Ben is abandoned at and then rescued from the institution, Harriet’s only way of persuading Ben to behave is by threatening to return him to the institution, a memory which forces him into a vulnerable submission. Despite Ben being a poor student, his teachers indicate that he puts a great deal of effort into the assignments, news that surprises Harriet, who expects him to get into more trouble in school. Eventually, Ben is able to form a connection by attaching himself to his male babysitter John who takes him under his wing, hanging out with his group of friends at the Café and on outings. Furthermore, in secondary school, Ben forms a group of friends among whom he takes on a role as leader. The group is the envy of the school, and Harriet believes they might be participating in a variety of crimes: mugging people and robbing businesses. In both the case of John’s group of friends and the gang of boys from school, Ben seems to be accepted for who he is, rather than called out as being an outsider. Ben succeeds in finding an alternative family life in which he is comfortable, but he never assimilates to his parents and siblings, demonstrating that it’s impossible to make someone the person you want them to be.

Ben Lovatt Quotes in The Fifth Child

The The Fifth Child quotes below are all either spoken by Ben Lovatt or refer to Ben Lovatt. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Fifth Child published in 1988.
Pages 33 – 74 Quotes

“A real little wrestler,” said Dr. Brett. “He came out fighting the whole world.”

Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Harriet found herself thinking, I wonder what the mother would look like, the one who would welcome this—alien.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

One early morning, something took Harriet quickly out of her bed into the baby’s room, and there she saw Ben balanced on the window-sill. It was high—heaven only knew how he had got up there. The window was open. In a moment he would have fallen out of it. Harriet was thinking, What a pity I came in…and refused to be shocked at herself.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

“The trouble is, you get used to hell,” said Harriet. “After a day with Ben I feel as if nothing exists but him. As if nothing has ever existed. I suddenly realize I haven’t remembered the others for hours. I forgot their supper yesterday. Dorothy went to the pictures, and I came down and found Helen cooking their supper.”

Related Symbols: The Institution
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

He watched the children, particularly Luke and Helen, all the time. He studied how they moved, sat down, stood up; copied how they ate. He had understood that these two, the older ones, were more socially accomplished than Jane; and he ignored Paul altogether. When the children watched television, he squatted near them and looked from the screen to their faces, for he needed to know what reactions were appropriate. If they laughed, then, a moment later, he contributed a loud, hard, unnatural-sounding laugh.

Page Number: 68-69
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 74 – 96 Quotes

“It’s either him or us,” said David to Harriet. He added, his voice full of cold dislike for Ben, “He’s probably just dropped in from Mars. He’s going back to report on what he’s found down here.” He laughed—cruelly, it seemed to Harriet, who was silently taking in the fact—which of course she had half known already—that Ben was not expected to live long in this institution, whatever it was.

“He’s a little child,” she said. “He’s our child.”

“No he’s not,” said David, finally. “Well, he certainly isn’t mine.”

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Related Symbols: The Victorian House
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

While she was part of the general relief, and could hardly believe she had been able to stand such strain, and for so long, she could not banish Ben from her mind. It was not with love, or even affection, that she thought of him, and she disliked herself for not being able to find one little spark of normal feeling: it was guilt and horror that kept her awake through the nights.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

“Shit,” said the young man, meaning her being there.

“Literally,” said Harriet as the door opened on a square room whose walls were of white shiny plastic that was buttoned here and there and looked like fake expensive leather upholstery. On the floor, on a green foam-rubber mattress, lay Ben. He was unconscious. He was naked, inside a strait-jacket. His pale yellow tongue protruded from his mouth. His flesh was dead white, greenish. Everything—walls, the floor, and Ben—was smeared with excrement. A pool of dark yellow urine oozed from the pallet, which was soaked.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Related Symbols: The Institution
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

She cried out, “Yes, but you didn’t see it, you didn’t see—!”

“I was careful not to see,” he said. “What did you suppose was going to happen? That they were going to turn him into some well-adjusted member of society and then everything would be lovely?” He was jeering at her, but it was because his throat was stiff with tears.

Now they looked at each other, long, hard, seeing everything about each other. She thought, All right, he was right, and I was wrong. But it’s done.

She said aloud, “All right, but it’s done.”

“That’s the mot juste, I think.”

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Related Symbols: The Institution
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

But the last thing before they slept, the other children locked their doors quietly from inside. This meant Harriet could not go to them to see how they were before she went to bed, or if they were sick. She did not like to ask them not to lock their doors, nor make a big thing of it by calling in a locksmith and having special locks fitted, openable from the outside by an adult with a key. The business of the children locking themselves in made her feel excluded, forever shut out and repudiated by them. Sometimes she went softly to one of their doors and whispered to be let in, and she was admitted, and there was a little festival of kisses and hugs—but they were thinking of Ben, who might come in…and several times he did arrive silently in the door way and stare in at the scene, which he could not understand.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 96 – 133 Quotes

“You think Ben is a throwback?” enquired Dr. Gilly gravely. She sounded as if quite prepared to entertain the idea.

“It seems to me obvious,” said Harriet.

Another silence, and Dr. Gilly examined her well-kept hands. She sighed. Then she looked up and met Harriet’s eyes with “If that is so, then what do you expect me to do about it?”

Harriet insisted, “I want it said. I want it recognized. I just can’t stand it never being said.”

“Can’t you see that it is simply outside my competence? If it is true, that is? Do you want me to give you a letter to the zoo? ‘Put this child in a cage’? Or hand him over to science?”

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, Ben Lovatt, Dr. Gilly
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul was even more difficult than Ben. But he was a normal “disturbed” child, not an alien.

Related Characters: Ben Lovatt, Paul Lovatt
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

“We are being punished, that’s all.”

“What for?” he demanded, already on guard because there was a tone in her voice he hated.

“For presuming. For thinking we could be happy. Happy because we decided we would be.”

“Rubbish,” he said. Angry: this Harriet made him angry. “It was chance. Anyone could have got Ben. It was a chance gene, that’s all.”

“I don’t think so,” she stubbornly held on. “We were going to be happy! No one else is, or I never seem to meet them, but we were going to be. And so down came the thunderbolt.”

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Page Number: 117-118
Explanation and Analysis:

These days the local newspapers were full of news of muggings, hold-ups, break-ins. Sometimes his gang, Ben among them, did not come into the Lovatt’s house for a whole day, two days, three.

Related Characters: Ben Lovatt
Related Symbols: The Victorian House
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

He was not someone easily overlooked…and yet why did she say that? Everyone in authority had not been seeing Ben ever since he was born…When she saw him on television in that crowd, he had worn a jacket with its collar up, and a scarf, and was like a younger brother, perhaps of Derek. He seemed a stout schoolboy. Had he put on those clothes to disguise himself? Did that mean that he knew how he looked. How did he see himself?

Would people always refuse to see him, to recognize what he was?

Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Fifth Child LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Ben Lovatt Character Timeline in The Fifth Child

The timeline below shows where the character Ben Lovatt appears in The Fifth Child. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Pages 33 – 74
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...of a different substance than her other children and states that they will name him Ben. Ben refuses the touch of his siblings and Harriet wonders “what the mother would look... (full context)
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That night, at home, Harriet nurses Ben who empties the first breast in under a minute, biting down hard near the end.... (full context)
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...been watching with some degree of fascination if not fear, that she plans to transition Ben to bottle-feeding. Dorothy, who Harriet believes would normally object, agrees at once that it’s a... (full context)
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Dorothy buys the bottles and David agrees it’s a good idea. Ben empties a bottle almost instantaneously and roars for another. He empties that one, too, holding... (full context)
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Ben eats twice the amount recommended for his age and comes down with an infection. When... (full context)
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...behaves when held and entertained by everyone, and how this nature is often obscured by Ben’s demands. Ben’s cot is moved into the children’s room to try to socialize him, but... (full context)
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Harriet tries to spend some time each day petting and playing with Ben, but he resists all tenderness. At four-months-old he pulls himself up to standing. Soon after,... (full context)
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...would be they came for. It is revealed that they have not resumed lovemaking since Ben was born, as they both fear the possibility of producing another child like him, even... (full context)
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...because Jane is being sent to school (a full year ahead of schedule, because of Ben’s presence in the house, though no one will admit it). Privately Alice has told Dorothy... (full context)
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At the Christmas holidays, Ben is kept in his room. The family politely asks about his well-being, but doesn’t press... (full context)
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Ben, over a year old and yet to speak a word, can’t be kept in his... (full context)
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...Christmas, the house is half empty. Harriet reflects on the worst year of her life. Ben has taken to trying to escape the house, running down the street. Harriet has had... (full context)
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Dorothy suggests she might stay alone with Ben for a week in August so the rest of the family can have a vacation... (full context)
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...the possibility of accidentally conceiving again. At night, they discuss what can be done about Ben. Harriet regrets that she became so consumed with looking after Ben that she forgot to... (full context)
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...the house, and Harriet says yes, as long as they never leave her alone with Ben. Sarah comments that they’ve both been dealt a bad hand, but Harriet doesn’t believe fate... (full context)
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Just after Ben turns two years old, Paul is sent to a nursery school to get away from... (full context)
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One day, Ben begins to talk, surprisingly in full sentences, saying, “I want cake.” The children encourage him... (full context)
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After seeing this, Frederick tells Harriet that Ben must be put into an institution and Harriet says they’ll have to find a doctor... (full context)
Pages 74 – 96
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...calls to say that a place has been found and a car will come for Ben the next morning. Harriet realizes that David has been working to arrange this privately, David... (full context)
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The family thrives in Ben’s absence, but Harriet can’t distract herself from thinking about how Ben is prisoner somewhere and... (full context)
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The young man says he’ll retrieve Ben, but Harriet lets herself through the door, wanting to see what it is they’re trying... (full context)
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Harriet thinks Ben almost looks normal, unconscious as he is, and Harriet decides to take him home. The... (full context)
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On the way home, Ben wakes up and screams with fear. When Harriet pulls over and looks at Ben, she... (full context)
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...against David’s anger saying that if he would have seen what they were doing to Ben, David would have saved Ben, too. David counters that he was careful not to see.... (full context)
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Harriet repeats the cycle of feeding and sedating Ben. She tries to reassure Ben that he is home and safe and that if he... (full context)
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The first time Ben sees David, he hisses, remembering it was David who put him in the van. David... (full context)
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John arrives each morning to pick up Ben on his motorbike. Family life is improved if distant. David returns to sleep with Harriet... (full context)
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Some people visit for the summer holidays because Harriet has explained that Ben is hardly ever home. Molly and Frederick do not attend, unable to forgive Harriet for... (full context)
Pages 96 – 133
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When Ben turns five, Luke (13) and Helen (11) ask to be sent to boarding school. They’ve... (full context)
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...demanding of attention, having been denied mothering when it was most crucial. When he hears Ben arriving home on the motorbike, he wails. (full context)
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Harriet inquires about how Ben is doing in school and the headmistress says he tries very hard, but that he... (full context)
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Harriet takes Ben home to talk to him. She asks Ben if he remembers the institution. It’s clear... (full context)
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...that he not dismiss her to the other doctor as a hysteric. Dr. Gilly observes Ben first while Harriet waits, wondering what it is she wants of this doctor. She decides... (full context)
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Harriet presses Dr. Gilly to say that there is nothing strange about Ben, and Dr. Gilly demurs. Harriet asks for Ben to be brought into the room so... (full context)
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...but takes Jane back to her house with her at the end of the visit. Ben spends all his time with John. David works longer hours. Paul remains home, but is... (full context)
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...every afternoon, attaching to the doctor’s family more than his own. One afternoon, Harriet finds Ben trying to strangle Paul, but he can’t reach. She thinks Ben was only threatening his... (full context)
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...the Lovatts that he and his friends are leaving for a job-training school in Manchester. Ben takes this news poorly, asking why he can’t go along with John. Harriet thanks John... (full context)
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...David and Paul leave to visit Helen and Luke, and Dorothy is left alone with Ben, whom she hasn’t seen in a year. David asks Harriet if she realizes Ben will... (full context)
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The two years before Ben goes to secondary school are not pleasant for him. He watches TV indiscriminately, but can’t... (full context)
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...we would be,” she replies. David disagrees, saying, “It was chance. Anyone could have got Ben.” Harriet says they wanted to be better than everyone and David says they wanted only... (full context)
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...but privately he says something different. Harriet explains that living in a small house with Ben seems impossible to imagine, but David can tell that Harriet is still holding out hope... (full context)
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In 1986, when Ben turns eleven, he goes on to secondary school. Harriet checks Ben for bruises to see... (full context)
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Harriet watches Ben and imagines him as a caveman or mole person, living underground, surrounded by others like... (full context)
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...more seriously when he commands them to clean up their messes and go home, but Ben leaves with the others. When they are alone, David tells Harriet it’s time to sell... (full context)
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That night, David and Harriet lock the door, so Ben will have to ring the bell if he wants to come in. Harriet suggests buying... (full context)
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Harriet gives Ben information on where she can be reached if he can’t find her. Ben takes the... (full context)
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Harriet shifts her gaze to Ben, who is apart from the others, observing them. She compares him to the other boys... (full context)
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Harriet wonders what will happen to Ben now, and imagines him in abandoned buildings analogous to caves. She imagines him as a... (full context)