The Fifth Child

by

Doris Lessing

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Dorothy Character Analysis

Dorothy, a widow, is Harriet’s mother and she is Harriet and David’s primary source of childcare throughout the novel, as the couple has more children than they can handle on their own. Though she maintains an apartment of her own in London, there’s no question that she will come live with Harriet and David when they begin having children, as family is of the utmost importance to her. Dorothy is a voice of pragmatism, often recommending to Harriet and David that they think more carefully about the decisions they’re making and whether they can handle the responsibility. When the extended family descends upon the Lovatt home for holidays three times a year, it is Dorothy who takes on the bulk of the work hosting them, and on multiple occasions she calls out the fact that Harriet and David treat her as though she is a servant, receiving little thanks for her labor. Though she wants to provide help, her other daughters are jealous of the assistance she gives to Harriet and David and eventually Dorothy absents herself from the Lovatt household to help care for her other grandchildren, taking in their daughter Jane when Jane can no longer tolerate life at home.

Dorothy Quotes in The Fifth Child

The The Fifth Child quotes below are all either spoken by Dorothy or refer to Dorothy. 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 3 – 33 Quotes

“You want things both ways. The aristocracy—yes, they can have children like rabbits, and expect to, but they have the money for it. And poor people can have children, and half of them die, and expect to. But people like us, in the middle, we have to be careful about the children we have so we can look after them.”

Related Characters: Dorothy (speaker), Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 33 – 74 Quotes

“All right, all right—the genes have come up with something special this time.”

“But what, that’s the point,” said Harriet. “What is he?”

The other three said nothing—or, rather, said by their silence that they would rather not face the implications of it.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt, Dorothy
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
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Dorothy Character Timeline in The Fifth Child

The timeline below shows where the character Dorothy appears in The Fifth Child. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Pages 3 – 33
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
Harriet and David assume that Harriet’s mother, Dorothy, a widow, will agree to live with them and help Harriet with childcare. Dorothy appears... (full context)
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Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...argues that in some countries, large families are not nearly so rare and David agrees. Dorothy counters this by saying that people in poorer countries expect half their children to die... (full context)
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Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
When Harriet and David tell Dorothy shortly after, she takes the news quietly, acknowledging that they’ll continue to need her help.... (full context)
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Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
...to the next room over. Despite Harriet’s fatigue, she insists the extended family visit for Easter—Dorothy and Harriet’s sisters must do the work of hosting. That summer of 1968, the house... (full context)
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Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...Syndrome, confirming that Sarah and William must stay together to properly care for their children. Dorothy wishes there were two of her so she might help both Sarah and Harriet, and... (full context)
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Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...pay for it. The children move into one room to make space for guests, and Dorothy wonders why the children couldn’t always stay together. David refuses this idea, insisting, “everyone should... (full context)
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...is pregnant with a fifth child, to the couple’s dismay, despite their efforts against it. Dorothy is away helping Sarah and her children, and though Harriet has tried out three different... (full context)
Pages 33 – 74
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Dorothy phones to say that she’s taking a break from helping Sarah and Harriet for a... (full context)
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...unsuccessful. Instead, Frederick’s widow cousin Alice, who is down on her luck, comes to help Dorothy, who struggles with having to share her authority. Harriet returns to Dr. Brett at five... (full context)
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...wants to tell David to stop because she believes the story is actually about her. Dorothy cuts David off and says that the little girl left the nasty girl in the... (full context)
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...his way up to bed, Luke asks if everyone is coming for the summer holidays. Dorothy and David look to Harriet for the answer because she’ll have given birth just before,... (full context)
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Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Harriet quickly grows intolerant of the constant, violent feedings and she tells Dorothy, who’s been watching with some degree of fascination if not fear, that she plans to... (full context)
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Dorothy buys the bottles and David agrees it’s a good idea. Ben empties a bottle almost... (full context)
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Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...Ben’s crib and Ben grabs Paul’s hand, bending his arm backwards and badly spraining it. Dorothy and Alice free Paul from Ben’s grasp, and Ben crows with pleasure. The children become... (full context)
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...Ben’s presence in the house, though no one will admit it). Privately Alice has told Dorothy that she believes Ben might be a changeling. David and Harriet wonder, to each other,... (full context)
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
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...1975 summer holidays, fewer guests visit, saying they haven’t the funds to make the trip. Dorothy notes that people hadn’t found it difficult to visit before for weeks at a time... (full context)
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Dorothy suggests she might stay alone with Ben for a week in August so the rest... (full context)
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...Paul has begun having violent tantrums to try to get Harriet’s attention away from Ben. Dorothy departs to help with Sarah’s family for a while and Harriet is alone with Ben... (full context)
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...closely, studying how they act and react. Harriet notes that Ben is easier now, but Dorothy, returning to the Lovatt home, says that that is just Harriet’s point of view. Dorothy... (full context)
Pages 74 – 96
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...begins taking the Pill, indicating a growing lack of trust in Nature. Harriet asks if Dorothy might watch the children so that she and David can have a weekend away together.... (full context)
Pages 96 – 133
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
At Christmas, Luke stays with James and Helen goes to Molly’s house. Dorothy stays for three days, but takes Jane back to her house with her at the... (full context)
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...and David miss him. Helen stays with Molly, visiting very infrequently. Jane remains living with Dorothy and Sarah’s family, and when she visits the Lovatt house it’s clear she’s careful not... (full context)
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...James gave to Luke. Harriet, 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... (full context)
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...now an attractive, self-sufficient, if distant, sixteen-year-old. James brings Luke, now a reliable eighteen-year-old observer. Dorothy brings Jane, a non-academic fourteen-year-old. Paul, eleven, asks why he can’t go to boarding school... (full context)