The Fifth Child

by

Doris Lessing

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Harriet Lovatt Character Analysis

Harriet, the novel’s protagonist, is the wife and mother to the Lovatt family. While working as a graphic designer, she meets David at an office party and they quickly marry, buy a too-expensive house, and conceive a child. Harriet’s parents remained happily married until her father passed away, and she uses them as the model of a successful marriage. Harriet is unfashionably traditional for the 1960s—her goal, which she achieves, is to stay at home raising a large family. For a time, this makes her happy, but the financial strain of having five children, coupled with the troubles of their psychologically disturbed son Ben, upends the traditional happy family Harriet desired. Throughout the novel, Harriet is shown to be devoted (if reluctantly at times) and idealistic, remaining committed to integrating Ben into the family, despite the danger he poses to the other children. While Harriet’s compassion for Ben is understandable, she is consistently unable to put her decisions into a larger perspective and take actions that will benefit the family as a whole, which alienates her husband, extended family, and the remainder of her children. By the end of the novel, the Lovatt family is in tatters, and Harriet suggests that this fate is her punishment for always wanting more happiness, rather than being content with the abundant blessings the family once had.

Harriet Lovatt Quotes in The Fifth Child

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

She knew his look of watchful apartness mirrored her own. She judged his humorous air to be an effort. He was making similar mental comments about her: she seemed to dislike these occasions as much as he did. Both had found out who the other was.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

But they meant to have a lot of children. Both, somewhat defiantly, because of the enormity of their demands on the future, announced they “would not mind” a lot of children. “Even four, or five…” “Or six,” said David. “Or six!” said Harriet, laughing to the point of tears from relief.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt
Related Symbols: The Victorian House
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

She did not realize, as David did, how annoyed these two parents were. Aiming, like all their kind, at an appearance of unconformity, they were in fact the essence of convention, and disliked any manifestation of the spirit of exaggeration, of excess. This house was that.

Related Symbols: The Victorian House
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

“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:

Happiness. A happy family. The Lovatts were a happy family. It was what they had chosen and what they deserved.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Harriet said to David, privately, that she did not believe was bad luck: Sarah and William’s unhappiness, their quarrelling, had probably attracted the mongol child—yes, yes, of course she knew one shouldn’t call them mongol[…]David disliked this trait of Harriet’s, a fatalism that seemed so at odds with the rest of her. He said he thought this was silly hysterical thinking: Harriet sulked and they had to make up.

Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

“This is what everyone wants, really, but we’ve been brainwashed out of it. People want to live like this, really.”

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 33 – 74 Quotes

And she silently addressed the being crouching in her womb: “Now you shut up or I’ll take another pill.” It seemed to her that it listened and understood.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

“Suddenly the little girl found she was alone. She and her brother had lost each other. She wanted to go home. She did not know which way to walk […] She wandered about for a long time, and then she was thirsty again. She bent over a pool wondering if it would be orange juice, but it was water, clear pure forest water […] She bent over the pool […] but she saw something she didn’t expect. It was a girl’s face, and she was looking straight up at her. It was a face she had never seen in her whole life. This strange girl was smiling, but it was a nasty smile, not friendly, and the little girl thought this other girl was going to reach up out of the water and pull her down into it.”

Page Number: 44-45
Explanation and Analysis:

“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:

“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:

The new baby had of course been offered to everyone to hold, when they asked, but it was painful to see how their faces changed confronting this phenomenon. Ben was always quickly handed back. Harriet came into the kitchen one day and heard her sister Sarah say to a cousin, “That Ben gives me the creeps. He’s like a goblin or a dwarf or something. I’d rather have poor Amy any day.”

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, Sarah , Amy
Page Number: 56
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:

She thought it not without significance, as they say, that it was Frederick who said, “Now look here, Harriet, you’ve got to face it, he’s got to go into an institution.”

“Then we have to find a doctor who says he’s abnormal,” said Harriet. “Dr. Brett certainly won’t.”

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, Frederick , Dr. Brett
Related Symbols: The Institution
Page Number: 71
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:

David came back to sleep in the connubial room. There was a distance between them. David had made and now kept this distance because Harriet had hurt him so badly: she understood this. Harriet informed him that she was now on the Pill: for both it was a bleak moment, because of everything they had been, had stood for, in the past, which had made it impossible for her to be on the Pill. They had felt it deeply wrong so to tamper with the processes of Nature! Nature—they now reminded themselves they once felt—was at some level or other to be relied upon.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt
Page Number: 92
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:

“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:

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:
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Harriet Lovatt Character Timeline in The Fifth Child

The timeline below shows where the character Harriet Lovatt appears in The Fifth Child. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Pages 3 – 33
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In the mid-1960s, David and Harriet spot each other across the room at their office Christmas party and know immediately that... (full context)
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Harriet and David are well-matched because of their antiquated ideas of sex in the 1960s: David... (full context)
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Harriet, a virgin, has been teased by her friends for seeing her virginity as a present... (full context)
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Harriet and David spot each other and begin their approach at precisely the same moment, moving... (full context)
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Harriet moves into David’s flat right away and they decide to marry in the spring, believing... (full context)
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On the day the sale closes, Harriet and David wander the house, admiring every small detail and planning their life. They spend... (full context)
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It is confirmed that Harriet is pregnant and Harriet and David worry about how they’ll pay their bills, and also... (full context)
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...afterwards he arrives with his wife, Jessica. They stand outside the house with David and Harriet evaluating it. James confirms the house is a good price probably because it’s too big... (full context)
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Harriet and David assume that Harriet’s mother, Dorothy, a widow, will agree to live with them... (full context)
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Harriet argues that in some countries, large families are not nearly so rare and David agrees.... (full context)
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Just after Christmas in 1966, Harriet gives birth to Luke in the family bed. He’s a good-natured baby who is easy... (full context)
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When Harriet and David tell Dorothy shortly after, she takes the news quietly, acknowledging that they’ll continue... (full context)
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...in the family bed, too, in 1968. Helen moves into the baby room attached to Harriet and David’s bedroom, and Luke is moved to the next room over. Despite Harriet’s fatigue,... (full context)
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...children. Dorothy wishes there were two of her so she might help both Sarah and Harriet, and occasionally she leaves the Lovatt house to help Sarah instead.  Harriet and David’s third... (full context)
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...loses his job. Sarah jokes that she and William get all the bad luck, but Harriet mentions to David that she doesn’t believe it’s bad luck. Instead she thinks that Amy... (full context)
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...family bristles at this odd sticking point in his vision for happy family life. Angela, Harriet’s other sister, admits that she feels that Sarah and Harriet use all of Dorothy’s time... (full context)
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William speaks up, saying what the rest of the family is thinking: that Harriet and David should stop having children. Harriet says they plan to wait three years to... (full context)
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...Bridget is present again, soaking in the idyllic atmosphere of the family, and David and Harriet recognize, almost uneasily, their excessive happiness. They justify this feeling by believing that life is... (full context)
Pages 33 – 74
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Dorothy phones to say that she’s taking a break from helping Sarah and Harriet for a few weeks because she’s tired. Harriet is beside herself at this news and... (full context)
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Harriet visits Dr. Brett who admits he might be off by a month in estimating the... (full context)
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David and Harriet look for a trained nanny in London, but their search is unsuccessful. Instead, Frederick’s widow... (full context)
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Though Harriet says they can’t host Easter in her current state, the rest of the family insists.... (full context)
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...for an adventure. Jane watches her siblings to see how they react and copies them. Harriet hears a television broadcast about murders in a London suburb and flips it off. The... (full context)
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The children beg to learn what happened. Harriet wants to tell David to stop because she believes the story is actually about her.... (full context)
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...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, but Harriet says yes. David... (full context)
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At eight months pregnant, Harriet asks Dr. Brett to induce the baby. Dr. Brett is skeptical, not seeing why this... (full context)
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Soon after, Harriet goes into labor and insists on being taken to the hospital. The child fights its... (full context)
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Harriet tries to breastfeed the child, as everyone in the hospital room looks on, strained, but... (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... (full context)
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Harriet quickly grows intolerant of the constant, violent feedings and she tells Dorothy, who’s been watching... (full context)
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...bottle almost instantaneously and roars for another. He empties that one, too, holding it himself. Harriet calls him a Neanderthal baby and David pities the child. Harriet requests that he pity... (full context)
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...eats twice the amount recommended for his age and comes down with an infection. When Harriet takes him to see Dr. Brett, he admonishes Harriet for discontinuing breastfeeding, but Harriet shows... (full context)
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The extended family descends on the Lovatt house for the summer holidays. Harriet notes the cheery way Paul behaves when held and entertained by everyone, and how this... (full context)
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Harriet tries to spend some time each day petting and playing with Ben, but he resists... (full context)
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Lying in bed one night, Harriet says to David that she believes people come to their house for a good time... (full context)
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...Privately Alice has told Dorothy that she believes Ben might be a changeling. David and Harriet wonder, to each other, if this six-month-old child might destroy their family life. At nine... (full context)
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...for details. The atmosphere is constrained by the specter of the child locked away upstairs. Harriet feels that the family looks at her as if she is a criminal for having... (full context)
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...gaze. A summer guest brings along a dog that Ben obsessively follows around. One morning Harriet finds the dog dead and believes Ben is to blame. She locks Ben in his... (full context)
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At Christmas, the house is half empty. Harriet reflects on the worst year of her life. Ben has taken to trying to escape... (full context)
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...a vacation together. None of the regular extended family has asked to visit this summer. Harriet, David, and the four oldest children go to France and marvel at their happiness sans-Ben.... (full context)
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Harriet and David resume making love, but it’s not the same because of the apprehension they... (full context)
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Harriet invites the family, determined to have a regular Christmas. Sarah asks if Amy will be... (full context)
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...to get away from Ben. 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... (full context)
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...The children encourage him and Ben watches them closely, studying how they act and react. Harriet notes that Ben is easier now, but Dorothy, returning to the Lovatt home, says that... (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... (full context)
Pages 74 – 96
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...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 says that Ben “has... (full context)
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...the car, too. They hear Ben’s screams as the car pulls away, and David assures Harriet they had no choice. Harriet weeps with shock, relief, and gratitude. When the children arrive... (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 she is overcome... (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 to keep... (full context)
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Harriet thinks Ben almost looks normal, unconscious as he is, and Harriet decides to take him... (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 feels as though he doesn’t recognize her. She... (full context)
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Harriet defends herself against David’s anger saying that if he would have seen what they were... (full context)
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Harriet repeats the cycle of feeding and sedating Ben. She tries to reassure Ben that he... (full context)
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...David who put him in the van. David doesn’t apologize, now believing that Ben is Harriet’s responsibility, and the other (“real”) children his own. Ben resumes copying the other children and... (full context)
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...Ben on his motorbike. Family life is improved if distant. David returns to sleep with Harriet and Harriet begins taking the Pill, indicating a growing lack of trust in Nature. 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... (full context)
Pages 96 – 133
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...table eating a raw chicken. Ben defends himself by saying, “Poor Ben hungry.” It breaks Harriet’s heart to think that Ben sees himself as Poor Ben. The time comes when Ben... (full context)
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Harriet inquires about how Ben is doing in school and the headmistress says he tries very... (full context)
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Harriet takes Ben home to talk to him. She asks Ben if he remembers the institution.... (full context)
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Harriet asks Dr. Brett to set up an appointment with a specialist, asking that he not... (full context)
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Harriet presses Dr. Gilly to say that there is nothing strange about Ben, and Dr. Gilly... (full context)
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Luke stays mostly with James, though occasionally James brings Luke to visit, sensing that Harriet and David miss him. Helen stays with Molly, visiting very infrequently. Jane remains living with... (full context)
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...in Manchester. Ben takes this news poorly, asking why he can’t go along with John. Harriet thanks John for all he’s done. Ben misses John and the gang immensely, and Harriet... (full context)
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Harriet recognizes that David has become what he vowed he would never be, focusing mostly on... (full context)
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...to play games, but fails. He loves musicals, but can’t sing. When Paul taunts Ben, Harriet warns him not to do that. One afternoon, Harriet looks for Ben in the house... (full context)
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...that David deserves their charity, the family returns for a week in the summer holiday. Harriet resents that the family sees her as a scapegoat for all that’s gone wrong. She... (full context)
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Molly tells David and Harriet they must sell the house. David publicly agrees with Harriet that it’s not time yet,... (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 if he’s been fighting and waits for a letter... (full context)
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Harriet watches Ben and imagines him as a caveman or mole person, living underground, surrounded by... (full context)
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Harriet realizes that the gang is sleeping in the house, too, and she tells them that’s... (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... (full context)
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Harriet gives Ben information on where she can be reached if he can’t find her. Ben... (full context)
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Harriet shifts her gaze to Ben, who is apart from the others, observing them. She compares... (full context)
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Harriet wonders what will happen to Ben now, and imagines him in abandoned buildings analogous to... (full context)