The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook

by

Doris Lessing

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Tommy is Molly and Richard’s son. He plays a central role in Free Women but only appears in passing, as a rather different character, in Anna’s notebooks. In Free Women, he is judgmental and malicious, spending most of his time brooding in his room. While Tommy admires Anna’s sensitivity, sense of moral purpose, and refusal to define herself through an occupation, he thinks she is dishonest and hypocritical for compartmentalizing her life in the notebooks out of her fear of chaos, rather than putting forth an authentic and integrated, if messy, version of herself. Anna feels partially responsible for Tommy’s suicide attempt, which she thinks relates to what he read in her notebooks earlier that day. He survives but is blinded and becomes an ominous presence in Molly’s house, where his mother feels increasingly uneasy and confined. He soon befriends Marion, who comes over to discuss politics with him for hours at a time. Tommy ends up joining his father’s company, although only because he comes to believe capitalism can change the world for the better. In contrast, in the notebooks, Tommy was a conscientious objector who worked in the coal mines rather than serve in World War II. A few years older than in Free Women, Tommy dates a sociology student who converts him to a political ideology Molly considers insufficiently radical. By the end of the blue notebooks, he gets married, gives lectures about coal miners’ issues, and considers joining independence fighters in Cuba or Algeria. The two radically different versions of Tommy point both to the questionable facticity of Free Women (which is ultimately revealed to be Anna’s second novel), but their commonality is that in both versions, Tommy overcomes a state of existential crisis and self-doubt by learning to take concrete actions that balance his moral concerns with practical opportunities.

Tommy Quotes in The Golden Notebook

The The Golden Notebook quotes below are all either spoken by Tommy or refer to Tommy. 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:
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon and Schuster edition of The Golden Notebook published in 1962.
Free Women: 2 Quotes

“It seems to me like this. It’s not a terrible thing — I mean, it may be terrible, but it’s not damaging, it’s not poisoning, to do without something one wants. It’s not bad to say: My work is not what I really want, I’m capable of doing something bigger. Or I’m a person who needs love, and I’m doing without it. What’s terrible is to pretend that the second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don’t need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you’re capable of better. It would be very bad if I said, out of guilt or something: I loved Janet’s father, when I know quite well I didn’t. Or for your mother to say: I loved Richard. Or I’m doing work I love …”

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Molly Jacobs, Tommy, Richard Portmain, Willi Rodde , Max Wulf
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

“It's because I keep trying to write the truth and realising it's not true.”

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Tommy
Related Symbols: Anna’s Notebooks
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:
The Notebooks: 2 Quotes

15th September, 1954

A normal day. During the course of a discussion with John Butte and Jack I decided to leave the Party. I must now be careful not to start hating the Party in the way we do hate stages of our life we have outgrown. Noted signs of it already: moments of disliking Jack which were quite irrational. Janet as usual, no problems. Molly worried, I think with reason, over Tommy. She has a hunch he will marry his new girl. Well, her hunches usually come off. I realized that Michael had finally decided to break it off. I must pull myself together.

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Janet Wulf, Molly Jacobs, Tommy, Michael, Jack, Comrade John Butte
Page Number: 352
Explanation and Analysis:
Free Women: 3 Quotes

“Isn’t it odd, Anna? He’s been hovering between life and death. Now he’s going to live. It seems impossible he shouldn’t. But if he had died, then I suppose we’d have felt that was inevitable too?”

Related Characters: Molly Jacobs (speaker), Anna Wulf, Tommy
Page Number: 355
Explanation and Analysis:

She was thinking: If someone cracks up, what does that mean? At what point does a person about to fall to pieces say: I’m cracking up? And if I were to crack up, what form would it take? […] Anna, Anna, I am Anna, she kept repeating; and anyway, I can’t be ill or give way, because of Janet; I could vanish from the world tomorrow, and it wouldn’t matter to anyone except to Janet. What then am I, Anna? — something that is necessary to Janet. But that’s terrible, she thought, her fear becoming worse. That’s bad for Janet. So try again: Who am I, Anna? Now she did not think of Janet, but shut her out. Instead she saw her room, long, white, subdued, with the coloured notebooks on the trestle table. She saw herself, Anna, seated on the music-stool, writing, writing; making an entry in one book, then ruling it off, or crossing it out; she saw the pages patterned with different kinds of writing; divided, bracketed, broken — she felt a swaying nausea; and then saw Tommy, not herself, standing with his lips pursed in concentration, turning the pages of her orderly notebooks.

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Janet Wulf, Tommy
Related Symbols: Anna’s Notebooks
Page Number: 373
Explanation and Analysis:
Free Women: 4 Quotes

He smiled, as dry as she, and said: “Yes, I know what you mean, but all the same it's true. Do you know what people really want? Everyone, I mean. Everybody in the world is thinking: I wish there was just one other person I could really talk to, who could really understand me, who'd be kind to me. That’s what people really want, if they're telling the truth.”

Related Characters: Tommy (speaker), Anna Wulf, Marion
Page Number: 498
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Golden Notebook LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Golden Notebook PDF

Tommy Character Timeline in The Golden Notebook

The timeline below shows where the character Tommy appears in The Golden Notebook. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Free Women: 1
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...and Molly had been married for a few months, years ago, and had one son, Tommy. Richard then remarried Marion and had three boys, and later they all became friends. During... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...tories,” Molly explains, and criticizes her own son for not “see[ing] his way forward.” Indeed, Tommy has spent the last three days sitting on his bed, thinking. Anna and Molly smile... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...always (even though he never plays sports). He remarks on Anna’s presence and asks about Tommy, criticizing Molly’s lack of discipline with him. There is an awkward pause, and the narrator... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Molly and Richard still argue about Tommy—especially after she left him at home for a year while she traveled around Europe. Anna... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Anna did get Molly and Richard to agree that he should give Tommy a job in “one of your things,” but Molly insists that Tommy would have to... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Returning to their original topic of conversation, Richard suggests that Tommy stay with him and Marion, and then Tommy walks in, takes some strawberries, and asks,... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Of course, Tommy has been listening, and he summarily turns down the offer of a job with his... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Tommy suggests that he might become a writer, but does not have Anna’s “complicated ideas” about... (full context)
The Notebooks: 1
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The blue notebook begins: “Tommy appeared to be accusing his mother.” Then, Anna wonders why she begins this way, turning... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
January 7, 1950: Tommy turns 17. He argues with Molly, which has been happening frequently since his first visit... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...first time, because “I’ve had experiences that should have touched me and they haven’t,” like Tommy faltering about the army—she sees how people could so easily convince themselves to pick each... (full context)
Free Women: 2
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Molly calls just after Anna puts Janet to sleep. She asks whether Anna has seen Tommy, who has spent the previous month virtually catatonic in his bedroom. She then moves on... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Tommy shows up at Anna’s flat. He is sure his mother would be “upset because of... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Tommy is surprised to see Richard as more than “ordinary and second-rate” at work—Tommy can be... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Suddenly, Tommy walks over to Anna’s notebooks and asks why there are four. “I don’t know,” she... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Tommy apologizes for his attitude, but Anna seems “aggrieved.” Tommy asks about Janet’s father. Anna says... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Tommy nods and opens the blue notebook, reading an entry in which Anna wrote that Janet... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Finally, Anna says she knows Tommy has come to hear “what we are alive for.” She says that “our kind of... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
After perhaps an hour, Tommy asks why Anna writes different entries differently, and how she decides what is important. She... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Tommy asks why Anna cannot just have one large notebook—“chaos,” Anna explains, which she fears. Tommy... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Anna takes gets a call and says she is expecting a visitor—Tommy leaves, thanking her for the conversation. Anna calls Molly and explains that Tommy “frightens” her.... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Marion comes upstairs and replaces Tommy in the chair across from Anna. Marion drunkenly slurs something about Anna being fortunate to... (full context)
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The phone rings: it is Molly. Tommy has shot himself in his room, and he is about to die. A policeman takes... (full context)
The Notebooks: 2
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...the endless tension between him and Janet, whom she visits after he finishes. Molly and Tommy are sleeping; a baby cries through the wall, and Janet asks why Anna does not... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...store for sugar, where the workers call her pet names like “love and duck.” Molly, Tommy, and Janet have since come home; Molly tells Janet a story, and Janet takes a... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...Molly doubts her. Anna tells Molly that she will leave the Party and complains of Tommy’s newest girlfriend, who dislikes Molly and voices the criticisms of her that Tommy can’t (just... (full context)
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...it, as she started to with Jack. Janet is “as usual”; Molly is distraught over Tommy; Anna understands “that Michael had finally decided to break it off” and “must pull [her]self... (full context)
Free Women: 3
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
After she and Anna spend a week with Tommy in the hospital, Molly remarks that it is “odd” that they now accept it as... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
They all seem to forget “the accusing dogged obstinacy” that led to Tommy’s suicide attempt. When he awakens, he realizes he is blind and goes silent after Molly... (full context)
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Tommy never has a breakdown, but is judicious and calm, “a model patient” in the nurses’... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Molly returns to work, and Anna stops visiting Tommy, who prefers being alone and to whom she had nothing to say. Molly calls her... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
...their panic: Anna and Molly’s “years’ long, slow growth of intimacy was checked and broken.” Tommy dominates the house and hears everything that happens in it. Molly bursts unexpectedly into tears... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Molly calls Anna to report that Marion has started visiting Tommy every day, for hours. She has also stopped drinking, and Richard is incredibly angry. Anna... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Richard complains that Marion is spending too much time with Tommy, talking about politics, and not enough with her own children. Anna suggests he “employ someone”... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Richard is considering divorcing Marion and sending her “off on some holiday” with Tommy, while he introduces his children to his latest mistress, Jean. Molly would not mind, Anna... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...someone else. Anna finally convinces Richard to open the door and suggests that he offer Tommy a job, which might work “if you handle things right,” despite Tommy’s politics. Richard insists... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...that Janet (and only Janet) needs her. Anna imagines herself writing in her room, then Tommy reading her notebooks. (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...intelligence is the only thing keeping her from “cracking up.” Anna and Marion have a drink—Tommy has told Marion that drinking normally is braver than giving up alcohol altogether—and Anna mentions... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Marion explains that, ever since she has started reading with Tommy and infuriating her family with her interest in politics, she feels like “a new person.”... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Anna, resenting the “awful dripping coy little girl” that Marion has became, asks what Tommy thinks; he has told Marion to “make [Richard] face up to his responsibilities,” she reports,... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...unite the three of them, working “for the common cause,” which makes Anna realize that Tommy has “decided to save her soul.” Marion apologizes; Anna gives her the address she has... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...be strong “just so long as she was loved by a man.” She worries about Tommy, too, and thanks her “increasingly cold, critical, balancing little brain” for saving her from the... (full context)
The Notebooks: 3
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...eager to restart the whole cycle of rethinking and reorganizing. Molly calls to say that Tommy has become one of these eager reformists; he reminds Molly of her younger self and... (full context)
Free Women: 4
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Then, Tommy and Marion went to a meeting and protest for African independence, and Tommy was arrested... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Going to talk with Marion and Tommy, Anna giggles the same dark giggle that Tommy did before shooting himself—she wonders what happened... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...Richard, and then fills a glass of whiskey and said she hopes to stay with Tommy, who has started methodically working his way up the stairs. He joins them and suggests... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Anna proposes Tommy and Marion go on a vacation and affirms that he is good for her, but... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...tells them Marion is definitely leaving, and that they should send her on vacation with Tommy, perhaps to go “investigate conditions” at one of his projects. She tells Richard to talk... (full context)
The Notebooks: 4
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...countryside—Molly calls to tell Anna that, actually, a friend is “showing him Soho,” and that Tommy did not like him. She finds it strange that, as a socialist, Tommy’s friends are... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...realizes she “could not talk to her,” with her sullenness fighting Molly’s enthusiastic report that Tommy is about to lecture about “the Life of the Coal-miner,” and maybe join rebel fighters... (full context)
Free Women: 5
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...Anna shrinks from the world of people, and “everything seemed to have changed.” Marion and Tommy are in Sicily, Molly is alone in her house, too, and has started taking care... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...month away, she turns back to her notebooks. Reading them for the first time since Tommy’s suicide attempt, for which she worries they might be responsible, she sees the notebooks as... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...refer to as a progressive businessman,” a wealthy philanthropist with a house in the country. Tommy is “all set to follow in Richard’s footsteps,” although he seems to believe business can... (full context)