The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook

by

Doris Lessing

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Anna’s Notebooks Symbol Analysis

Anna’s Notebooks Symbol Icon

The majority of The Golden Notebook consists of the four colored notebooks in which Anna Wulf records her life, which symbolize her disjointed and compartmentalized identity. At least two of these colors have obvious significance: the black notebook is about Anna’s time organizing with socialist, antiracist activists in Africa as well as the publication of her first novel, which was about the barbarity of the color line, and the red notebook records her work in the Communist Party. In the yellow notebook, Anna begins a new novel, The Shadow of the Third, and works through her real-life relationships by imagining fictional “third” versions of herself and the people she knows; in the blue notebook, Anna records her everyday life and her experience in psychoanalysis. Through her confrontations with Tommy in Free Women, Anna learns that she separates her life into these notebooks in an attempt to compartmentalize her identity; she recognizes its multifaceted character but tries to artificially partition the different components of herself into the notebooks, which are themselves fragmented as they are narratively and temporally nonlinear. She fears that writing in only one notebook would be “such a mess,” opening her to chaos. She also wants her notebooks to stay private—she feels “terribly exposed” when Tommy goes through them and worries about spreading her negative feelings in the world. However, Tommy thinks that Anna must choose between dividing her inner turmoil in the notebooks, so that she can spare herself from seeing the totality of her pain, and revealing her thoughts to the world, which he sees as an act of social responsibility: telling the ugly truth others are afraid to hear.

When Anna finally combines her thinking into the golden notebook, she symbolically makes herself whole, overcoming the sense of alienation and creative paralysis that has plagued her as she failed to find love, independence, or another novel within herself. Indeed, just before the golden notebook, Anna’s four notebooks begin to mix, as she often realizes she is slipping into the wrong kind of content. As she begins writing in the singular golden notebook, Anna loses not only the rigid distinctions between the different parts of herself, which mix in the dreams she describes in the golden notebook, but also the distinction between herself and Saul, who seems to invade her consciousness and dreams. Furthermore, when she eventually writes Free Women, the novel’s frame story, Anna not only dissolves the artificial divisions she has created in her identity but also makes the totality of her experience public in the form of fiction, breaking her cycle of creative failure and fulfilling the hopes Tommy had in mind when he promised he would give her “another chance” to honestly address and create from her suffering.

Anna’s Notebooks Quotes in The Golden Notebook

The The Golden Notebook quotes below all refer to the symbol of Anna’s Notebooks. 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.
The Notebooks: 1 Quotes

Literature is analysis after the event.

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Ella
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:
Free Women: 2 Quotes

“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:
Free Women: 3 Quotes

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:
The Notebooks: 3 Quotes

It occurs to me that what is happening is a breakdown of me, Anna, and this is how I am becoming aware of it. For words are form, and if I am at a pitch where shape, form, expression are nothing, then I am nothing, for it has become clear to me, reading the notebooks, that I remain Anna because of a certain kind of intelligence. This intelligence is dissolving and I am very frightened.

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker)
Related Symbols: Anna’s Notebooks
Page Number: 456
Explanation and Analysis:
The Notebooks: 4 Quotes

Then I remembered that when I read my notebooks I didn’t recognize myself. Something strange happens when one writes about oneself. That is, one’s self direct, not one’s self projected. The result is cold, pitiless, judging. […] If Saul said, about his diaries, or, summing his younger self up from his later self: I was a swine, the way I treated women. Or: I’m right to treat women the way I do. Or: I’m simply writing a record of what happened, I’m not making moral judgements about myself — well, whatever he said, it would be irrelevant. Because what is left out of his diaries is vitality, life, charm. “Willi allowed his spectacles to glitter across the room and said …” “Saul, standing foursquare and solid, grinning slightly — grinning derisively at his own seducer’s pose, drawled: Come’n baby, let’s fuck, I like your style.” I went on reading entries, first appalled by the cold ruthlessness of them; then translating them, from knowing Saul, into life. So I found myself continually shifting mood, from anger, a woman’s anger, into the delight one feels at whatever is alive, the delight of recognition.

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Willi Rodde , Saul Green
Related Symbols: Anna’s Notebooks
Page Number: 545-6
Explanation and Analysis:
The Golden Notebook Quotes

Whoever he be who looks in this
He shall be cursed.
That is my wish.
Saul Green, his book. (!!!)

Related Characters: Saul Green (speaker), Anna Wulf
Related Symbols: Anna’s Notebooks
Page Number: 583
Explanation and Analysis:
Free Women: 5 Quotes

“No, but let's preserve the forms, the forms at least of . . .” He was gone, with a wave of his hand.

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Milt (speaker), Saul Green
Related Symbols: Anna’s Notebooks
Page Number: 633
Explanation and Analysis:
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Anna’s Notebooks Symbol Timeline in The Golden Notebook

The timeline below shows where the symbol Anna’s Notebooks appears in The Golden Notebook. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Free Women: 1
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...Molly. Anna explains that she is not having a mere “artistic problem,” but that her notebooks are full of “chaos.” Molly asks why Anna cannot write just another novel—she is angry... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...her room, which had books, papers, and typewriter piled around the bed, and her four notebooks in the drawer, which (after closing the curtains) she lays atop her trestle table and... (full context)
The Notebooks: 1
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Anna’s four notebooks, black, red, yellow, and blue, are otherwise identical—“order had not immediately imposed itself” when their... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
In the black notebook, two more journal entries precede the title. In the first, Anna writes about the terror... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The notebook’s pages are split, with the heading “Source” on the left and the heading “Money” on... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...trust that she “remembered” the important things? For her time with Mother Sugar and the notebooks—she stops her thought mid-sentence, for “this kind of observation belongs to the blue notebook.” (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Unlike the black notebook, which starts with a series of doodles and half-finished sentences, Anna’s red notebook begins with... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
On January 3, 1952, Anna wonders why she writes so little in the red notebook. She also wonders why all her entries criticize the Party—which she still has not left. (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The yellow notebook (which is entitled The Shadow of the Third and is a manuscript for a new... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The notebook returns to Ella and Paul Tanner: namely, “the end of the affair.” The first, crucial... (full context)
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The blue notebook begins: “Tommy appeared to be accusing his mother.” Then, Anna wonders why she begins this... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
For four years, Anna’s blue notebook consists only of newspaper clippings, largely covering the American war in Korea, development of the... (full context)
Free Women: 2
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 says, “it just happened.” It... (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 was having “a difficult phase.” Tommy... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...envies Tony, and Tommy “positively shriek[s]” that she is being dishonest. He returns to her notebooks. She feels “terribly exposed” but figures it might help to let him read what she... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...the day’s “ordinary things.” She feels this is not the truth for which the blue notebook exists. (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 finds her fear irresponsible. Anna feels this accusation is... (full context)
The Notebooks: 2
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The black notebook, still divided between the “Source” heading on the left and the “Money” heading on the... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
In the red notebook, in an entry dated August 28, 1954, Anna writes that she and Molly want to... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The story is gummed into the red notebook: Comrade Ted is proud to join the teachers’ delegation to the Soviet Union; as soon... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
The novel The Shadow of the Third resumes in the yellow notebook. Patricia Brent recommends that Ella go to Paris for a week—she needs to free herself... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The blue notebook continues. In an entry dated September 15, 1954, Anna recounts how Michael declares that their... (full context)
Free Women: 3
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...not come to her, for she is still devastated to remember Tommy going through her notebooks before he shot himself and feels that she is losing possession of her room. She... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...only Janet) needs her. Anna imagines herself writing in her room, then Tommy reading her notebooks. (full context)
The Notebooks: 3
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Both columns of the black notebook are now filled. Under “Source,” on November 11, 1955: A man kicks a pigeon, expecting... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Pasted in the notebook is a story, “Blood on the Banana Leaves,” that James Schafter has written in lieu... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The red notebook continues on November 13, 1955: The Party changes in the two years following Stalin’s death;... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...shared by the finest speeches at such meetings. She says she has reread the previous notebook entry and finds herself “amazed at our naivety.” (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Anna’s novel The Shadow of the Third continues in the yellow notebook. “The third” in the novel’s title used to be Paul Tanner’s wife, then it was... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
For eighteen months, the blue notebook consists of short, factual notes, such as one expounding most of the concrete dates in... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
After drawing a black line, Anna recounts buying the table for her notebooks; she never planned to have the four notebooks she has today, but since moving to... (full context)
The Notebooks: 4
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The remainder of the black notebook, now without the division between “The Source” and “Money,” is full of newspaper clippings about... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The red notebook, too, is full of news in 1956-1957: Anna underlines the word “freedom” wherever she sees... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...ashamed. He is “silent and rather ill-looking” on the trip back to London. The red notebook ends with a double black line. (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The yellow notebook opens with Anna’s notes for a series of short stories. First, a woman “deludes herself... (full context)
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...the same time, she felt more lucid. “This art of comment” goes in the blue notebook. (full context)
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...others, who adapt to the “normal” person’s strong personality. This also goes in the blue notebook; Anna “must keep them separate.” (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...says she has “gone back to pastiche,” so “it’s time to stop,” and the yellow notebook ends. (full context)
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Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The blue notebook includes no more dates, but is not one continuous entry. Anna tries to rent her... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...the man she knows. Then she remembers that she cannot see herself in her own notebooks, and she realizes that writing about one’s actual self (not one’s projection of oneself) always... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...diary entries frightens Anna because it corroborates what she has already written in the yellow notebook. Actually, there are three entries. Saul writes that he wants to leave Detroit because “Mavis... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...she feels deceived and ashamed. She comes downstairs and writes this entry in her blue notebook. (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...have been the case. Feeling sick, Anna goes into her room and sets out the notebooks; Saul follows her and accuses her of “writing a record of my crimes!” He asks... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Anna looks into the blue notebook but cannot write, so she calls Molly. However, Anna realizes she “could not talk to... (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
...has returned to the Mashopi, with everyone surrounding her; she tries to write in the notebook, but finds herself holding a gun. She is an Algerian soldier fighting against the French,... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...grocery shopping and comes across a stationery shop, where she finds a beautiful large golden notebook that an American has custom-ordered and never retrieved. She buys it, but is not sure... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Anna spends today inside, looking at the golden notebook and finding that Saul had scribbled a “schoolboy’s curse” inside: “Whoever he be who looks... (full context)
The Golden Notebook
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
After Saul’s “schoolboy’s curse,” the golden notebook starts with Anna turning on lights on a dreary day, to have Saul join her... (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
...behind Anna’s memories switches to another scene: a fight between Paul Tanner from the yellow notebook and Michael from reality; these two men merge into a new, heroically strong person, who... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...rifle.” He declares he will only write it down if she will give him her notebook—she does. He tells her to cook for him, something he “never though I’d say to... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...a dry hillside in Algeria, the soldier watched the moonlight glinting on his rifle”—the golden notebook continues in Saul Green’s writing. It is a short novel about the Algerian soldier, a... (full context)
Free Women: 5
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...Janet returns, but since this is only a month away, she turns back to her notebooks. Reading them for the first time since Tommy’s suicide attempt, for which she worries they... (full context)
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Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...their meaning. She then begins having experiences that words cannot describe. She looks over the notebooks, unable to write. Music cannot make sense of her experiences, either; she wonders why she... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...for.” He talks about her “meretricious” novel and she asks him not to read her notebooks—the only person who did so tried to kill himself. He promises he is “more of... (full context)