The Good Terrorist


The American novelist Judith Freeman wrote that one of the common themes in The Good Terrorist is that of keeping one's identity in a collective, of preserving "individual conscience".[2] This theme suggests that problems occur when we are coerced into conforming. Freeman said that Alice is a "quintessential good woman ... the little Hausefrau [sic] revolutionary",[2] who turns bad under peer pressure.[2]

Another theme present is the symbolic nature of the house. Margaret Scanlan stated that as in books like Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre, The Good Terrorist "defines a woman in terms of her house".[30] Writing in the journal Studies in the Novel, Katherine Fishburn said that Lessing often uses a house to symbolise "psychological or ontological change",[31] and that here, "the house ... symbolizes Alice's function in the story".[31] Yelin described The Good Terrorist as "an urban, dystopian updating of the house-as-England genre, [where] ... England is represented by a house in London".[27] Writing in "Politics of Feminine Abuse: Political Oppression and Masculine Obstinacy in Doris Lessing's The Good Terrorist", Lalbakhsh and Yahya suggest that the house, and the "oppressive relations" in it,[32] reflect similar oppressive relations in society.[32]

Several critics have focused on the theme of motherhood. In "Mothers and Daughters/Aging and Dying", Claire Sprague wrote that Lessing often dwells on the theme of mothers passing their behaviours onto their daughters, and how the cycle of daughters fighting their mothers permeates each generation.[33] The British novelist Jane Rogers said that The Good Terrorist "is as unsparing and incisive about motherhood as it is about the extreme left",[8] and that motherhood here "is terrible":[8] Alice's mother is reduced to despair continually yielding to her selfish daughter's demands; Alice mothers Jasper, and has a similar despairing relationship with him. Rogers added that motherhood is depicted here as a compulsion to protect the weak, despite their propensity to retaliate and hurt you.[8]

Feminist themes and the subjugation of women have also been associated with The Good Terrorist. Scanlan indicated that while many of the comrades in the book are women, they find that political activity does not elevate their position, and that they are "trapped in the patriarchy they despise".[30] Yelin suggested that although Lessing ridicules the male members of the CCU and their role playing, she is also critical of the female members "who collude in male-dominant political organizations and thus in their own oppression".[34] But with the book's allusions to Jasper's homosexuality, Yelin added that Lessing's "critique of women's infatuation with patriarchal misogyny and their emotional dependence on misogynist men"[34] is muted by homophobia and the "misogyny pervasive in patriarchal constructions of (male) heterosexuality".[34] Lalbakhsh and Yahya noted that Lessing depicts Alice as a "typical housewife"[35] who cares for her family, in this case, the squat, but is "ignored and neglected".[35] They concluded that Alice's fate is sealed because, according to the British socialist feminist Juliet Mitchell, women are "fundamental to the human condition",[36] yet "their economic, social, and political roles ... are marginal".[36]

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