Harriet and David did everything right, and still, their handicapped child, Ben drove a dump truck through their perfect world. Lessing does not really provide a denouement. We are left to wonder if Harriet can resolve her plight. Maybe that is the message. The damage is done and she can never really recover.
Late in the book, Harriet and David try to make sense of a senseless situation:
A scapegoat. She was the scapegoat—Harriet, the destroyer of her family.It is so interesting that I seem to read books in pairs. Not consciously, but it seems to work out that way. I am reminded of the wolf cub raised by the Chinese student on the Inner Mongolian grassland described in Wolf Totem. The cub grows to be a wolf, unresponsive, intensely independent, and without any loyalty or affection, just waiting for an opportunity to escape.
But another layer of thoughts, or feelings, ran deeper. She said to David, "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."
"Stop it, Harriet! Don't you know where that thought leads? Pogroms and punishments, witch-burnings and angry Gods—!" He was shouting at her.
"And scapegoats," said Harriet. "Don't forget the scapegoats.
"Vindictive Gods, from thousands of years ago," he hotly contended, disturbed to his depths, she could see. "Punishing Gods, distributing punishments for insubordination . . ."
"But who were we to decide we were going to be this or that?"
Ben was Harriet's wolf cub. She had no control, and could only wait for the inevitable.