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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Ben, in the World: The Sequel to the Fifth Child

1. At the very beginning of the text is a note from the author explaining the origin of "the cages." As a result, the reader is aware of something grotesque that is going to be encountered throughout the reading of the book, and the cages do not emerge in the plot until near the end. Do you think it was the author's intention to influence the reader in this manner, or was the note a matter of cultural sensitivity? Did this influence your reading, and if so, how?

2. The narrator has a tendency to rush ahead to the end of various plot lines. We learn early on that Johnston and Rita will both survive well and be successful, and also that the girl in Alex's film will become a star. When Teresa and Alfredo meet, their happy future marriage is disclosed almost immediately. How does this affect your sense of the plot, and of your feelings toward the protagonist, whose future remains unknown?

3. If, as we are led to believe, the nature of Ben's deficiency is that he is indeed a throwback of sorts, a fully emotional human being but of the kind that walked the earth perhaps a hundred thousand years ago -- what does this indicate about how humans have changed?

4. Ben is incapable of coping with life, and yet often understands situations more than people give him credit for. It is as though his emotions overtake him from time to time in ways that they don't other people -- particularly fear and anger. How would you describe the precise nature of Ben's mental deficiency? Does he have more than one?

5. So many of the people Ben encounters are opportunists who seek to use him to their own benefit -- Johnston with the drug smuggling, Alex with his film, and, worst of all, the American scientist. Is this a jaded narrative, or a realistic one? How does this story reflect on human nature?

6. Of the people who are the most concerned for Ben's welfare -- Ellen and Rita in London, and Teresa in Buenos Aires -- each is female and has had a difficult life. What is the narrative position on the motivations of men versus women? Also, what does this say of how ethics relate to social class?

7. Teresa's closing statement at the end of the book carries a strong judgment, one that has all the more gravity because it ends the story. Why precisely are "we" glad not to have to think about Ben? Why is thinking about the likes of Ben a burden to us?


Ben, in the World: The Sequel to the Fifth Child
by Doris Lessing

  • Publication Date: July 24, 2001
  • Paperback: 178 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060934654
  • ISBN-13: 9780060934651