Margaret Drabble: Existing within Structures

By Mary Hurley Moran | Go to book overview
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4
Family and the Individual

Family, like nature, is in Drabble's fictional world an important factor in a person's identity as well as a source of spiritual and psychological solace. Although the family curtails individual freedom, by influencing one's character and imposing familial responsibilities, it is ultimately a bulwark against life's turbulence and uncertainties. Many of her protagonists move from rejection to at least partial acceptance of their families, both by recognizing their own inheritance of certain ancestral traits and by assuming greater responsibility toward their relatives. Family, then, is another one of the conditions of existence, along with metaphysical and natural forces, before which human beings must bow. The movement in Drabble's novels is always away from existential protest toward graceful submission to these conditions.

Drabble often adopts the perspective of the individual as being merely a link in a family chain. The force of family background is such that her characters sometimes marvel at the difference between their own and their ancestors' lives. However, they suspect that it was only an accident of fate that caused this aberration and that if left to a natural course they would have been formed in the family mold. Clara, whose previously quoted statement "the apple does not fall far from the tree" ( Jerusalem, p. 193) sums up this suspicion, reflects that but for "Battersby Grammar School and the welfare state and Gabriel Denham and the course of time" ( Jerusalem, p. 228) she would have developed along the same lines as her mother. Frances Wingate makes a similar observation: "One cannot escape one's destiny. And one day, in a moment of comic horror, it had occurred to her that in seeking to avoid her mother's ghost, she had in fact behaved exactly like her mother." She concludes that "but for Karel, she would have ended up like her mother" ( Realms, p. 81).

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