Imagine a mythical society free from sexual intrigue, free from jealousy and free from petty rivalries: A society free from men.
This is what Doris Lessing does in her book The Cleft…
According to the story us humans are descendants of female sea-loving creatures who call themselves Clefts. Their land lies between the mountains and the sea. They live in caves near a gigantic rock named The Cleft, which looks like a vagina. Every year they sacrifice one of their own community and throw the body from the top of The Cleft into the deep hole. The Clefts have no knowledge or need of men. It is a peaceful society with calm people who only sit around enjoying the sea breeze. At the shore they have everything they need. They don’t even think about exploring the land behind the mountains. Reproduction is via parthenogenesis and there are only female children born.
One day a deformed child is born. The Clefts are scared of the baby and kill him. Soon after this more deformed babies are born. The Clefts call them Monsters (or Squirts) and leave them to die on The Killing Rock. Eagles start taking the Monsters with them, the Clefts assume the eagles kill and eat them. But actually the eagles take the babies over the mountain to the forest, where they are breastfed by deer and they grow up and form their own community.
One day one of the Clefts goes over the mountain to the valley and gets raped by the now grown Monsters. She flees and nine months later a new, mixed child is born. This child is different, it is noisy and cries a lot. The mother of the mixed child tells the other Clefts about the Monsters and soon after this the two communities get in contact. The Clefts complain about how careless the Monsters are but they can’t go back to their peaceful life because the Clefts are now dependent of the Monsters to get pregnant.
The story is told by a Roman historian who lives during the time of the emperor Nero. The story he tells is put toghether from scraps of documents and oral histories, passed down through the ages. He comments on the obvious similarities, namely the mythical founders of Rome being breastfed by a wolf, and the symbolic importance of the eagle in imperial Rome. But except for that his presence in the book is useless and his contribution makes the story unnecessary confusing.
According to the story all women are lazy, incurious and have no urge to explore the world and all men are intellectual, exploratory and daring. The Cleft suggests that woman’s mind barely rise above the minds of animals and that the men only need women to reproduce themselves. That’s all fiddlesticks!
In the book there are no main characters, so you can’t identify yourself with someone in the book and that makes the story very inaccessible. The people in the book are simply too far away from us; they have no concept of individuality or love. Also the book doesn’t have a clear plot. The absence of intrigue, drama and action makes the book quite boring. Her style of writing can be confusing when too much happens and can be dull and tedious when too little happens.
The subject is appealing, the thought that men have evolved from women is fascinating. Unfortunately the outcome is poor.
Dancing song of the Very First Men
We are the Eagles, the Eagle, the Children of the Eagle. The Eagles bore us on their wings, they bear us on their breath, they are the wings of the wind, the Great Eagle watches us, he knows us, he is our Father, he hates our enemies, he fights for us against the Clefts.