Martha Quest, a novel by Doris Lessing is a story about the Quest family, who live in the countryside.
The protagonist of course as the title tells, is the girl. The plot of the story revolves around Martha Quest, a girl with big dreams. She dreams of going abroad to a reputed college for studies.
However, her family is stuck in poverty and can’t afford it. Martha acts sullen, all the time arguing and misbehaving with her parents on the pretext that she is old enough and can make her own decisions.
Her father is very ill and is caught in a delirium where all he remembers is that he is in war.
The story shows how Martha moves from one man to another in the pursuit of love. She works in The Cohen’s office and his sons, Joss and Solly exploit Martha for she flirts with them.
Martha is a ‘loose woman’. She is tested many times but always fails. There is Mr. McGrath, the ‘ugly fat guy’, Mr. Robninson her boss, Perry, Donovan (Mrs Alexander’s son, who Martha’s mother tries to set her up with), Adolph the Jew, and finally Douglas.
Martha sleeps with each one of them. She tries to resist her temptation but is always trapped by the ‘vicious men’. The author shows how women are used and abused just because they are weak and inferior. No matter how hard Martha tries she is always lured into the hands of these men who want nothing more than carnal pleasure. Perhaps Martha is at fault too! But that I leave for the reader to decide.
Martha goes wild. She parties, drinks alcohol, and mingles with men. In short, she enjoys her life. The only thing she is not comfortable with perhaps is dance!
Does Martha finally find true love in the end? Will, she finally fall into the arms of a man, she will seek pleasure in dancing with? Something that will bring her warmth and happiness! Will she be able to dance freely, without constraint? Will she be fated to die single and unloved?
Just like in Beauty and the Beast, The Beast finally becomes a prince as Beauty perseveres for true love, and so does Martha struggle to find the ideal for herself!
Who will Martha find? Douglas? Will the truth about Martha’s poverty be acceptable to anyone, a fact she has always been embarrassed about!
Martha never understood the significance of parents, and it was not till the end that she truly did realize what a blessing the love and prayers of parents were!
In the subplot runs the story of the Sports Club. The Sports Club is an attempt by English aristocratic women, who in the name of charity build luxurious clubs. It is a child Binkie who sows the idea of making playgrounds for children. The cause is noble and the public claps at Binkie’s efforts.
Martha Quest is a novel about racism, women’s exploitation, discrimination, and identity. Martha has a million identities trapped in one body. Will she finally be able to reconcile them all?
On the whole, an all-encompassing novel that brings to mind an awakening that is shrewd and at once livid.