How is the character Dora presented in the first four chapters of Iris Murdoch's 'The Bell'?

Essay by bubblewrap000University, Bachelor'sA+, April 2003

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In the opening sentence of The Bell, Iris Murdoch presents Dora Greenfield as a weak, timorous character, stating 'left her husband because she was afraid of him'. This makes her appear somewhat of a victim who is incapable of standing up to people, especially as Murdoch then informs us that she returned to him shortly after 'for the same reason'. Murdoch makes it clear that Dora is trapped in her relationship, talking of his 'haunting' actions while they are apart, with his letters and telephone calls, and the 'persecution of his presence', showing that Dora is harassed and bullied by him. This is also demonstrated as Murdoch later informs us that Dora 'could be neither happy with her husband nor without him', and eventually decides that 'his presence was to be preferred'. This leads the reader to sympathise with Dora and immediately makes her the preferred character, setting her up as a narrator as, along with Toby and Michael, she will be the 'eyes' of the novel.

As the novel is initially told through Dora, the reader gets an insight into her thoughts, an example of such being her giving up her seat for an elderly lady. At the sight of the 'very frail' woman, Dora begins to wrestle with the 'awful thought' that she 'ought to give up her seat', however, after arguing with herself that she had 'taken the trouble to arrive early', and that there were plenty of old ladies standing in the corridor, she 'decided not to give up her seat. Nevertheless, in the next sentence, Dora gets up and offers the lady her seat. This is precisely the impulsive and erratic behaviour that irritates Paul, but Murdoch makes it clear to the reader that Dora acts this way out of spontaneous good will. She...