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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Under My Skin

1. The title refers to the popular Cole Porter song "I've Got You Under My Skin." Critics point to the lyric, "I've got you under my skin...I've tried so not to give in," as evidence that the title signifies Lessing's troubled relationship with her mother. Other critics suggest that the line evokes Lessing's feelings about Africa. Which interpretation is most compelling and why? What are other possible interpretations?

2. In the first chapter, Lessing recounts the history of her family. She ends the chapter with the line: "I used to joke that it was the war that had given birth to me, as a defense when weary with the talk about the war that went on - and on - and on. But it was no joke." What is the purpose of this genealogical and historical tour? What is significant about Lessing's insistence that the war had given birth to her?

3.Throughout the book, Lessing comments on, and struggles with, the demands of the genre, autobiography. Given that much of Lessing's fiction derives from real-life experience, the need to justify writing an autobiography seems warranted. What are the various reasons she cites for writing her memoirs?

4. Although Lessing presents the events of her childhood through her early adulthood in Southern Rhodesia in chronological order, she frequently breaks the illusion of the past with commentary about the present or more recent past. What purpose does this narrative interruption serve? How does the interjection of her present voice affect the re-telling of her past experience?

5. Much of Lessing's autobiography can be read as a meditation on the functions and limitations of memory. What does she say about memory? Lessing claims that children tend to remember unpleasant events more than enjoyable ones. Is this true? How does this claim relate to her insistence that unhappy childhood characterize most writers' experience?

6. In describing her mother, Lessing notes the Hostess personality--"bright, helpful, attentive, receptive to what is expected"--that her mother employed in pursuit of middle-class respectability. How does Lessing's explicitly constructed persona, Tigger, replicate the Hostess? Courtesy of HarperCollins, Inc.

Under My Skin
by Doris Lessing

  • Publication Date: September 1, 1995
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060926643
  • ISBN-13: 9780060926649