Report on the Threatened City by Doris Lessing
In Report on the Threatened City by Doris Lessing we have the theme of control, power, acceptance, disillusion, change and failure. Taken from her Stories collection the story is narrated in the form of reports and after reading the story the reader realises that Lessing may be exploring the theme of control. The world that the observers/aliens find themselves in (Earth) is hostile with different groups or countries building their military in order to destroy another country. There does not seem to be any form of trust at a government level internationally and there appears to be a desire among countries to outdo another country. To be not only better than them but to be more secure military wise than other countries. If anything there is a division in the world which may be the point that Lessing is attempting to make. Though the observers do not have the words to describe what it happening between the different ‘groups’ the reality is that the Cold War is in progress. With countries on both sides being suspicious of the other. It is as though external factors like a World War are more concerning to governments than the needs of one city that is inevitably doomed.
The fact that the city is doomed and nothing is being done to prevent it is amazing to the observers and something that they do not understand. They consider it illogical that those in charge, the dominant males, would rather argue over why people should move from the city despite knowing that the city is doomed. This too might be important as Lessing could be suggesting or highlighting the degree of politics that is involved when mankind needs to take action. It is also interesting that the observers feel as though their time on earth would be better served if they materialized themselves into dominant males. Having previously tried to engage with the young people in the city unsuccessfully. However due to the nature of mankind the observers are also unsuccessful when they materialize themselves into older men. Their message though not falling on deaf ears causes anger. Something that leaves the observers baffled. Their task is to simply tell those in the city of the pending danger yet this is something that they ultimately fail at. Something that they don’t fully understand. The observers cannot seem to understand how the civilians in the city accept that the city is in danger yet do not prepare themselves for what will be a catastrophe event.
It is also noticeable that the young people mentioned in the story are disillusioned even before they know that the city will be destroyed in five years. However the best that the young people appear to be able to do is to take drugs and to sing songs of protest. They take no immediate action despite knowing what is going to happen. This too may be significant as the young people may feel defeated before they even begin. They see no way of changing the status quo even though they would like to. If anything the young people accept defeat too readily. Though it might also be significant that the observers’ means of communications with the young people is not necessarily the best approach to take. They place a large amount of responsibly to take action on the young people when society itself is dominated by older males. Who as mentioned are more interested in the politics of why they must change than actually initiating any type of change. If anything the observers don’t have a complete understanding of mankind and this may be a least one reason as to why they failed in their mission.
The end of the story is also interesting as Lessing ends the story with reports from government agencies who believe that the spacecraft that they have been monitoring is Chinese. While other sightings they believe to be spacecraft belonging to the Russians. This may be important as Lessing may be highlight the paranoia that existed at the time. With those in authority believing it to be inconceivable that an alien spacecraft might have landed on earth. The measures to be taken by the government are also interesting. Rather than allow the population to go where the spacecraft might be they intend to introduce radioactive material in the area. Knowing that this will eventually lead to no more ladings by spacecrafts or so they believe. In reality those in authority do not understand what is happening. Which would suggest they don’t have control over matters. Which may be the point that Lessing is attempting to make. She could be suggesting that the government and its agencies are short-sighted and lack the vision required to not only save the city but to understand that others from a different planet are only trying to help them.