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Room by Emma Donoghue

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Kelsey Henjes

on 26 January 2015

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Transcript of Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue
Place Two: The Truck
"I can breathe all the lovely black air. I'm sitting up and unwrapping Rug like I'm a smushed kind of banana" (139).

"A roaring behind me that's him, it Old Nick coming to tear me in half
fee fie foe fum
, I have to find Somebody to shout
help help
but there isn't a somebody..." (153)

"I put my hands over my head so nothing can get in, not faces not lights not noises not smells.
Ma Ma don't be dead don't be dead don't be dead
" (153).
Kelsey Henjes
A Brief Synopsis
The novel centers around two characters- Ma and Jack. Ma has been kidnapped by Old Nick and is held in a secret room. Jack is her son that she had with Old Nick. To Jack, room is the entire world and the "outside" doesn't really exist.
The First Location: ROOM

"Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra" (1).
This is the first line of the novel, where the narrator, Jack, is immediately introduced. Right away, there is a child-like quality to the speech. He doesn't understand a lot of the world around him, as small as it is. All Jack knows is Room, as evidenced by calling each piece of furniture by its name.
Jack's Personality
"Ma doesn't like Meltedy Spoon but he's my favorite because he's not the same" (6).

"I push the doors and listen for her breath. She's asleep, she can't be mad in her sleep, can she?" (49).

"I'm going to kick Old Nick till I break his butt. I'll zap Door open with Remote and whiz into Outside Space and get everything at the real stores and bring it back to Ma" (63).
Jack cares about his Ma a great deal- after all, she is the only person he has had any contact with besides Old Nick. Jack also comes across as more mature for his age- especially evidenced in the quote about the spoon. He as a sense of what is happening around him but can't quite comprehend it due to his age. However, he can pick up on his Ma's moods and feelings and has a strong desire to protect her. This is especially interesting since he is only five.
OLD NICK
"Nothing makes Ma scared. Except Old Nick maybe... I asked Ma once is he old, and she said he's nearly double her which is pretty old" (12).

"He's not human like us. He only happens in the night, like bats... I think Ma doesn't like to talk about him in case he gets realer" (18).
Having Jack as the narrator allows for some interesting insights about life in Room, especially with regards to Old Nick. To Jack, Old Nick is a man who only comes at night, and maybe isn't real at all. To Ma, he is her worst nightmare. While reading the novel, I could immediately pick up on the true nature of what was happening, but having Jack as the narrator means that I had to read between the lines more often.
Jack's Innocence
"I thought the word for us was real. The persons in TV are made just of colors" (13)

"But Ma." I laugh. "He doesn't go in stores. Stores are in TV" (23).

"Next week when I'll be six you better get candles" (23).
Jack doesn't understand the world around him, as much as Ma tries to teach him. The TV seems to be a sticking point for Jack, since he can't grasp that there is a world outside of Room. The TV becomes a negative symbol of Jack's ignorance, and later on, his dependence. It's not that Jack is unreliable as a narrator-- he is honest in what he says, it's more that he is just limited.
Ma's Past
"He can't stand it when I start screaming, I haven't done it in years. He wants to punish us" (79).


"Yeah, but see, why I was sad- it was
because
of Room...I didn't even know him, I was nineteen. He stole me" (93).
The only glimpse into Ma's past comes from Ma herself as she is trying to explain to Jack why Room is actually bad. Ma was kidnapped as a teenager and has been stuck in Room ever since. To Jack, this would not be unusual, since he has never seen anything other than Room. Ma's ability to raise a child, and raise him well, in an 11X11 foot room is just one reason to root for her to escape and live her life again.
What's really happening in Room
Ma's Present
"Her eyes are shut. They always do that sometimes and she doesn't say anything for a minute. When I was small I thought her battery was used up..." (23).

"In the morning we're eating oatmeal and I see marks...Ma just drinks some water, the skin moves when she swallows. Actually that's not dirt, I don't think" (54).

"Ma's staring at thermostat. 'Power cut... there's not power in anything now..." (76).
"When Old Nick creaks Bed, I listen and count fives on my fingers, tonight it's 217 creaks. I always have to count till he makes that gaspy sound and stops. I don't know what would happen if I didn't count, because I always do" (37).
This is probably the most disturbing part of the entire novel. Jack's Ma is continually raped on almost a nightly basis by Old Nick. During this, Ma makes Jack hide in the wardrobe to try and protect him. Ma allows Old Nick to hurt her so he doesn't hurt Jack, one of the strongest examples of the strong relationship between Ma and Jack. As the narrator, Jack adds an eerie quality to the scene, listening as his Ma is harmed, although he doesn't know what is really happening.
"We say 'On your mark, get set, go,' then we open wide our teeth and shout and holler...Today I'm the most loudest ever because my lungs are stretching from being five" (40).

"In the night she's flashing...lamp on, I count five. Lamp off, I count one... She's staring up at Skylight that all black" (66).
Insight into Old Nick
"I don't think you appreciate how good you've got it here... above ground, natural light... it's a cut above some place...plenty of girls would thank their lucky stars for a setup like this..." (69).
"Old Nick does a kind of laugh. I know what you need, missy...Didn't your mother ever teach you manners?"
But Ma doesn't have a mother. Bed's loud, that him getting in. I put Blanket over my head and press my ears so not to hear. I don't want to count the creaks but I do" (73).
These are each attempts by Ma to attract attention so someone will come to rescue her and Jack. All Jack thinks is that the yelling is fun, and it hurts his eyes when she flashes the lamp. Jack also seems to have a need to count things, especially when they are negative. This is a coping mechanism for him and becomes like his security blanket of sorts.
Old Nick speaks very few times in the novel, an an effort to keep the focus on the relationship between Jack and his Ma. Old Nick seems to believe that he is providing a home for Ma that she should be appreciating, and often portrays her an an ungrateful brat. Clearly, Old Nick is not completely right in the head and most likely has some mental issues. Jack's small comments are what add a little relief to the rape scenes, and keep them from being too much.
Even while in Room, Jack has a few insights that make it clear that Ma is not completely OK or surviving. She has moments of depression, due to the constant abuse she has suffered. Beyond that, she is trying to keep Jack as innocent as possible, although he can't be totally unaffected by what is happening. Ma makes a valiant effort to protect Jack, and it is her love for him that prevents her from totally breaking down or killing herself. Jack's innocent comments about what is wrong with Ma add a contrast to what is actually happening, which isn't innocent at all.
Jack's Best Quote
"Yeah, but I thought he was going to punish us too... Like if there were two Rooms, if he put me in one and you in the other one" (79).
In my opinion, this is one of Jack's best lines, if not his best. It demonstrates his complete love for Ma, despite the dire situation they are in. Love may not be healing their physical wounds, but it is all they have. Emotionally, there is nothing that can help them as much as their relationship with each other- it seems to be all that is keeping Ma sane.
"The tooth fairy doesn't know about Room.' Her eyes are looking through the walls'" (70).

"I'm not there, though, Me and Ma, we're the only ones not there. Are we still real?" (71).
Perspective: What's "Real"?
"Just because you've never met them doesn't mean they're not real. There's more things on earth than you ever dreamed about" (83).
There is a constant use of the world real to refer to Jack and his Ma. Jack is confused on how both the people in the TV and him and Ma are all real, at the same time. There is also a sense that Ma doesn't want to believe that her current reality is real, as she stares through the walls, willing them to fall down. What's real to Jack is not necessarily the same as what Ma sees, leading to an interesting dynamic between the two characters.
What's Real?
"She's in the middle of Floor going thump thump thump with her hand. "What did Floor do?" Ma stops, she puffs out a long breath. "I need to hit something..." (88).
Ma is slowly breaking down, but is trying to hold it together for Jack. This has probably been happening for some time now, but since Jack is only five, he has recently started taking notice. This gives some insight into Ma's state of mind, through Jack's innocent questions about why she is hitting Floor. Since Ma's thoughts are never directly heard, it is up to Jack to add some illumination to her character.
"Jack. He's never give us a phone, or a window... We're like people in a book, and he won't let anybody else read it" (90).
More Insight
What makes this whole novel so interesting is that every insight technically comes from Jack, as he is the only one able to directly relay his thoughts, through his point of view. However, when Ma speaks directly to Jack, we also get her thoughts. This quote makes her seem like she is starting to give up hope of every escaping Room. Ma has to constantly explain everything in a much simpler way, since the only person she is able to talk to is Jack.
This quote from Ma extends on the concept of what is real, which is discussed throughout the novel. To Jack, Room is what is real because there is nothing else. To Ma, Room is completely fake, a poor substitute for the real world. Room becomes a major symbol for Ma and Jack's relationship-- in Room, they are the only ones there, so their dependency is OK, even needed. Outside of Room, the relationship is called into question and sees some strain.
The Plan
"...then Ma waving and smiling because of being free, with the blowtorch all fiery like a dragon" (111).
With Jack as the narrator, the story goes from slow to fast-paced quickly. Ma has most likely been thinking about escaping for years at this point, but it has only been on Jack's radar for a few days at most. This gives the plot a rushed feeling, especially as they develop their plan and escape. To Jack, the plan also comes across as very simple- just a series fo steps. In reality, it is very complicated, with a lot of moving parts.
"She puts her face down on her arms... when it comes up it's a scar face. "You [Jack] said you were going to be my superhero" (113).

"If you keep panicking... our plan's not going to work" (127).
Ma is beginning to get frustrated with Jack, since he doesn't really want to escape from Room. Even though she loves Jack, Ma can't just ignore her desire to escape. Ma also wants to protect Jack by leaving Room. Ma means well, but she doesn't seem to grasp that Jack is still five years old and he won't be able to truly understand what is going on around him. This isn't out of hate; rather, she loves Jack so much that she has blinded herself to the danger she is putting him in.
"Her hands are on her tummy. "I brought you into Room, I didn't mean to but I did it and I've never once been sorry" (128).

Ma's love for Jack is what has prevented her from trying harder to escape or killing herself. She can't leave Jack alone, especially with Old Nick. However, it is still ambiguous as to whether Jack is actually "healing" Ma's wounds or just distracting her from them. Most likely, he is just drawing her attention, especially given how she behavs once they have escaped. Jack helps her to an extent by allowing her to micro-focus on him rather than the terrible situation she is in. Jack did "save" her when he was born, since without Jack Ma would really have nothing left to live for.
This is Jack's moment to shine as the hero of the story. It's up to him to save both himself and Ma. Having Jack as the narrator gives this sequence a very intense mood, since he speaks rather quickly. Jack's thoughts all center around what is happening at that exact second-- he wastes no time with explanations, as he is more concerned with how he feels (frightened). This is a result of his age-- he knows what must be true is what is happening to him physically. Jack is not a deep thinker, even when he comes across as older than his age. There is no part of the story that includes long paragraphs of Jack's thoughts-- the actions and the dialogue come in short bursts. Rug in this nstance becomes a figurative symbol of rebirth. Literally, Jack was born on Rug, but figuratively, as he emerges from Rug he is emerging into a new, scary life outside of Room.
"Yes. I've seen the world and I'm tired now.

Oh, Jack... we're never going back.

The car starts moving and I'm crying so much I can't stop" (155).
The climax of the book has now come and gone, with the rest of the novel focusing on how Ma and Jack deal with the effects and consequences of their imprisonment and eventual escape. Jack's reaction to being freed is quite different from Ma's. Jack is scared of the Outside-- he has had no exposure to anywhere other than Room, while Ma lived most of her life in the Outside. Ma is ecstatic to finally be freed form Room, while Jack is terrified at the mere prospect.
Place Three: The Outside
[Jack watching the news]: "A she person is talking, but I can't see: "...bachelor loner converted the garden shed into an impregnable...dungeon... the malnourished boy, unable to walk, is seen here lashing out convulsively at one of his rescuers" (165).
A case like Jack and Ma's will attract quite a media firestorm. Again, it is easy to see that Ma's main goal is to protect Jack in every way possible. Jack is very dependent on Ma since she is the only person he has ever had extended contact with. This could become dangerous very quickly, especially with all the scrutiny that is focused on the two of them. It is only through their love for each other that they have any chance of healing from their wounds.
The Crux of Ma's Character
"All these years, I kept him safe" (167).
This quote is the definition of Ma's character, at least for the years she has been in Room. She is constantly reassuring herself and others that she kept Jack safe and was a good mom despite the circumstances. Ma's love for Jack is what has saved him from having a more traumatic experience. In this sense, it is not that Ma's love has healed his wounds, it's more that her love has prevented him from having the wounds in the first place.
Is Ma Really Saved?
"She keeps telling Dr. Clay she's fine but she doesn't sound fine. She and him talk about
cognitive disorders
, they do a breathing exercise, I play with the puppets" (195).

"The first one. Doesn't that count as some kind of murder?" (203).
It is only through Jack listening in on Ma's sessions and conversations that any insight is gained into her character. She reveals that she is having difficulty coping with the transition back into a normal life, as would be expected. However, she also reveals that she had another child in Room that died. This may explain her complete devotion to Jack's well-being-- she isn't going to let Room/ Old Nick kill another one of her children. However, now that it isn't just Ma and Jack anymore. Ma can't use Jack as a coping mechanism, which will lead to problems.
Jack's Recovery
"...probably young enough to forget.. which will be a mercy" (209).

"...there's this experiment with baby monkeys, a scientist took them away from their mothers and kept them all alone in a cage- and you know what, they didn't grow up right" (221).
A Helpful or Harmful Relationship?
"...me and Jack are not going to be separated." "Still, it's not just the two of you anymore, is it?"
"She's chewing her mouth. they talk about
social reintegration
and
self-blame
." (209).
"I keep messing up. I know you need me to be your ma but I'm having to remember how to be me as well at the same time and it's..." (221).
"It's not ok... he's the world to me" (226).
"No, I mean everything feels different, but it's because I'm different" (231).
"Yeah, but for me, see, Jack was everything. I was alive again, I mattered. So after that I was polite" (233).

"I think what babies want is mostly to have their mothers right there. No, I was just afraid Jack would get ill-- and me too, he needed me to be OK" (233).
"Not just children...people are locked up in all sorts of ways" (236).
"It would have been a sacrifice...but if Jack could have had a normal, happy childhood with a loving family?"

"He had me... He had a childhood with me, whether you'd call it normal or not" (237).
These three quotes speak to the idea that Ma is still trapped, even if she may be free physically. She has to learn to readjust how to speaks and acts, since now all eyes are on her. Ma's head is a complex place, and Jack can only get glimpses into what she's thinking based on what she says to him. This makes it difficult to ascertain a full picture of how Ma is dealing with the adjustment. The devastating part is that Jack just wants his Ma to be OK, he wants to rescue her. What he doesn't understand is that at this point, he would have to be rescuing her from herself.
Ma is really just as dependent on Jack as he is on her. The two of them can't be separated from each other and be able to function normally. Ma blames herself to an extent for putting Jack through the experience of Room. This blame is misplaced but understandable. Ma believes that it is impossible for her to be able to heal Jack's wounds. In reality, it is even harder for him to heal hers.
In Ma's mind, Jack has saved her. She considered herself to be dead the moment she woke up in Room- the old her would never come back. When Jack was born, that was a birth for Ma as well. Now, she had a reason to try again. She now cared what happened to herself, even if it was only in relation to how that would affect Jack. One of the most interesting moments in the book comes when the reporter asks why Ma didn't ask Old Nick to give Jack up. It certainly would have given Jack a chance for a much better childhood, although Ma doesn't see it that way. To her, Jack had the best childhood he could, since it was with her. Their mutual saving of each other was enough for her and for Jack, even though other people don't understand that.
In comparison to Ma, Jack's recovery is going quite smoothly. Since he is still so young, his is more malleable than Ma. His innocence is actually benefiting him at this point, since he will eventually forget most of his childhood. It's also helpful that he doesn't realize his past was negative in any way, so he has far less demons to deal with than Ma. Ma is the reason that Jack has a fighting chance at a normal life. She has raised him, and raised him well. Ma's comparison to the monkeys is a symbol for the relationship between her and Jack. Whether is was positive of negative, it worked and allowed them to survive.
"When I wake up in the morning Ma's gone. I didn't know she'd have days like this in this world" (238).

"Then I see Ma's pill bottles open on the table, they look mostly empty. Never more than two, that's the rule...Noreen's pressing on the side of Ma's throat and saying her other name..." (249).

"Because she's not well. In her head" (254).
It is beginning to look like Ma may never fully recover from her experiences. She can't seem to escape her head, even trying to kill herself. It's interesting that now, after everything they've gone through, Jack may not be enough. Before, she was worried about even getting sick for a day, much less not being there at all. Ma is perhaps beyond saving at this point-- it will take years of therapy to get her to even a semi-OK state. Jack has witnessed many horrors throughout his life, but due to his age, he never comprehends them fully. He is watching his Ma die, but all he is thinking about is where all the pills went.
Jack's Perspective
"I saved her, only then she didn't want to live anymore" (261).

"You're not poisoned with the bad medicine anymore?...You're not in Heaven?" (270).

"They're still fiddling with my dosage, trying to figure out what I need." Me, she needs me" (293).
From Jack's perspective, Ma's problems seem simple to solve- he saved her once, he can do it again. Obviously, Ma has severe mental issues as a result of her time in captivity. Those problems are something that Jack's love simply cannot heal, no matter how much he wants to help. At this point, Ma and Jack's futures look pretty bleak. Jack's point-of-view is only giving a partial part of the story at this point, since Ma and Jack are not together. This perspective, while partial, reveals that Ma seems to be giving up, while Jack is just begging for a chance to make her better.
A Revisit
"I think of Rug...I was born on her and I was dead on her too."
"Yeah, so what I'd really like to do is throw it in the incinerator... If for once in your life you thought about me instead of--"
"I do... I thought about you always when you were Gone" (305).
The rug should be a symbol of Jack and Ma's victory. Instead, it exemplifies their divide. Ma wants to burn it, while Jack wants to put it in his room. Ma also shows some resentment toward Jack in this scene, which seems ridiculous given his age Jack is again earnest and innocent, insisting that he thought about Ma all the time
Final Thoughts
" I look back at it one more time. It's like a crater, a hole where something happened. Then we go out the door" (321).
These are the final lines of the novel, fittingly Jack's thoughts. His description of Room as a crater is wise beyond his years, serving to support his previous characterization. Room really was a crater- the sight of something major happening that was eventually forgotten by most people. Ma once again is silent as Jack thinks through everything. Jack is clearly the star of the novel. He is able to make connections that Ma isn't. Out of the two of them, he has the best chance of fully moving on from Room and his past, simply because he is willing to.
The Author's Perspective
"I never had Ma and Jack say 'I love you"...I wanted to conjure up that love but not have big soppy pools of it lying around. Love is what's saving them both, yes, but there are problems to it" (Crown).

Might Ma's love just possibly be enough, at least in the early years? My goal was to avoid sentimentalizing imprisonment, while exploring the ways some people do manage to rise above it. I kept tinkering with the balance of sunshine and darkness" ("Emma Donoghue on How She Wrote Room").
The author of the novel also spent a lot of time developing the idea of love, and how much it can do. As she says, love is what's saving both of them, but there are problems. Ma still has mental issues from her captivity that no amount of love can help. Love is what saved them as they were in captivity-- without it, it is doubtful that either would have survived the ordeal. However, once they are free it is unclear if love would ever really be enough for a full recovery.
Donoghue on Her Narrator
"Not only did I have just one narrator, but Jack was a child...having a child character is very helpful in terms of point-of-view, because children are little Martians who see everything afresh and askew. The real technical challenge...was representing Ma as a three-dimensional character, through Jack's lens, which is a very limited one not only because of his age but because she constantly tells him comforting lies" ("Emma Donoghue on How She Wrote Room").
Donoghue choosing to write the novel from Jack's viewpoint was both a blessing and a curse. It allows for more exploration, even as it limits what can be said about what's happening. The presence of Jack as the narrator is felt throughout the novel, especially at major plot points like the escape and Ma's suicide attempt. A child's point-of-view adds innocence to scenes that should be difficult to read, like the rape scenes. It is easy to feel pity for Jack, but in reality Ma is the character to feel most sorry for. Her life has been ruined at this point, while Jack's is only just beginning.
The Fritzl Case: Inspiration?
Background:
- Josef Fritzl trapped his daughter Elizabeth in their basement/dungeon for 24 years
-She was raped over 3,000 times and gave birth to seven children, although one died
-Three children lived upstairs with her parents-- father pretended Elizabeth had run away and then came back each time to leave the children on their doorstep-- mother had no idea Elizabeth was in the dungeon
-She escaped when her eldest daughter became deathly ill (convinced her father to take her to the hospital)
-Hospital worker became suspicious and notified the police
-Elizabeth now lives with all her children in an undisclosed location
-Josef is currently in prison (Paterson)
It is easy to see several parallels between the Fritzl case and Room, especially in the manner of escape. It also gives hope to Ma and Jack's case, since Elizabeth Fritzl is reportedly recovering quite well. There are also other parallels, like to the cases of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Lee Duggard, although not as strong as the parallels to the Fritzl case. Since the novel was inspired by an already fascinating story of triumph and survival, it becomes all the more interesting.
Donoghue on Fritzl
"To say
Room
is based on the Fritzl case is too strong...I'd say I was triggered by it. The newspaper reports of Feliz Fritzl [Elizabeth's son], aged five, emerging into a world he didn't know about, put the idea into my head" (Crown).
"What inspired Room? The shock of motherhood...when I heard about Elizabeth Fritzl and her children emerging from their Austria dungeon, our kids were four and one. My first thought was: how did she do that, how did she manage to mother- and mother well- in a locked room?" ("Donoghue on How She Wrote Room").
It's always interesting to see where authors get the ideas for their novels-- in this case, the idea stemmed partly from personal experience and partly from sensational news stories. Having it at least partly based on real-life events doesn't detract from the story-- it adds to it. The idea that what happened to Ma and Jack actually happened to someone, for an even longer period of time, is shocking and adds a level of disbelief to the story that wouldn't be there otherwise.
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