Room Essay Questions

Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does Donoghue utilize a child’s perspective? How does this alter the narration?

    In using a child’s narrative perspective, Donoghue offers a very simple narration to tell the story of many shocking events. As a child who does not yet fully understand the world, Jack’s narration treats a tragic event –the kidnapping of Ma –as his normality; to him, Room is his world, not a place preventing him from it. This lack of understanding means that Jack does not process events that directly affect him. When Ma is hospitalized in critical condition, he asks if she will go to heaven, unaware that she attempted to take her own life and the repercussions of this. Jack’s narrative also means a majority of the novel is based around the inquisitive; there are so many questions about the outside world, presenting how Jack’s existence has grown from a matter of squared feet, to an entire world, and this is not without confusion. Throughout the entire novel, Donoghue does not divert from Jack’s narration. As he encounters a new world, the reader simultaneously discover it, drawn back again and again to a reminder of how this experience would affect anyone as a scared, small child.

  2. 2

    How does Donoghue invert the expectations of a kidnap narrative?

    The traditional kidnap narrative witnesses the victim’s life before the event, the actual happenings of the event, and their demise as they realize what has happened to them. In Room, Donoghue instead bypasses much of this action, opening seven years in to Ma’s imprisonment. Since her capture, Ma has had to accept her situation and normalize herself to it, especially for the sake of her son. Therefore, the reader becomes normalized with their existence in room, as if they have always belonged there. Yet a kidnap narrative should undoubtedly induce feelings of disgust and displacement, not normality. In Donoghue inverting the expectations of the kidnap narrative, it also confuses the expectations of the readership reaction. She manages to draw the audience in to the story, so that they also react and feel the same as the protagonists do.

  3. 3

    How are the boundaries between the real and the imaginary confused?

    Jack has spent his entire life in Room. Therefore, the only way for him to survive without the realization of their imprisonment is through his imagination. He may be restricted to a small physical space, but Ma encourages him to extend his world in to the imaginary. Inevitably, this has repercussions; when Jack encounters reality, he finds it extremely difficult to distinguish between what he assumed was pretend, and what is real. This is most noticeable in Jack’s interactions with the TV. He cannot distinguish between reality and pretend, as he has never seen any of the images in real life. When Jack encounters the outside, he can only cope with so many different and new sensory dimensions by pretending that he is reading about himself in a book. Additionally, their captor, ‘Old Nick’ is not actually called this, and is fashioned from a character in a book. Therefore, this confusion between the real and imaginary highlights an underlying consequence of beginning life in Room, and the issues Jack experiences in being suddenly introduced to reality.

  4. 4

    How is the novel a story about return? How is it not?

    Room appears to be a novel based on stagnancy, and how Ma cannot escape. Yet, the structure of the novel is more cyclical than it first appears. It is only because the reader does not witness Ma’s life before Room that the structure appears more linear than it is. Firstly, Ma’s return to the real world is almost as if she is born again; she witnesses the world changing on television, but enters it again almost as a new-born, experiencing everything again as the first time. Alternatively, Jack’s entry in to the outside world, is not a return, and this is what Ma struggles to process. For her, Jack should love the freedom of the outside. Yet, all Jack wishes for is a return to the safety of where he has lived his entire life; the ideas of his returns are desires, not actions. The structure only appears fully circular with the ending. Ma and Jack return briefly to Room, yet as free people this time. This return is necessary for Jack. In returning, Room becomes just a space, without any symbolic significance. It is only in this return that they can then move forward.

  5. 5

    How is the difference between action and inaction emphasized?

    Throughout the novel, there is a constant tension between action and inaction. For seven years, Ma has seemingly been inactive in trying to escape; all Jack sees is Ma as she is now. It is only as the novel progresses that we begin to see Ma’s inactivity as a consequence of her previous attempts to escape. Additionally, any actions they perform in Room are for the aid of survival. They always seem like games to Jack, whether it be track, or repeating the words of someone on TV, yet once examined they are actions to help him develop as a normal child would on the outside. These actions help to emphasize the periods when Ma is inactive; Jack describes it as her being ‘gone’. Whilst to him, this is simply not moving, it is shockingly a sign of deep depression with almost fatal consequences. Therefore, whilst inaction can be seen as ‘relaxing’ to the readers, it takes on a much more severe meaning to Ma and Jack; to be inactive is to give up on existence.

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