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Written by Victoria Joss
The irony of the definition of 'home'
A ‘home’ is defined as a place where one lives permanently, often with family. If this is the true definition, Room becomes Ma and Jack’s home. Donoghue therefore explores the differences between a house, and a home. Jack calls their place of captivity ‘Room’, and this is perhaps interchangeable with the word ‘home’ for him. When they escape, Jack asks to return to the comforts of Room, and the world that he knows. Room was perhaps a home for him then, as it was where he grew up, and where his Ma kept him safe. The tragic irony of this is that, for Ma, Room is far from a home. Room has all the aspects of a home: a bed, a kitchen, and a toilet. Yet, these all become simply household items. For Ma, home is associated with the family she left behind, and Room can never be a home as long as Old Nick keeps them captive. This underlying irony therefore suggests the difference between a house –a building structure –and a home, a feeling of comfort and safety.
The irony of 'Sunday treat'
In order to survive, Old Nick provides Ma and Jack with essentials: food, electricity, and minimal furniture and plumbing. For anything extra they require, Ma has to put in a request for a ‘Sunday treat’. In the novel, Ma has to ask for a new pair of jeans for Jack as a Sunday treat, and even these are cheaply made. The most obvious irony firstly lies in the name. To have a ‘treat’ is an event or object that provides a great deal of happiness, something that one does not have often in life. Instead, Ma has to use this phrase to request what a first world society would consider as necessity, such as clothing. This presents the twisted mindset of Old Nick, who believes that Ma and Jack are somehow indebted to him for the ‘Sunday treats’. It is therefore extremely ironic that these Sunday treats are used as a way of Old Nick appearing to be generous towards them, when in reality he has stolen seven years of Ma’s life in imprisoning her.
The irony of the television interview
When Ma and Jack escape Room, they are bombarded with media attention. Ma agrees to do a television interview to ensure she is not misrepresented in the media. During the interview, the focus shifts from her time in Room to the discovery that she still breastfeeds Jack at the age of five. Ironically, the interviewer is most shocked and inquisitive about this fact, and not Old Nick’s heinous crimes. This is an irony that Ma quickly identifies, and confronts the interviewer about. It especially highlights the difference between sympathy and scandal; the media is hungry to hear about such a terrible incident, but are less attuned to accepting that Ma had to breastfeed Jack. It is almost as if their seven-year-long imprisonment is accepted as completely terrible, yet when a principle that fits in to every day life is compromised, there is an outrage. Perhaps the most ironic part of this is that the interviewer believes they have the right to judge Ma based on an ordinary action that is done out of desperation, in a completely different context.
The irony of Ma's normality before the abduction
Donoghue begins the narrative seven years in to Ma’s imprisonment. Yet, she does allow the reader a brief glimpse of Ma before Old Nick abducted her. Ma describes herself as completely normal, walking through a parking lot with her headphones in. After she has escaped from Room, she is suddenly anything from normal; she is the cause of much media attention. It is therefore horribly ironic that for Ma to be classed as ‘someone’, she has to go through such a harrowing ordeal. Given the choice, she would surely choose to have been able to live a normal life. Whilst there are many people who strive to be out of the ordinary, it is painfully ironic that Ma has no choice in the matter but to be extra-ordinary through her experiences. Additionally, it suggests that Old Nick would have abducted any young person, or girl. Ma had nothing particularly special about her, highlighting his sadistic tendencies.
The irony of Jack saving Ma
Whenever Old Nick visits Ma at night, she makes sure to put Jack in the cupboard until he has gone. When he tries to touch Jack, Ma is extremely protective of him, and much of their time in Room is dedicated to making sure Jack develops, as a young boy should. It is therefore an irony, of which Ma is painfully aware, that it must be Jack that escapes and saves them both. As a mother, she has dedicated all her efforts in Room to being selfless, and choosing what is right for her son. To have to let him go in the hands of Old Nick after striving to protect him for so long is not only an irony, but also a necessity. Old Nick must believe that Jack would be too scared to leave Room by himself. It is therefore this irony that is pivotal to the storyline, as it facilitates their escape from Room to the outside world.
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