Room Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does the use of a child’s perspective alter the narrative of Room?

    By 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 normal; Room is his world, not a prison. 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 of the fact that she attempted to take her own life and of the repercussions of this. Jack’s narrative also means that a majority of the novel is based on the inquisitive: there are so many questions about the outside world, presenting how Jack’s existence has grown from a matter of square feet to an entire world, and this is not without confusion. Throughout the entire novel, Donoghue does not divert from Jack’s narration. As Jack encounters a new world, the reader simultaneously discovers it, drawn back again and again to a reminder of how this experience would affect a scared, small child.

  2. 2

    How does Room invert the expectations of a kidnapping narrative?

    The traditional kidnapping narrative witnesses (1) the victim’s life before the event, (2) the actual kidnapping event, and (3) their demise as they realize what has happened to them. In Room, Donoghue instead bypasses much of this action, opening seven years into 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 to their existence in Room, as if these characters have always belonged there. Yet a kidnapping narrative traditionally induces feelings of disgust and displacement, not normality. By inverting the expectations of the kidnap narrative, Donoghue also subverts the reactions of her readers. She manages to draw the audience into the story so that they react and feel the same as the protagonists do. Of course, we are able to feel those sensations of disgust and displacement through Jack's narration even though he doesn't understand exactly what is happening: we know the circumstances surrounding and Jack being in Room, we know Ma is being raped, we know she is psychologically traumatized, etc.

  3. 3

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

    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 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. This confusion between the real and imaginary highlights an underlying consequence of Jack beginning his life in Room.

  4. 4

    In what ways is the novel a story about return? In what ways is it not?

    Room appears to be a novel based on stagnancy and how Ma cannot escape from physical and mental prisons. 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. Ma’s return to the real world is almost a rebirth: she witnesses the world changing on television, but she enters it again almost like a newborn, experiencing everything again as the first time. In contrast, Jack’s entry into the outside world is not a return, and Ma struggles to process this harsh reality. In her mind, Jack should love the freedom of the outside. Yet all that Jack wishes for is a return to the safety of the room he has lived his entire life. The novel's structure finally comes full circle in its conclusion: Ma and Jack return briefly to Room, as free people this time. This return is necessary for Jack: in returning, Room becomes just a space, without any symbolic significance for him. It is only through this return that he and Ma can then move forward.

  5. 5

    What role does the difference between action and inaction play in the narrative?

    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 understand Ma’s present inactivity as a consequence of her previous attempts to escape. Additionally, any actions they perform in Room are for the sake of survival. These actions always seem like games to Jack, whether it be track, or repeating the words of someone on TV, yet the reader can easily understand that these are really actions designed 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." While, to him, this is simply an instance of Ma not moving, it is shockingly a sign of deep depression with almost fatal consequences. Therefore, whilst "inaction" may have connotations of mere lethargy or relaxation for readers, it takes on a much more severe meaning to Ma and Jack: to be inactive is to give up on existence altogether.