Part III: Dying
Jack is thrilled to see all the new food, but then he looks at Ma, who is looking at Plant. To Jack’s dismay, Plant has died. He doesn’t want to say goodbye, but he has to.
The two take a bath, do laundry, and play a bit, but Ma doesn’t seem like she wants to be much fun today. When Jack asks what she is doing, she merely says she is thinking. She muses that she used to dream about being rescued but now knows no one will come. Jack replies that she can’t know everything, and her face is strange. He does not understand her mood today.
Finally, Ma turns to Jack and tells him in a serious tone that they have to get out of here; they need to do it themselves, and they need to form a plan. Jack offers a bunch of unrealistic ideas, and they keep thinking. Jack suggests a “cunning trick” (106) similar to what happened with the dog, and Ma’s eyes light up a moment later.
Ma begins to spool out an idea, saying that Jack could pretend to be sick. He would have to get it from the food—perhaps E. coli, since there are no other germs here. Ma will tell Old Nick that he has to take Jack to the hospital so the doctor can give him medicine. Jack worries about the doctors, but she reassures him they won’t actually do anything. Then, at the first doctor he sees, she continues, he could scream for help. Jack suggests Ma should be sick too, but she knows Old Nick would not believe that.
Overall, Jack is not impressed with the plan and Ma is cranky, so they stop for now. Later, after he has some, Ma says softly that, when he is ready, they will escape one by one like in The Great Escape, and he will be her brave Prince Jackerjack. He will alert the doctor and then get the police. Jack is still wary, but, finally, he says yes. She kisses him.
Ma continues to refine the plan and go over it with Jack numerous times. She makes him memorize a list of the things, in order, that he will do: Sick, Truck, Hospital, Police, Save Ma. They even make a map and write it all out.
Ma figures out how to make Jack seem sick. She decides to put a hot bag of water on his forehead so it will seem like he has a fever. Jack practices being “Corpse.”
Ma excitedly asks Jack if he is ready and says that tonight is the night. Jack balks, but she reminds him that Old Nick vindictively cut the power and it was terrible. Ma sighs that she knows she is rushing Jack—she’s had a while to think about this, and he hasn’t. Jack doesn’t really want to escape, but Ma tries to explain that Room is too small and it is doing things to him he cannot understand. He politely says "no thanks." Ma is silent and fuming.
While they brush their teeth, Ma looks at Jack and tells him she’d wait as long as he needed if she thought they were safe, but they aren’t.
In the middle of the night, Ma wakes Jack to show him a stunning, huge moon. She tells him that there are amazing things in the world for him to see. He asks if Old Nick came tonight and she says that he did; she told him that Jack was coming down with something so that he would start to believe their trick. Jack is annoyed and calls it a stupid plan. Ma knits her brows and angrily says that it is their only one. She raises her voice and says that she has to choose for them both.
The next day, Ma does not flush their poo but rather breaks it up, and it smells terrible. They practice Jack being sick. She calls him brave and he says that he is scared; they decide on “scaredybrave.” Jack has a lot of questions and concerns. Ma writes a note for Jack to give to someone Outside and Jack is surprised to see two names he doesn’t know; they are Ma’s names.
It is getting late. Jack’s stomach hurts and he is practicing his part. Ma gets the hot water ready. Jack gets more and more nervous and begins to cry, which Ma tells him is good for his performance. Suddenly, he sees her making herself throw up and she smears some of it on him, telling him it’ll make him seem even worse.
Beep Beep. Old Nick comes in and crankily denounces the smell. Ma tells him how sick Jack is. Jack can sense Old Nick leaning over him, then touching him, but he doesn’t move a muscle. Old Nick suggests medicine, and Ma begins to cry hard. She begs him to take Jack out and says she will do anything. Her protests and cries annoy Old Nick, and he leaves.
When Jack opens his eyes, he is surprised that Ma is not upset. She smiles at him that they did Plan A but she has a Plan B; she figured that Old Nick would be too scared to take Jack to a hospital. Jack does not like being tricked, so Ma decides to tell him more about the new plan tomorrow. He does not want to forgive her yet.
In the morning, Jack wants to wash his hair, but Ma says the smell has to remain. She begins to tell him the new plan, referencing The Count of Monte Cristo. Jack will pretend to be dead; he will be wrapped in Rug. Being dead will be harder than being sick, and Old Nick must not see or feel him breathe; being in the rug will help conceal him. Old Nick will carry the rug out and put it in the truck. Now, the plan is: Dead, Truck, Run, Police, Save Ma. Jack is terrified, but he repeats the steps all the same.
Later, Jack has to practice being dead, and Ma practices how Old Nick will hold him. She thinks that Old Nick will take him out of the city into the forest so that he can dig a hole. She tells Jack that when he hears the engine start, that will be his signal to try to get out of the rug. Jack practices this, and it is very hard.
Jack wants to stop, but Ma tells him about Old Nick’s imminent foreclosure. She does not tell him exactly what she is thinking, but she tells him that, if he lost the house, Old Nick would never let anyone find them and Room.
Jack spits out that he is too scared and he hates Ma. She breathes funnily and sits down. She apologizes for bringing him into this, but she insists has never been sorry for having him; now, she has to get him out. He says "OK" in a small voice.
They practice Jack getting out of the rug again. Ma explains the truck stopping at a stop sign and how he can then safely jump out and run away as fast as he can. He cannot let Old Nick catch him and he needs to be screaming so that someone can hear him. Anyone he sees will do, or else he will have to wave down a car or run up to a house with lights on. He has the note in his underwear still.
They continue to go over the plan, and Jack wishes he were still four when things were simpler. Jack gets to choose what he wants for lunch. They try to nap but cannot fall asleep. Jack asks Ma if they can do their plan tomorrow night instead of tonight, but she holds him tight and he knows that the answer is no.
Before wrapping him up, Ma says he has permission to hit or kick Old Nick—anything to get away. Jack has his note and puts Ma’s Bad Tooth in his sock.
Jack is now in Rug, and they wait. Finally, the door beeps. Jack is Corpse; he is the Count of Monte Cristo; he is extra still. Old Nick says he brought antibiotics. Ma’s voice becomes weird and she begins to shriek that Old Nick killed Jack. She moans “my baby” and screams that Old Nick has to bury him far away. She is hysterical, telling him not to touch Jack or even look at him.
Old Nick sounds shocked and frightened but agrees, and hoists Jack up. Jack stays very still. He hears the beep of the door; he tells himself to be brave and that he is Prince Jackerjack. The air is different, and he knows he is Outside.
Jack is in the truck and it is moving. He has to wriggle out of Rug now, but it is so hard that he is crying. The truck stops. He worries that he has to be jumping but he isn’t out yet. Finally, he remembers to find the corner of the rug, and he hauls himself out. A bright light blinds him. The truck keeps moving.
Jack sits up and breathes the air. Things are whizzing by him. He sees an enormous sky, trees, and houses. The truck stops again and sends Jack slamming into the side. He cries out and immediately realizes that Old Nick has heard him. Old Nick stops the truck and comes over to him with a terrible face.
Jack leaps away and runs as fast as he can. He sees a small person, a big person, and a dog. The dog runs up to Jack and bites him; Jack screams. The man tells Raja, the dog, to stop.
Old Nick rushes up and grabs Jack from behind, and Jack begins to scream. Disconcerted, the man asks if his daughter is okay—Jack wonders why, not thinking about his long hair—and Old Nick says they are fine.
The man is uncomfortable; he says something is not right and that he is going to call the police. Old Nick takes off running with Jack, and the man yells that he has the truck's plates. At this, Old Nick drops Jack and revs the truck, driving away.
The man kneels down to comfort Jack. He says his name is Ajeet and his daughter is Naisha. Jack wants to get away, but he is afraid of Raja. He sees a cop car coming and realizes he doesn’t have the note; then he worries what will if Old Nick goes straight back to Ma.
Officer Oh, a friendly woman, starts to ask Jack questions. It is slow-going, but she learns that Ma is in “Room” and the Room is not on a map. Another police officer radios about a “disturbed juvenile, possible domestic” (146). Jack mentions Old Nick and says that Old Nick stole him and Ma. The other officer is weary of how long this questioning is taking, but Officer Oh settles in to have Jack tell the story of what happened tonight. Jack describes the trick, being in Rug, and jumping out after three stop signs and a turn. Officer Oh looks at a map. She has Jack get in the car with them to help look for the house.
On the way, Jack explains that it is not a house. Officer Oh asks if there is daylight. and he says that it comes from Skylight. She asks more questions and learns that there is a locked door and that the room is in the backyard.
The officers look up the residences with standing rear structures, cross-reference them with registered cars, and find where the truck belongs. They excitedly begin driving there and stop in front.
Jack is worried about Ma and tries to get out and go with the officers, but he is not allowed. He counts feverishly in his head. An officer takes a shotgun to open the door to Room. Jack looks around and sees the rest of the house for the first time.
Suddenly, Ma is tumbling out of Room; she is alive, scooping Jack up, hugging him, and grinning. Jack feels dizzy and sleepy. Jack says he wants to go to Bed in Room, but Ma says they’re never going back.
In this climactic mid-section of the novel, Ma decides that she and Jack have to get out of Room. Of course, this is something she’s desired to do since Day One, but her own attempts were futile and Jack was too young in the past to be able to understand the basics of what was happening. Ma knows that Old Nick will not let them survive if his house is repossessed, and he certainly will not let them go free, so her survival instincts for herself and her son heighten demonstrably. She has already prepped Jack in the weeks prior in terms of proverbially opening up the outside world to him, giving him more information about herself and why they are in Room, and why they need to get out. Jack is reluctant, of course, but through his love for Ma and her subtle, smart urging and manipulation of her son, the plan goes forth and, against all odds, succeeds.
The section ends with Ma tumbling out of Room into Jack’s arms and stating definitively that they are never going back there. This release from Room strongly evokes a release from a prison, mirrored thematically in the intertextual allusions to the story of St. Paul in prison, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Great Escape. In her astute commentary on the prison novel aspects of the text, Margarete Rubik explains how Donoghue utilizes such aspects while also subverts them. Rubik begins by pointing to the things that aren’t quite typical of the genre: Jack’s childish narration; the lack of explicit prison metaphors on account of Jack not actually seeing Room as such; the slowness with which Room is revealed to the reader to even be a prison; and the lack of focus on how the prisoners got into the prison in the first place.
In terms of the elements that reference the genre, Rubik notes the physicality of Room: the only source of light being the skylight, which is above them and thus not conducive to seeing the world outside; the limited space of movement in which they are still able to do their best to keep fit; Ma’s clear boredom and despair, which Jack might not notice but the reader does; and the fact that “Their room of detention partakes of the worst aspects of both the old prison type and the modern Benthamite or Foucauldian institution…Like the old dungeon, the prisoners are in the hands of a cruel and arbitrary jailor, who regularly rapes the mother and can gain access to her cell at any time, though he generally visits only at night…On the other hand, their complete isolation from contact with relatives and friends, who indeed think that the woman is dead since she vanished without a trace, is a feature reminiscent of the new prison.”
Old Nick doesn’t even have to use violence to keep Ma quiescent, for he also knows how to inflict physical discomfort and deprivation. He turns the electricity off to punish her, which leads to freezing temperatures, poor sustenance, stultifying boredom, and anxiety. He knows that since she has Jack and would do anything for him, he has myriad ways to manipulate her.
Another convention of the genre is “imprisonment as live burial,” which here is a “living death…modified by Donoghue in so far as Jack has to die metaphorically. i.e., he has to pretend to be dead and to be wrapped in Rug as in a winding sheet, to escape from jail into a new life in the outside world. The Christian imagery of resurrection…and the biblical stories Ma tells the boy add a metaphysical component to the description of prison.”