To Room Nineteen Questions and Answers
by Doris Lessing

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Can selfishness be a theme in "To Room Nineteen" in regards to the marriage?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Certainly, I think that a strong claim can be made that selfishness in marriage is a part of the thematic development in Lessing's work.  There is a certain degree of selfishness in both Susan and Matthew, much more in the latter than in the former.  The selfishness that both display to different extents help to doom their marriage and bring out the theme that conformity and acquiescence to social conditions as opposed to open and clear communication usually spells more failure than success.  Matthew's selfishness resides in his constant infidelities and lack of openness with his wife.  He refuses to recognize that his actions are destroying their marriage and contributing to the emotional destabilization of his wife.  At the same time, I sense that Susan's display of selfishness exists in her initial embrace that everything is "fine."  I see this as an act of selfishness because of the ease with which it can be embraced as opposed to the difficulty of opening a dialogue, speaking about what challenges exist in both partners and how a new understanding that validates each one of their voices can be understood.  I believe that this shows selfishness in both.  Lessing seems to suggest that such a selfish and condition of relative ease is encouraged by society.  It is one in which individuals are able to retreat into their own corners that are dictated by the social order, as opposed to marshaling the courage to surpass such a configuration and open the challenging emotional nuances that enable two people to find a new understanding, whether together or apart.  The selfishness present is a desire to not open these paths of communication and individual identity.  The selfishness exists in the belief of "things are under control," which becomes a justification for Matthew to continue with his infidelity and a blanket for Susan to prevent any reflection into her own being in the world.  It is here where I think that one can see how selfishness in marriage is a theme in Lessing's work.

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