How do the physical and social settings in the story "To Room Nineteen" by Doris Lessing contribute to the overall meaning of the story?

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Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Doris Lessing's To Room Nineteen, protagonist Susan Rawlings struggles with issues of identity and alienation. The story depicts her increasing anxiety, depression, and nihilism as she attempts to find meaning in her life. The physical and social settings in the story constitute the very limits from which Susan seeks to break free. 

Susan occupies two physical spaces in the story. Primarily, she resides within the confines of her suburban home. This physical setting of home symbolizes the domestic and social trappings of Susan's life. She has no privacy in her home; her husband and four children have marked every room as their own.

Whereas her husband and children live in the home, Susan merely serves in the home. She resents cleaning, cooking, and housekeeping. Her resentment of these domestic duties runs so deep comes that Susan eventually comes to resent even the furnishings in the home (which always have to be polished) and the dishes in the kitchen (which have to be cleaned constantly). 

Seeking to escape the suffocating domesticity of her suburban home, Susan retreats to a nondescript hotel room in the city. The room is dingy and sparse. It is completely utilitarian. There are no sentimental pictures on the wall and no dishes to clean. There are no obligations in room nineteen.

For Susan, room nineteen is a space of freedom in which she can explore and create an identity for herself outside the boundaries of domestic life. However, Susan cannot escape her role as wife and mother. Even in the anonymous city space of room nineteen, she continues to feel restrained and alienated by her domestic roles as wife and mother.