To Room Nineteen Questions and Answers
by Doris Lessing

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How is the subject of female identity explored in "To Room Nineteen?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think that Lessing makes a statement on the nature of female identity through the characterization of Susan.  Lessing makes it clear that women who do not speak out and do not voice dissent to what is happening in an undesirable marriage are conforming to a social order that is content with their suffering in silence.  Lessing's characterization of Susan is one in which Susan is constantly battling through the idea of internally dealing with reality and not engaging in any reflection.  Instead, there is a clear "chart" of the course being navigated or the idea that a "concession to popular wisdom" is its own good, as well as the notion that "things were under control."  For Lessing, through Susan's characterization, all of these are mere fronts for acquiescing to a form of social control and external manipulation.  Lessing's argument here is that female identity, like male identity, cannot mature and be content when it subjugates its own feelings and real experiences to an external norm.  Certainly, Matthew does not capitulate to a social expectation of being a father and a husband when he engages in infidelities.  The ending in which he presumes his wife is having an affair comes to him almost as a relief for he can now be open with his indiscretions.  For Susan, the desire to find independence in Room 19 is a futile one as she has not exercised her autonomy in speaking about her own condition and what she is experiencing in her own mind and heart regarding her marriage.  Lessing's development and statement of female identity seems to reside here in that the more an individual is open and honest about their condition of being, regardless of what social dictates are, the better the chance happiness will be present.

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