Room Questions and Answers
by Emma Donoghue

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Room by Emma Donoghue - Book Review and Analysis? Hi, I have chosen to analyse the novel Room by Emma Donoghue for my English course, and have to write a book review. Normally I would find this a simple task, but I'm stuck on this book. It's a brilliant book, but I'm not sure about the underlying themes and haven't really got any ideas about what to write. If anybody could help, I would really appreciate it. Thanks, Beth

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Ester Baumgartner, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Some possible themes to explore in Donoghue's Room include innocence and disillusionment, the mother-son relationship, and the effects of trauma.

The novel is told from the perspective of young Jack, who has lived his entire life in "Room." He only knows the life that his mother, Ma, has created for him in that space. Because Jack is the narrator, it takes the reader a while to figure out why they are in this room and why they cannot leave. Jack's voice is pure and innocent despite the fact that he is the product of an abduction and repeated rape. Over time, Ma presents Jack with the plan for escaping the room, and eventually, he comes to realize a bit more about his reality, though he remains largely innocent even in the face of these revelations.

In the novel, we see so much of Ma's desperate attempts to protect Jack from the dangers of Old Nick and from the knowledge of the circumstances of his birth and current lifestyle. Ma makes enormous sacrifices for her son. Her love for him, even though he is also the child of her kidnapper and rapist, is completely unconditional. Ma puts Jack before herself.

Once Jack and Ma are able to escape, the effects of the trauma on Ma become especially clear. Ma even tries to commit suicide. Since she now does not have to focus all of her energy on keeping Jack safe, alive, and innocent, the enormity of what she has suffered and of what has been taken from her hits home. The novel shows, through the outside perspective of her son, how Ma must work to overcome her traumatic experiences, and we can see that this is no easy task. Jack is also traumatized by the experience in "Room" and by the escape. We see him try to cope as he gets to know his grandparents and tries to acclimate to "the real world."

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Emma Donoghue's Room contains many possibilities in terms of themes. Since the novel is narrated by five-year-old Jack, consider the importance of language and communication as a possible theme. Jack's language is centered around that which he knows to be real and that which is pretend. Almost everything he sees on television is fictional in his mind. It is sometimes even difficult for Ma to effectively communicate with Jack because he does not know the outside world and lacks the context. For a child his age, Jack knows many words. However, he has difficulty communicating with the police officer that attempts to help him. Consider also how his expansion of language changes his worldview and, conversely, how his understanding of the world changes his language.

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There are a number of different themes about which you could frame a review: dependency, parent-child relationships, the relationship between innocence and knowledge, the imagination, or even something as simple as love. Clearly the relationship between Jack and Ma dominates the text, and, accordingly, would need a significant place in any analysis. The changes in Jack from his birthday to the escape and then after also provide interesting context and support for a number of different ideas relating to personal development, knowledge, and  a premature coming of age.

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