What is the importance of the following passage from "To Room Nineteen" by Doris Lessing? How does it contribute to theme, character, conflict, and/or setting?

Susan did not tell Matthew of these thoughts. They were not sensible. She did not recognise herself in them. What should she say to her dear friend and husband, Matthew? "When I go into the garden, that is, if the children are not there, I feel as if there is an enemy there waiting to invade me." "What enemy, Susan darling?" "Well I don't know, really..." "Perhaps you should see a doctor?"

 

No, clearly this conversation should not take place. The holidays began and Susan welcomed them. Four children, lively, energetic, intelligent, demanding. She was never, not for a moment of her day, alone. If she was in room, they would be in the next room, or waiting for her to do something for them, or it would soon be time for lunch or tea, or to take one of them to the dentist, something to do five weeks of it thank goodness.

Expert Answers

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To Room Nineteen” is a short story by Doris Lessing. It was first published in 1963. In this story, Lessing explores the life of Susan Rawlings, wife to Matthew Rawlings and mother of four children. In short, one could say that the short story is about the emotional difficulties that women face in modern day society.

The passage you have chosen could be interpreted as an important indication of how unhappy Susan is with her life, which ultimately will culminate in her suicide later in the story. You could argue that it is a premonition of things to come.

Through this passage the reader learns how Susan struggles with being on her own. She only feels content when she is with her children, as being with her children gives her life a purpose: there is always “something to do.” However, when she is on her own in the garden, she feels that she is confronted by an “enemy,” which she tries to describe as “irritation, restlessness, emptiness.” The reader gets to see a glimpse of Susan’s character here, as she is clearly feeling very unfulfilled. She is not happy in her role as a simple housewife—she is trying to find a bigger purpose in life, which is why she struggles as soon as she is on her own.

If you want to look further into the setting of the story, you could also explore how the house and the garden form the backdrop of typical suburban family life in the 1960s. For example, this could be interpreted as another sign of how Susan is expected to lead the life of a stereotypical woman in the 1960s but finds herself unable to be content with that.

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