Emma Donoghue, the book's author, lives in London, Ontario, which makes Room another Canadian work for which I have written a marginal commentary on The Marginal Virtues.
This edition was published by HarperCollins in 2010. On the cover of the copy I have, there is an illustration with a note stating that Room was shortlisted (why that is a verb I don't know) for the Man Booker Prize 2010. It did not win, but you have to think that Donoghue must have been pretty thrilled. I don't know how well known a literary figure she was before publishing Room, but I dare say that it is her breakthrough work. It may well even be her masterwork.
It is an odd thing to think of a book written from the perspective of a five-year old boy - and one who has lived his whole life before then in an enclosed space with only his mother for company - as a literary masterwork.
For one, the style is largely unvarying. I once had a conversation with someone who said she found the style tiresome, and it is not hard to see why. Three hundred pages of a five-year old's thoughts, in his own words, seems like a lot to ask of a reader. It would be as if J. R. R. Tolkien wrote Book IV (the second part) of The Two Towers entirely from Gollum's perspective, and in his style. Yet, as Brian Rosebury in Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon notes, one of Tolkien's stylistic triumphs is Gollum's 'idiolect', the 'wheedling, sentimential argot of the nursery' of which his speech is so redolent.
For another, nearly a third of the book takes place entirely in Room, the small shed in which Jack and his Ma are imprisoned by Ma's captor, a vicious man whom Jack has name Old Nick. It is easy to get the impression that this will make the first part of the book cramped, narrow, and repetitive.
Yet I want to look at three aspects of Room that I think account for its literary power. In the first place, I want to look at how Donoghue embeds what we might call 'social commentary' in Jack's thoughts and speech. What I mean is that the 'social commentary' made by Room is not something you can abstract from the novel (and so have done with the movement of the plot, the characters, and Jack's perspective) and then use it to point out what is wrong with the world. Rather, it is simply by having someone who is not quite like us simply be in our world, innocently, that Donoghue scores rhetorical points. It is rather like how Jasper Fforde was able to comment on the systemic abuse of power in Shades of Grey simply by having Eddie Russett come to face to face with the various bullies, despots, and liquidators of the Collective while just trying to get by.
In the second place, Jack's character reveals a depth of imagination and insight. Donoghue is able to make Jack insightful without making him unbelievable. I would go so far to say that his 'philosophical reflections', such as they are, are more credibly enfleshed in his character and in the plot of the novel than those, more sophisticated though they may be, of Lin Ford in Shantaram.
Finally, Jack's 'narrative style' is, despite its evident idiosyncracies (it is very nearly accurate to call it, like that of Sméagol, an 'idiolect'), and despite the seemingly uncharacteristic depth with which it is permeated, true (or feels true) to any five-year old boy's style.
If you haven't read Room yet, you may wish to do so before you proceed with this marginal commentary, because I am going to be free with details of the plot in order to establish the context of passages cited in order to make it easier to comment on them.
First, then, the 'social commentary', the embedded critique of certain aspects of social life that usually go unnoticed and unchallenged, until looked upon, oddly enough, with the innocence of a five-year old boy who has grown up under unusual circumstances.
Probably the most effective such scene is when Jack witnesses Ma (whose name we never learn) give an interview following their escape (ellipses in brackets are editorial emendations by me):
"How's it going?" Dr. Clay's head, in the door. "The crew are all set up and ready for you." [...]Another lengthy passage, which I won't quote, but simply want to mention, which could serve as an example of all three aspects (embedded social commentary, Jack's reflective observations, Donoghue's childlike and idiomatic style for Jack) follows on the heels of this one, when Jack's uncle (Ma's brother) and his family take Jack to the mall for Jack's first major outing Outside (pp. 239-48). I won't say any more, except to note that the trip to the mall was supposed to an outing to a museum to see dinosaurs; Jack, of course, is incapable of irony, so doesn't comment on that (at least, not ironically), but it doesn't escape our notice.
"I don't think this is going to work," says Ma, she's stroking my wetted face.
"You can still pull out," says Dr. Clay, coming near.
"No I can't, it's for Jack's college fund."
He twists his mouth. "We talked about whether that's a good enough reason — "
"I don't want to go to college," I say, "I want to go in TV with you." [...]
I recognize Morris our lawyer, he's reading pages. "We need to see the cutdown as well as the rough cut," he's telling someone. He stares at me, then he waves his fingers. "People?" He says it louder. "Excuse me? The boy is in the room, but is not to be shown on camera, no stills, snapshots for personal use, nothing, are we clear?"
Then everybody looks at me, I shut my eyes.
When I open them a different person is shaking Ma's hand, wow, it's the woman with the puffy hair from the red couch. The couch is not here, though. I never saw an actual person from TV before, I wish it was Dora instead. [...] The woman with the puffy hair smiles at me extra wide. There's everybody talking and moving about, I shut my eyes again and press on my ear holes like Dr. Clay said when it gets too much. Someone's counting, "Five, four three, two one — " Is there going to be a rocket?
The woman with the puffy hair puts on a special voice, she has her hands together for praying. "Let me first express my gratitude, and the gratitude of all our viewers, for talking to us a mere six days after your release. For refusing to be silenced any longer."
Ma does a small smile.
"Could you begin by telling us, what did you miss most in those seven long years of captivity? Apart from your family, of course."
"Dentistry, actually," Ma's voice all high and fast. "Which is ironic, because I used to hate having my teeth cleaned even."
"You've emerged into a new world. A global economic and environmental crisis, a new President — "We saw the inauguration on TV," says Ma.
"Well! But so much must have changed."
Ma shrugs. "Nothing seems all that totally different. But I haven't really gone out yet, except to the dentist."
The woman smiles like it's a joke.
"No, I mean, everything feels different, but it's because I'm different."
"Stronger at the broken places?" [...]
Ma makes a face. "Before — I was so ordinary. [...]"
"And now you're an extraordinary young woman with an extraordinary tale to tell, and we're honored that it's we, that it's us — " The woman looks away, to one of the persons with the machines. "Let's try that again." She looks back at Ma and does the special voice. "And we're honored that you've chosen this show to tell it. Now, without necessarily putting it in terms of say, Stockholm syndrome, many of our viewers are curious, well, concerned to know if you found yourself in any way...emotionally dependent on your captor."
Ma's shaking her head. "I hated him."
The woman is nodding.
"I kicked and screamed. One time I hit him over the head with the lid of the toilet. I didn't wash, for a long time I wouldn't speak."
"Was that before or after the tragedy of your stillbirth?"
Ma puts her hand over her mouth.
Morris butts in, he's flicking through pages. "Clause...she doesn't want to talk about that."
"Oh, we're not going into any detail," says the woman with the puffy hair, "but it feels crucial to establish the sequence — "
"No, actually it's crucial to stick to the contract," he says.
Ma's hands are all shaking, she puts them under her legs. She's not looking my way, did she forget I'm here? I'm talking to her in my head but she's not hearing.
The puffy-haired woman nods a lot. "Now, figuring out how to raise him all on your own, without books or professionals or even relatives, that must have been terribly difficult."
"I think what babies mostly want is to have their mothers right there. No, I was just afraid Jack would get ill — and me too, he needed me to be OK. So, just stuff I remembered from Health Ed like hand washing, cooking everything really well..."
The woman nods. "You breastfed him. In fact, this may startle some of our viewers, I understand you still do?"
The woman stares at her.
"In this whole story, that's the shocking detail?"
The woman looks down at her paper again. "There you are your baby were, condemned to solitary confinement — "
Ma shakes her head. "Neither of us was ever alone for a minute."
"Well, yes. But it takes a village to raise a child, as they say in Africa..."
"If you've got a village. But if you don't, then maybe it just takes two people."
"Two? You mean you and your..."
Ma's face goes all frozen. "I mean me and Jack." [...]
"[...] Now, you'd come to what some experts are calling a strange decision, to teach Jack that the world measured eleven foot by eleven, and everything else[...] was just fantasy. Did you feel bad about deceiving him?"
Ma looks not friendly. "What was I meant to tell him — Hey, there's a world of fun out there and you can't have any of it?" [...]
"[...] Now, did you get the sense, over the years, that this man cared — at some basic human level, even in a warped way — for his son?"
Ma's eyes have gone skinny. "Jack's nobody's son but mine."
"That's so true, in a very real sense," says the woman. "I was just wondering whether, in your view, the genetic, the biological relationship — "
"There was no relationship." She's talking through her teeth. [italics original] [...]
"Do you realize what a beacon you've become?"
"A — I beg your pardon?"
"A beacon of hope," says the woman, smiling. "As soon as we announced we'd be doing this interview, our viewers started calling in, e-mails, text messages, telling us you're an angel, a talisman of goodness..."
Ma makes a face. "All I did was I survived, and I did a pretty good job of raising Jack. A good enough job."
"You're very modest."
"No, what I am is irritated, actually."
The puffy-hair woman blinks twice.
"All this reverential — I'm not a saint." Ma's voice is getting loud again. "I wish people would stop treating us like we're the only ones who ever lived through something terrible. I've been finding stuff on the Internet like you wouldn't believe. [...] I mean, of course when I woke up in that shed, I thought nobody'd ever had it as bad as me. But the thing is, slavery's not a new invention. And solitary confinement — did you know, in America we've got more than twenty-five thousand prisoners in isolation cells? Some of them for more than twenty years." Her hand is pointing at the puffy-hair woman. "As for kids — there's places where babies lie in orphanages five to a cot with pacifiers taped into their mouths, kids getting raped by Daddy every night, kids in prisons, whatever, making carpets till they go blind — "
It's really quiet for a minute. The woman says, "Your experiences have given you, ah, enormous empathy with the suffering children of the world."
"Not just children," says Ma. "People are locked up in all sorts of ways."
The woman clears her throat and looks at the paper in her lap. "You say did [italics original], you did a 'pretty good job' of raising Jack, although of course the job is far from over. But now you have lots of help[...]."
"It's actually harder." Ma's looking down. "When our world was eleven foot square it was easier to control. Lots of things are freaking Jack out right now. But I hate the way the media call him [ditto] a freak, or an idiot savant, or feral, that word — " [...]
"You don't think he's been shaped — damaged — by his ordeal?"
"It wasn't an ordeal to Jack, it was just how things were. And, yeah, maybe, but everybody's damaged by something." [...]
"[...] Now, you said just now it was 'easier to control' Jack when you were in captivity — "
"No, control things." [italics original]
"You must feel an almost pathological need — understandably — to stand guard between your son and the world."
"Yeah, it's called being a mother." Ma nearly snarls it.
"Is there a sense in which you miss being behind a locked door?"
Ma turns to Morris. "Is she allowed to ask me such stupid questions?" [...]
"OK, then," says the woman, with another of her wide smiles that's fake like a robot's. "There's something I'd like to return to, if I may. When Jack was born — some of our viewers have been wondering whether it ever for a moment occurred to you to..."
"What, put a pillow over his head?"
Is that me Ma means? But pillows go under heads.
The woman waves her hand side to side. "Heaven forbid. But did you ever consider asking your captor to take Jack away? [...] It would have been a sacrifice of course — the ultimate sacrifice — but if Jack could have had a normal, happy childhood with a loving family?"
"He had me," Ma says it one word at a time. "He had a childhood with me, whether you'd call it normal or not." [italics original]
"But you knew what he was missing," says the woman. "Every day he needed a wider world, and the only one you could give him got narrower. You must have been tortured by the memory of everything Jack didn't even know to want. Friends, school, grass, swimming, rides at the fair..."
"Why does everyone go on about fairs?" Ma's voice is all hoarse. "When I was a kid I hated fairs."
The woman does a little laugh.
Ma's got tears coming down her face, she puts up her hands to catch them. [pp. 230-8] This passage is exemplary of all three of the aspects that I noted above, so rather than focus on the 'social commentary' alone, I'll take the opportunity to discuss all three with respect to this passage. 1) Nowhere in this passage does Donoghue make any explicit statements about the problems of social life, except, perhaps, indirectly in the words of Ma, who talks about other forms of slavery and imprisonment, in which, unsurprisingly, she shows a great deal of interest. So we learn that, for example, there are twenty-five thousand Americans in solitary confinement, some of whom who have been so imprisoned for nearly as long as Ma has been alive, or about overcrowded orphanages filled with unloved children, and about men - fathers, even - whose treatment of their children is abusive to the highest degree, and so on. The point is, the implied 'hey, what's the deal with this?' occurs without editorial comment by Donoghue (which would be impossible, since it would have to come from Jack), without a suggestion as to what should be done to stop it - since Ma probably doesn't know - and without any judgment other than Ma's. In other words, it is embedded in the movement of the plot. Ma is characteristically interested in learning about confinement, imprisonment, slavery and abuse, and is in the same way interested in talking about it, and her television interview provides the right moment for her to say something about it. In like manner, we might say that Donoghue uses Ma to critique the porous, not to say invasive, conception of personal identity. She's 'irritated' by being 'treated like we're the only ones who ever lived through something terrible.' But the puffy-haired woman's own comments and questions emphasize this same societal flaw of a lack of psychic boundaries. She tells Ma how viewers want to 'know' some pretty personal, invasive stuff: did Ma become emotionally attached to her captor, how did she feel after her stillbirth, look how we were flooded with well wishes from people when we announced we would be interviewing you, people are shocked that you're still breastfeeding, 'some of our viewers' want to know this, or that, and so on. Even if Ma hadn't complained about other people's projections, we would still get the sense that we are part of a society whose demand for deeply personal biography is rapacious and invasive. Finally, some of the implied criticism of Ma's 'parenting technique' raises questions about the matter of necessity, i.e., the extent to which how we make decisions is pre-determined by factors outside our control. The puffy-haired woman's questions ('our viewers want to know') express a certain amount of criticism of Ma: why did she tell Jack that the world outside their eleven-foot square home was a fantasy? Why didn't she give him up for adoption? Doesn't bearing your captor's child mean you love him somehow, or that he cares for his son? She couldn't possibly have raised him very well without family, professional help, &c. Now, this last point is true, so far as it goes. But it misses the essential fact that, Ma not having access to family, professional help, whatever, had to make do with what she had. The criticism implies that she had a choice as to whether she should resort to making use of other resources, but in fact her environment determined the circumstances under which she could raise Jack. The criticism is off-base because it doesn't allow for the fact that Ma had no choice as to what resources she could call upon for child-rearing. The same kind of point could be made about how she chose to treat the outside world (although earlier in the book, while they are still in Room, she begins the process of teaching Jack that Outside is 'for real'); as Ma herself says, 'what was I meant to tell him?' We can infer a wider application of this discovery. Too often in our own lives we don't account for determining factors when judging others' decisions or choices (or we discount those factors too easily); say, rather, that we don't grasp that those factors preclude the possibility of choice, of making a decision other than the one we are judging as bad. That said, it is important to recognise that we can't go too far in that direction, otherwise no one would be able to change their circumstances (for better or worse) at all; but, to return to the embedded form of this 'social commentary' in Room, Ma, while she does get a bit defensive, has a point. A number of her reactions in response to her circumstances could hardly have been made otherwise. (The limits of determinative necessity are also shown in that Ma expresses things like choosing not to let Jack's biological father, her captor, form a 'relationship' with Jack, and the like.) 2) Jack's own reflective commentary is limited. Most of his perspective is taken up with observing facial cues. He is characteristically good at reading Ma's face, less so when it comes to others. As he becomes accustomed to looking at the puffy-haired woman, however, he becomes aware of a few things. Right away, he notices her 'special voice', and toward the end of the interview, he sees that she makes 'one of her wide smiles that's fake like a robot's.' (It's possible he noticed this when he saw her on TV before, as he knew the woman from sitting on a red couch on a TV show, but I'd have to double-check the rest of the book.) The second observation, that the woman has a fake smile, is strikingly apt. 3) There are some general points that can be made about Jack's idiom. First, if he seems to be following the conversation very well for a five-year old boy, it is because he has learned how to do so; one of the games he and Ma played while stuck in Room was called 'Parrot' (see p. 34), in which they listen to someone speak on TV, then she mutes it and Jack has to repeat what the person said up to the point where she muted it. Second, although when writing for Jack Donoghue sometimes uses what seem to be uncharacteristic turns of phrase (Jack observes that his mother 'snarls', for instance), she has done a great job of creating an idiomatic form of writing for Jack to narrate with. One of his characteristic grammatical constructions is 'subject-verb-comma-pronoun-participial phrase'. That is, instead of referring to a person doing first one action (indicated by a verb) and then going immediately to a participle, Jack frequently describes one action a person does, and then includes a pronoun referring back to the subject of the verb and the present tense of the verb 'to be' (both of which would usually be omitted in a complex sentence) before going on with the participle. Another characteristic turn of phrase is to string two separate verb phrases together without a conjunction of some kind, like we would normally use. Thus, in this passage, Donoghue writes: ' "[...]" says Ma, she's stroking my wetted face'; 'I recognize Morris our lawyer, he's reading pages'; '[E]verybody looks at me, I shut my eyes'; 'Ma's got tears coming down her face, she puts up her hands to catch them'; and so on. Of course there are plenty of times when Jack uses more typical grammatical constructions (the book would be unreadable if he didn't), but this kind of construction seems like the kind of thing any young child would come up with. Another childlike idiom employed by Donoghue is the casual use of poor syntax or just plain odd turns-of-phrase. In the examples above, Jack uses 'wetted' for 'wet', and says that his Ma put 'up her hands to catch' her tears. On seeing the puffy-haired woman, he observes 'I never saw an actual person from TV before, I wish it was Dora instead' (employing both his characteristic grammatical construction and the idiomatic childhood use of simple past and present tenses: 'I never saw', 'I wish it was'). During the interview, he observes Ma's reactions: 'Ma looks not friendly'; 'Ma's eyes have gone skinny'; 'Ma's face is frozen'. Jack also describes her in more ordinary terms Ma 'looks down', 'makes a face', &c., but these are the kind of thing, again, which we can expect from a boy of his age. Finally, Jack also displays the naïvete of children who don't grasp implicit statements, as when he comments, puzzled, 'But pillows go under heads' after his Ma remarks 'What, put a pillow over his head?' Jack's own perspective is fleetingly but tellingly expressed in the same part of the passage when he has trouble connecting the referent 'his' in what Ma says to himself: 'Is that me Ma means?' he wonders. This is characteristic of Jack, who, after all, has almost never been referred to in the third person in conversation between other people (when Ma and 'Old Nick', his name for their captor, talk about him, he has trouble telling to whom they are referring). I think from all this we can see that, as I said, this passage is exemplary of the three aspects to which I drew attention.
One stylistic element woven throughout the story is the typical childlike grasp on time. While in Room, Jack knows what time things are supposed to happen because they have a digital watch, but he doesn't know how long time takes. Whenever he is waiting, it is, to him, an eternity:
I stare out the window at the house with no lights. A bit of it is open now that wasn't before I don't think, the garage, a huge dark square. I'm looking for hundreds of hours, my eyes get prickly. [Another of Jack's usual sentences.] Someone comes out of the dark but it's another police I never saw before. [p. 154] Jack is waiting in the back of a police cruiser while the police go to rescue his mother, and, from his perspective, is 'looking for hundreds of hours' for his mother, but it is probably more along the lines of a few minutes.More of Jack's 'hours':
Today is one of the days when Ma is Gone.And one final quotation in which Jack, like all children, expresses a hyperbolic sense of the passing of time:
She won't wake up properly. She's here but not really. She stays in Bed with the pillows on her head. ....
I eat my hundred cereal and I stand on my chair to wash the bowl and Meltedy Spoon. ...
I don't have a bath on my own, I just get dressed.
There's hours and hours, hundreds of them. ...
I hate when [Ma's] Gone, but I like that I get to watch TV all day. ...
When I'm hungry again I check Watch but he only says 9:47. Cartoons are over so I watch football and the planet where people win prizes. The puffy-hair woman is on her red couch talking to a man who used to be a golf star. [pp. 60-1] In addition to the sensation of time typical of children - '[t]here's hours and hours, hundreds of them' working out to be no more than a few hours (I'm not sure when Jack wakes up, but if it's at six at the earliest, that means he's been up and about for about four hours by the time he checks the time) - this passage also reveals some of Jack's idiosyncratic modes of narrative speech. Ma is 'Gone' (a euphemism for having had too many painkillers; in other words, stoned; actually, the use of euphemisms and an unwillingness to directly confront the issue is typical of children when their parents refuse to discuss matters openly, as is discussed in, e.g., The Elephant in the Room, by Eviatar Zerubavel - who, by the way, has just about the coolest name ever); and Jack refers to what to other children would be commonplace household items as if they were almost alive (this, again, is not necessarily unusual in children, but in Jack's case it is heightened): there's Bed, not 'a bed'; 'Meltedy Spoon'; 'Watch'. Most idiosyncratic are Jack's 'hundred cereal' (their supply of cereal is not refreshed frequently, so he's only allowed to eat so much of it each day) and the use of 'planet' to refer to what is on TV. I'd be interested to learn if the 'puffy-hair woman' on her red couch is based on an actual TV show host; her identity is never given in the book (and details of her appearance have undoubtedly been altered) because, no doubt, the real person upon whom this character is based would probably not be pleased at being portrayed so unsympathetically as she was in the passage I quoted above.
We go in a bit of the government to get Grandma a new Social Security card because she lost the old one, we have to wait for years and years. Afterwards she takes me in a coffee shop where there's no green beans, I choose a cookie bigger than my face. [p. 285] Jack is being looked after by his Grandma at this point. The structure of the sentences we have seen before; I have parsed out how they work. In addition to having 'to wait for years and years' for Grandma's new Social Security card, Jack's narrative resembles the sort of thing you'd get from most five-year olds. The 'government' is able to be 'a bit', and is something you can 'go in'; Jack's observation about the coffee shop is that it has 'no green beans'; and (more hyperbole typical of children), the cookie he chooses he describes as 'bigger than [his] face'.Another stylistic element of Room typical of children generally is Jack's sense of his personal magical powers:
After, I play Telephone with toilet rolls, I like how the words boom when I talk through a fat one. ...
I call Boots and Patrick and Baby Jesus, I tell them all about my new powers now I'm five. "I can be invisible," I whisper at my phone, "I can turn my tongue inside out and go blasting like a rocket into Outer Space." [pp. 56-7]
Old Nick's a stinking swiping zombie robber. "We could have a mutiny at him," I tell [Ma]. "I'll smash him all to bits with my jumbo megatron transformer blaster." [p. 96]
I'm riding lots on the bike that doesn't move, I can reach the pedals with my toes if I stretch. I zoom it for thousands of hours so my legs will get super strong and I can run away back to Ma and save her again. I lie down on the blue mats, my legs are tired. I lift the free weights, I don't know what's free about them. I put one on my tummy, I like how it holds me down so I won't fall off the spinny world. [pp. 273-4] Jack 'phones' Boots (from Dora the Explorer), Patrick (the starfish from Spongebob Squarepants) and Baby Jesus - at that point in the story they are Jack's only 'friends' other than Ma. I don't imagine children phoning imaginary friends (among whom Baby Jesus should probably number, for Jack, although Jack prays to him) is all that unusual, and playing 'Telephone' with the cardboard rolls from toilet paper is not unusual at all, even for children who haven't spent their whole lives in an eleven-foot square room. Other children would probably 'phone' other real people whom they know - I once heard of a boy who used a play phone to 'call' and speak to his daddy. 'Outer Space' for Jack is a broad concept - actually, quite like what the Fraggles mean by it when they use the term - but boasting about his newfound powers now he's five years old is not idiosyncratic. Now I come to think of it, it is uncanny how Jack's social commentary (embedded, as we have seen) about the things he encounters 'Outside' is so much like the Fraggles' remarks about the 'silly creatures of Outer Space', down to the misunderstandings caused by not knowing what is going on. Other than that detail, the powers Jack claims he has have probably been claimed by countless children, whether magical (becoming invisible, 'blasting like a rocket into Outer Space') or actual (turning his tongue inside out, although I'm not sure what he means by that; it seems like one of those physical dexterity tricks that children are proud to master, only with an element of the hyperbolic). In the second passage, Jack insults 'Old Nick' (his name for Ma's captor) with the worst insult he can think of (the 'swiping' is another term borrowed from 'Dora' - in this case, Old Nick 'swiped' Ma), and informs Ma that he'll 'smash' Old Nick 'all to bits' with a magical weapon - one he really knows to be imaginary; he's just expressing what he'd like to do to Old Nick. The passage also includes the kind of awkward English typical of children: Jack tell his mother that they should have a mutiny 'at' Old Nick. In the third passage, Jack pedals (for 'thousands of hours' - yet another hyperbolic comment on the passage of time typical of children generally) in order to get 'super strong' so he can 'save Ma again' (like he did the first time, when he ran from Old Nick to find help), in this case, from the psychiatric hospital where she is staying. Jack also magically imagines the weight of the weight is able to help keep him from being thrown off the 'spinny world'. This kind of magical thinking is typical of children. Peculiar to Jack is his commentary on figures of speech that he doesn't understand: 'I don't know what's free about them', he says of the 'free weights'. I don't know whether children of Jack's age who grow up under more ordinary circumstances are able to understand idioms better than Jack does, but he seems to comment on it more than most.Jack's inability to understand idiomatic speech is characteristic of him, rather than something deserving of the term 'embedded social commentary', but I'll return to it briefly under that heading. For now it is worth looking at some of Jack's insights into life.
Because Jack is only five years old, his insights and reflections are never very long. They don't lack depth, but you might say that they are expressed in simple, even simplistic terms - as they should be. It is fair to say that my favourable comparison of Jack's insights to those of, say, Lin from Shantaram stem in part from the fact that Jack's are briefer and to the point. No paragraph after paragraph of Jack going on about love, choice, consequence, freedom, suffering, and the like (although as I found in my marginal commentary on Shantaram, the link to which is provided above, the reflections were, after all, mostly well done).
Jack's reflections even include references to literature. The most impressive of these is the recurrence of 'worms' - emblematic of the decay of the body after death - a motif which comes from The Count of Monte Cristo. (Ma and Jack don't have the book, but are familiar with the story.)
Another literary allusion, by way of personal reflection by Jack - coincidental in a literal sense but no doubt included by Donoghue with a touch of irony - is the following:
The sea's real, I'm just remembering. It's all real in Outside, everything there is, because I saw the airplane in the blue between the clouds. Ma and me can't go there because we don't know the secret code, but it's real all the same.To return to Jack's musings on death, as inspired by The Count of Monte Cristo:
Before I didn't even know to be mad that we can't open Door, my head was too small to have Outside in it. When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I'm five I know everything. [p. 102] Narrated like a true five year-old boy. Jack, like (so far as I am able to tell) every single child there is, believes he 'know[s] everything' now that he's older. More amusing still is the fact that he imagines himself as somehow grown-up - 'now I'm five', he narrates - then, he might have said, I was a 'little kid'. The precise allusion, 'When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid', is, of course, to Paul's famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians: 'When I was a child... I thought like a child'. [1 Cor. 13.11] The allusion is ironic because Jack has never read the Bible (at this time Jack and Ma are still in captivity in Room, and not only has Old Nick not provided them with a Bible, but apparently Ma didn't request one, despite the fact that Ma and Jack pray regularly), so wouldn't know the passage to allude to it deliberately, yet the allusion is evidently there. Donoghue may, I suppose, plead unconsciousness (as it were) with regard to having alluded to a particular Biblical passage, but, given that the structure of the phrase is identical to that in 1 Corinthians, to what other conclusion can we plausibly reach? Admittedly, this reflection on Jack's part (and the accompanying childlike theory of psychological development - 'my head was too small to have Outside in it') is not exactly reflective, in the connotative sense. But it is, if you like, more characteristically Jack's than, say, the lengthy reflections in Shantaram were characteristically Lin's. (You can, for example, imagine Jack saying, in dialogue, what he narrates; you cannot do the same with much of what Lin narrates.) In any case, Jack's allusion to Paul's 'when I was a child' passage is doubly ironic: first, because it possesses dramatic (or, say, narrative) irony, as I showed above; second, because Jack is applying to himself a thought that is obviously inappropriate; no one reading Room will be labouring under the illusion that Jack 'know[s] everything' 'now [he's] five'.
"OK, OK." [Ma] takes a loud breath. Do you remember the Count of Monte Cristo?"
"He was locked up in a dungeon on an island."
"Yeah, but remember how he got out? He pretended to be his dead friend, he hid in the shroud and the guards threw him into the sea but the Count didn't drown, he wriggled out and swam away." [p. 123]
My mouth's starting to shake. "Why he has to bury me?"
"Because dead bodies start to get stinky fast."
Room's pretty stinky already today from not flushing and the vomity pillow and all. " 'The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out...' "
"I don't want to get buried and gooey with the worms crawling." [p. 124]
"OK," says Ma, her voice all scratchy. "We're scave ['scaredybrave'], aren't we? We're totally scave. See you outside." She puts my arms the special way with my elbows sticking out. She folds Rug over me and the light's gone.
I'm rolled up in the itchy dark.
"Not too tight?"
I try if I can get my arms up above my head and back, scraping a bit.
"OK," I say.
Then we just wait. ... I think about the Count in the bag with the worms crawling in. The fall down down down crash into the sea. Can worms swim?
Dead, Truck, Run, Somebody—no, Wriggle Out, then Jump, Run, Somebody, Note, Blowtorch. I forgot Police before Blowtorch, it's too complicated, I'm going to mess it all up and Old Nick will bury me for real and Ma will be waiting always. [pp. 134-5]
Something pressing on me, that must be Ma's hand. She needs me to be Super Prince JackerJack, so I stay extra still. No more moving, I'm Corpse, I'm the Count, no, I'm his friend even deader, I'm all stiff like a broken robot with a power cut. [p. 135]
Oh, I have to Wriggle Out, I was forgetting. I start to do like a snake, but Rug's got tighter I don't know how, I'm stuck I'm stuck. Ma Ma Ma...I can't get out like we practiced even though we practiced and practiced, it's all gone wrong, sorry. Old Nick's going to take me to a place and bury me and the worms crawl in the worms crawl out...I'm crying again, my nose is running, my arms are knotted under my chest, I'm fighting Rug because she's not my friend anymore, I'm kicking like Karate but she's got me, she's the shroud for the corpses to fall in the sea...
Sound's quieter. Not moving. The truck's stopped.
It's a stop, it's a stop sign stop, that means I'm meant to be doing Jump that's five on the list but I didn't do three yet, if I can't wriggle out how can I jump? I can't get to four five six seven eight or nine, I'm stuck on three, he's going to bury me with the worms... [pp. 138-9]
Ma's not here, no time to cry, I'm Prince JackerJack, I have to be JackerJack or the worms crawl in. [p. 139] Jack's reflections on death occur, unsurprisingly, at precisely the moment where he risks dying. They are, as you might imagine, short, unsophisticated, and derivative (mostly Jack working in some version or part of the line 'the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out') - but for all that are effective. Actually, Donoghue does very well to sustain the suspense of Ma's and Jack's trickery entirely from Jack's perspective, writing about a tense escape from a five year-old's perspective without dissipating the suspense. Even while afraid that he is going to fail, Jack pauses when he thinks of death, as when he thinks '[Rug is] the shroud for the corpses to fall into the sea...', and then trails off. He does the same when, while stuck on the third step of the plan, he considers that Old Nick is going to bury him 'with the worms'. Mostly, then, Jack's thoughts about death take the form of trailing off in the face of the thought of it (made even more horrible, in fact, because we are aware that, were Jack to be buried by Old Nick, he would be buried alive), and obsessing with its physical effects that he knows of from the only source from where his (so far as I can tell) only familiarity with death stems. In sum, Jack's reflections about death - at a point when he has little time for reflection - are characteristic of him. Due, in part, to the dramatic situation in which they occur, they communicate to us something of sublime terror Jack seems to be apprehending. Actually, Jack returns to this reflective theme late in the book, but the poignancy of the moment can only be communicated if you read it.Other than that, Jack has few sustained reflections, as you might expect, since he's only five years old. But they appear here and there.
In the night in our bed that's not Bed, I rub the duvet, it's puffed-upper than Duvet was. When I was four I didn't know about the world, or I thought it was only stories. Then Ma told me about it for real and I thought I knowed everything. But now I'm in the world all the time, I actually don't know much, I'm always confused. [p. 313] This serves as a coda, so to speak, to Jack's experiences after leaving Room, appearing, as it does, toward the end of the book. The passage includes typical 'kid-speak': Jack thought he 'knowed' everything (it may have been in The Mother Tongue that I read about some typical 'logical' verb forms that children use but that are actually incorrect, but if it was, I didn't cite the passage in my marginal commentary on the book). But it also includes a bit that struck me as overdone, and (it not being the only such example) I can see why someone could find the style tiresome: when Jack tells us that the duvet is 'puffed-upper than Duvet was', it is a construction that induces cringeing (cringing? damn!) in its readers. Most of the time, in my view, Donoghue is able to carry off a childlike style without indulging in baby-talk or unnecessary awkwardness, but here is one of the spots where she falters. To return to the reflective aspect of this passage, Jack effectively communicates his sense of dislocation, his sense of disorientation, and yet his resiliency as well. His final sentence in this passage - 'I'm in the world all the time, I actually don't know much, I'm always confused' - is a sign of his gradual maturing. In a way, it is something that is true of all of us (if only we were as mature as he to acknowledge it). It serves as a counterpoint to his earlier statement, which we looked at above, about how 'now I'm five I know everything'.Another pair of reflective moments:
It's quiet when she's [Jack's grandmother] gone, except there's squeaky sounds in the trees, I think it's birds but I don't see. The wind makes the leaves go swishy swishy. I hear a kid shout, maybe in another yard behind the big hedge or else he's invisible. God's yellow face has a cloud on top. Colder suddenly. The world is always changing brightness and hotness and soundness, I never know how it's going to be the next minute. The cloud looks kind of gray blue, I wonder has it got rain inside it. If rain starts dropping on me I'll run in the house before it drowns my skin. [pp. 268-9]
I'm watching the flames dancing all orange under the pasta pot. The match is on the counter with its end all black and curly. I touch it to the fire, it makes a hiss and gets a big flame again so I drop it on the stove. The little flame goes invisible nearly, it's nibbling along the match little by little till it's all black and a small smoke goes up like a silvery ribbon. The smell is magic. I take another match from the box, I light the end in the fire and this time I hold on to it even when it hisses. It's my own little flame I can carry around with me. I wave it in a circle, I think it's gone out but it comes back. [p. 271] The second passage is not directly reflective, since Jack doesn't narrate any thoughts which come to him from looking at the fire and playing with the match, but both it and the first passage describe some of the wondrousness of ordinary things. Despite the sometimes worn imagery (flames 'dancing', smoke like a 'silvery ribbon'), the passages do a good job of portraying some of the strangeness of everyday life. 'The world is always changing brightness and hotness and soundness, I never know how it's going to be the next minute', says Jack, and that is true. It is difficult to appreciate, both because, as a matter of course, we can hardly spend all our time wondering at the endless variability of nature, and because we don't do enough of it. Jack's reflections here help call our attention to the wondrousness of supposedly ordinary things, things we take for granted, both natural (the changes effected by a cloud obscuring the sun, or the wind blowing through trees), and man-made (the beauty of flames dancing on a stove). The first passage also anticipates Jack's conclusion about his experience of the world that we looked at, above. I should point out that both of these passages precede minor dangers common to childhood experience: in the first, Jack is subsequently stung by a bee (p. 269; and he says of it 'my hand's exploding the worst hurt ever'), in the second, Jack's step-grandfather has to put out the match Jack is playing with before he burns himself.One final reflective moment:
I think about all the kids in the world, how they're not on TV they're real, they eat and sleep and pee and poo like me. If I had something sharp and prick them they'd bleed, if I tickled them they'd laugh. I'd like to see them but it makes me dizzy that there's so many and I'm only one. [pp. 228-9] This passage features another of Donoghue's allusions to literature which Jack can hardly be said to know, in this case, Shylock's famous quote, from The Merchant of Venice, in which he says, 'If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?' As with the allusion to St. Paul, one rather feels Donoghue is trying too hard. Jack's more characteristic reflections about all the other kids, 'how they're not on TV they're real,' and how he'd 'like to see them but it makes me dizzy that there's so many and I'm only one' feel more true to Jack than the thinly disguised allusion. The problem, you might say, is that a five year-old could come up with a thought like that without any familiarity with Shakespeare, but it is impossible for Donoghue to include such a passage without, as it were, going over Jack's head. But for the awkward allusion, the passage otherwise effectively communicates Jack's 'dizziness' at the thought of there being so many other boys and girls out there.Finally, we should look at a few passages of 'embedded social commentary'. Jack and his Grandma go to a playground:
There's a ladder of rope like the hammock but flopping down, it's too sore for my fingers. There's lots of bars to hang from if I had more stronger arms or I really was a monkey. There's a bit I show Grandma where robbers must have took the steps away.After Jack's Ma overdoses on painkillers (it is arguable whether she attempted suicide) as a result of a mental breakdown, Jack is taken to stay with his Grandma and step-grandfather (his mother's parents divorced some time after Ma was abducted):
"No, look, there's a fireman's pole there instead," she says.
"Oh, yeah, I saw that in TV. But why they live up here?"
"Oh, it isn't one of their real poles, just a play one."
When I was four I thought everything in TV was just TV, then I was five and Ma unlied about lots of it being pictures of real and Outside being totally real. Now I'm in Outside but it turns out lots of it isn't real at all. [pp. 276-7] The first thing to note is that Jack's 'social commentary' (for lack of a better term) is similar in content and structure to his reflections. It might have been better not to distinguish between them, except I think that you can see a certain difference. Jack's reflections are often personal and don't contain a certain amount of implied criticism. Jack's 'social commentary' varies in 'bite', and I think Donoghue does a better job of keeping such passages characteristic (whereas we have seen that she smuggles in allusions to literature which are uncharacteristic of Jack in some of his reflections) of him. To focus on this passage, Jack is, in a way, making the point that a lot of what is 'real' really isn't. Some of it has to do with his taking figures of speech literally (something all children are prone to do but which is exacerbated in Jack due to the conditions in which he lived until he was five): he makes a big deal about not being a monkey when it comes to 'monkey bars', and he is confused when Grandma tells him about the 'fireman's pole'. This comment doesn't have a lot of 'bite', but you can feel a certain 'hey, when you think about it, isn't this kinda strange?' in Jack's statement about so much of 'Outside' not being 'real at all'. One might say that Donoghue's approach in Room is to open the door (as it were) to thinking twice about our society in the way in which Jack learns how to be a part of it, rather than an obviously didactic approach (except, as we have seen, where it is in character). I should return briefly to Donoghue's alluding to other works of literature (to say nothing of her use of TV shows and children's picture books), and point out that some of her more successful allusions include Jack's reflections on death, inspired by the story of the Count of Monte Cristo (I looked only at such reflections in the context of his escape from Room, but they recur later in the book, too), as well her use of quotations from, as well as of an explicit reference to, Alice in Wonderland, and also quotations of lines of poetry by the psychiatrist, Dr. Clay. You will have to read the book yourselves to see these other references to literature, and I am anyhow unfamiliar with the poems from which Dr. Clay quotes.
I'm in the house with the hammock. ... The white car is outside not moving, I rode in it from the Clinic even though there was no booster, Dr. Clay wanted me to stay for continuity and therapeutic isolation but Grandma shouted that he wasn't allowed to keep me like a prisoner when I do have a family. ... "Is she dead?" [Jack is asking about Ma.]As the following example demonstrates, even though Donoghue has elsewhere gently implied that we are, as a society, over-reliant on expertise, she doesn't let conventional, inexpert parenting off the hook:
"No, I keep telling you. Definitely not." Grandma rests her head on the wood around the glass.
Sometimes when persons say definitely it sounds actually less true. "Are you just playing she's alive?" I ask Grandma. "Because if she's not, I don't want to be either."
There's all tears running all down her face again. "I don't—I can't tell you any more than I know, sweetie. They said they'd call as soon as they had an update." [p. 253] Given Donoghue's sympathetic handling of the staff and other patients at the Clinic (the Cumberland Clinic, which, so far as I can tell, is a fictional mental hospital), I don't think that she can be said to be unequivocally against psychological expertise, but this passage (as well as a bit later in the book, when Grandma talks back to Dr. Clay after he admonishes her for not providing an 'acceptable standard of care') does, I think, hint that it is possible that North American society relies a little too heavily on expertise. In a sense, the whole book is an argument of a sort along this line, for the whole book through Jack demonstrates his resiliency. Notably, Donoghue always places psychological or developmental terms (such as the above-mentioned 'continuity' and 'therapeutic isolation', as well as 'acceptable standard of care') in italics. From Jack's perspective it is no doubt that he is 'Parroting' such terms - as we have learned, he is skilled at hearing 'grown-up talk', even if he doesn't quite understand it - but the plot of the book, the peculiar (as in individual or specific) emphasis given the psychological jargon, and Jack's own resilient character suggest a certain degree of probing. Again, it is more of a 'hey, let's take a second look, isn't it kind of strange?' approach, rather than outright rejection. However, Donoghue doesn't let Grandma's rolled-up sleeves know-how off the hook. Conventional responses to children's queries about serious matters get a certain amount of indirect flak, as Jack's comment here suggests. 'Sometimes when persons say definitely it sounds actually less true.' - how true this is. This bit of 'social commentary' - and there are other points at which Jack rightly questions whether what grown-ups are telling him is wholly truthful - opens the door to get us to think about how common, and how baleful, the 'little white lies', the untrue things we tell our kids because we don't think they can handle the truth (often because it is we who have trouble facing it), are. Even so, Jack's response to Grandma's answer is overdone - and, let's face it, a bit of emotional blackmail - as we might expect. Although this is a failing on Jack's part, it is not a failing on Donoghue's. Children often wage emotional war with their parents (to be fair, sometimes they have little choice and are never taught any other method of dealing with others when faced with not getting their own way), and Jack is no exception: he would be insufferable, in fact, if he were.
In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time. Even Grandma often says that, but she and Steppa don't have jobs, so I don't know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as well. In Room me and Ma had time for everything. I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter over all the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there's only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.I think one last example will suffice to show the presence of 'embedded social commentary' in Room. This passage, I felt, was one of the sharpest critiques (by implication, of course) of an aspect of contemporary society, second, perhaps, only to the interview scene which we looked at at the start of this marginal commentary.
Also everywhere I'm looking at kids, adults mostly don't seem to like them, not even the parents do. They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but they don't want to actually play with them, they'd rather drink coffee talking to other adults. Sometimes there's a small kid crying and the Ma of it doesn't even hear. [pp. 286-7] Shortly after this passage, Jack gives a hug to a boy he just met; as he has a hard time with gauging distance and how to move properly outside of Room, he knocks the boy over (see pp. 287-8). When Grandma tells him not to hug strangers, Jack asks why not, and her only answer is '[w]e just don't'. Admittedly, it is hard to explain to a five year-old the vast cultural system of social cues, even more to a child who has not grown up in it, but, at least in my view, Donoghue uses the moment as another bit of gentle questioning: 'hey, isn't this strange?'. To look directly at the passage quoted, I should point out that it is one of the longest sustained passages of sustained 'embedded social commentary' in the work (it may not seem long, but remember, we're talking about a book written from the perspective of a five year-old boy here), which makes it slightly incongruous, although Jack often introduces (as it were), segments of the book when he is doing or observing something new with a few lengthier paragraphs, so it is not entirely out of sorts. Neither observation, meanwhile, can be said to be especially original (least of all the first), but have some 'bite' to them - particularly the second, I thought. The first is pretty much cliché - who hasn't pointed out that our society is stressed out and we never seem to have any time - but the second one is bang on. While what children do must of necessity sooner or later be determined by adults, it is the case (as Jack's observation implies) that they are often unfairly treated as appendages to the wills and desires of their caretakers.
[After dinner] I'm in the living room channel surfing, that means looking at all the planets as fast as a surfer, and I hear my name, not in real but in TV.
"...need to listen to Jack."
"We're all Jack, in a sense," says another man, sitting at the big table.
"Obviously," says another one.
Are they called Jack too, are they some of the million?
"The inner child, trapped in our personal Room one oh one," says another of the men, nodding.
I don't think I was ever in that room.
"But then perversely, on release, finding ourselves alone in a crowd..."
"Reeling from the sensory overload of modernity," says the first one.
There's a woman too. "But surely, at a symbolic level, Jack's the child sacrifice," she says, "cemented into the foundations to placate the spirits."
"I would have thought the more relevant archetype here is Perseus—born to a walled-up virgin, set adrift in a wooden box, the victim who returns as hero," says one of the men.
"Of course Kaspar Hauser famously claimed he'd been happy in his dungeon, but perhaps he really meant that nineteenth-century German society was just a bigger dungeon."
"At least Jack had TV."
Another man laughs. "Culture as a shadow on the wall of Plato's cave."
Grandma comes in and switches it right off, scowling.
"It was about me," I tell her.
"Those guys spent too much time at college."
"Ma says I have to go to college."
Grandma's eyes roll. "All in good time. Pj's and teeth now."
She reads me The Runaway Bunny but I'm not liking it tonight. I keep thinking what if it was the mother bunny that ran away and hid and the baby bunny couldn't find her. [pp. 293-4] The final paragraph, which is not directly related to the 'embedded social commentary', was worth quoting if only for the aching poignancy. The Runaway Bunny - which I am sure I have read, but can't remember enough of it to quote - is applied well by Jack to his situation. In a sense, when Jack thinks about 'what if' the mother bunny ran away and hid and the baby bunny couldn't find her, he is 'playing' (we often underestimate the extent to which children use play to grasp some of the deepest, and grim, aspects of human life, as when, for example, they would play planes crashing into buildings after September 11th). Of course this reversal of the plot of Margaret Brown's sentimental classic produces a nightmarish image, but under the circumstances it is easy to see why Jack is having such thoughts. More than anything else abandonment is the most horrific of things to a child (which is why Jack would rather die than be alive without Ma). Obviously, the main 'social commentary' occurs when Jack is watching the television programme. The comments made are so obviously pretentious, they reminded me of the kind of things said on The Onion's fictional and satirical panel show, 'In The Know'. (Recently The Onion won't let you view a lot of their content online without paying for it, which I suppose is fair, but it does mean you might not be able to see what I mean here.) To a certain extent, in this passage more than any other, Donoghue breaks the fourth wall. I would go so far as to say that, if nowhere else, then at least here Donoghue indulges in a certain amount of gleeful savaging of something she has no patience for. I am not altogether unsympathetic to her position, but it must be said that in this passage Donoghue lapses from her otherwise competent (if not excellent) treatment of society from Jack's perspective. Nowhere else, if memory serves, does Jack respond to the oddities of life with an incredulous 'Huh?' Put another way, Donoghue so thinly disguises her critique of 'idiotic post-modernist academia' that you can practically see her reflection on the TV screen although it is Jack watching. On the bright side, this is the only serious lapse that I can recall (there may well have been others), but it is a pretty bad one. If some of the criticism about how we so often destroy other people by demanding unwarranted access to their intimate lives is transparent in the interview scene (which makes a comment of Grandma's about how Jack's learning about boundaries dramatically ironic), at least what happens is characteristic of the people involved in the scene, and not incongruous with what we have seen of Jack's reflective observations. Here you just get the sense that Donoghue is unnecessarily picking fights - even though, it must be said, she does have a point. You can imagine just such a ridiculous conversation being held by talking heads, in the event something like Jack's and Ma's rescue were to occur. Even so, this scene (except for the final paragraph) seems to me to be a serious narrative failure. It is emphasised by the incongruous use of 'scowling' to describe Grandma's expression. Donoghue elsewhere does an excellent job of describing faces from Jack's perspective without resorting to conventional adverbs or adjectives to do so, as we have seen in, for example, the interview scene. Here, that she resorts to 'scowling', when Jack has rarely so succinctly (or so generically) described faces, strengthens, I think, the sense that the passage is a bit of a blunder. I should say in fairness to Donoghue that her blunder here highlights how well she otherwise conveys the 'wonder and terror' of the adult face to children, or at least to Jack, throughout Room. (As an aside, Ernest Becker, in The Denial of Death, recollects a behaviour common to children, which is the inability to look in the face adults who serve as 'totems' or 'fetishes' for them of the splendour and terror of creation; in this respect Jack is very brave, even though he is peculiarly shy when it comes to people who aren't his Ma, since he is characteristically good at describing faces and the emotional states of others.) Donoghue salvages Jack's descriptive ability by having him notice 'Grandma's eyes roll', at least. Since the implied critique is here transparent, and on a much different level than the note of 'hey, isn't this thing we take for granted actually kind of strange?' which Donoghue usually adopts, I don't think much needs to be said about the issue at hand directly. If there is anything that would be useful to get from the implied critique, I think it is that Donoghue would like to say that abstracting from a particular person's life in such a rarefied way ('[A]t a symbolic level, Jack's the child sacrifice') is facile, vacuous, and even wrong. The reference to Kaspar Hauser is apt, since he was a German youth who appeared out of nowhere in nineteenth-century Germany claiming to have been raised in a small cell, and created a sensation throughout Europe. According to Lang's report (to which I provided the link), however, 'people of sense suspected [him] from the first', and there is reason to believe that his tale of being raised in a dark cell is discreditable. The implicit comparison of Jack to Kaspar Hauser by the TV analyst is one of the redeemable aspects of this passage as a critical look at pseudo-academic analysis, because: a) if he (or she) thinks Kaspar Hauser really lived in a cell, he (say) is a credulous fool; b) if he thinks Jack, like Hauser, is making things up (he would be doing so by indirect analogy, of course, merely by comparing Jack to Kaspar Hauser with the unspoken assumption that if Hauser was lying, it follows that Jack - and, one supposes, his Ma - is too), then he is vicious; and, c) the claim that 'nineteenth-century Germany was really a bigger dungeon' is what Kaspar Hauser really meant is evident foolishness. By the end of the book, Jack has spent no more than three or four weeks outside of Room, in which he had lived, until recently, for the whole of his life, so if there are times where he pines for Room, it is unsurprising. And although Donoghue happily uses Jack to poke holes through the fabric of society, it is clear that she would not take the view that if a child is happier living in a confined space in captivity, he or she should remain there (there being more important things than holding to a limited, childish view of happiness). From what we can gather of Kasper Hauser's character, if he said that he was happy in his cell, he was lying (either about being happy or about being in a cell), and so even though Jack's situation superficially resembles that of Kaspar Hauser, on closer inspection the comparison reveals, not a resemblance between Jack's story and that of Hauser, but the folly of the analyst making the comparison. In brief, this passage serves as a warning that education without character - without wisdom borne of careful reflection on life - results in supposed experts bandying about archetypes, 'symbolic levels', and the like, but coming across as self-important fools. And on that note, I bring my marginal commentary on Room to an end.