Literature / Room
is a 2010 book by Emma Donoghue.
Jack is five years old and lives with his Ma in a single, eleven by eleven foot Room
. He has lived there all his life, ever since he was born. Ma has lived there for seven years, ever since she was taken here by Old Nick
. He has never been outside, seen any more of the sky than the slit of blue that comes through Skylight, or met any human being besides his Ma and Old Nick, who comes in at night to bring food and talk to Ma
Jack is happy in Room, watching the imaginary people on television, playing with his Ma and listening to her stories. He thinks he can live in Room forever... but he can't.Room
was a New York Times bestseller and has won many literary prizes, including the 2010 Booker Prize, the 2011 Orange Prize, and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Emma Donoghue
reports that she decided to write the book after learning of the horrific real life Fritzl case
In 2015, the book was adapted into a film
, with Donoghue penning the screenplay, and Brie Larson
in the role of Ma. The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards
, including Best Picture and Best Director for Lenny Abrahamson
, won 1 of those nominations, with Larson taking home Best Actress. The film's trailer can be seen here.
Not to be confused with The Room
. In fact, you couldn't find two more diametrically opposite films.
Room contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Jack's mother loves him very much and does everything she can for him. His father, on the other hand...
- Adapted Out: In the book, Ma has a brother who has a wife and young daughter, who all play roles in Jack adapting to life outside Room. They're all left out of the movie.
- Adult Fear: What happened to Ma is every parent's worst nightmare - for seven years they had no idea where she was, what was being done to her and if she was even still alive. And then when she finally returns to them, she suffers from depression and tries to kill herself whilst they struggle to help her cope. Ma herself experiences this everytime Jack unintentionally does something that could set off Old Nick and when Nick cuts off their heating and power.
- Anger Born of Worry: Ma gets angry at Jack a few times, when Jack risks upsetting Old Nick, which would endanger them both.
- Armor-Piercing Question: When the interviewer implies that she failed to do what was best for Jack by keeping him with her and not getting him out of the room earlier, Ma is so overcome with guilt that she attempts suicide.
- Badass Bystander: A ordinary dog walker is able to save Jack from being recaptured by Old Nick by spooking the kidnapper into fleeing when it becomes obvious Jack is being abducted, immediately calling the police and staying with the boy until the cops arrive.
- Birthday Hater: Jack is not a birthday hater and is excited to be five years old. However, for Ma, each birthday simply reminds her of how much of her life she has been held captive by Old Nick.
- Bittersweet Ending: Jack and Ma escape Room, and eventually Jack's able to let go of his connection to it. Ma, however, will never truly be able to get over her years of imprisonment and abuse.
- Bodybag Trick: Ma fakes five-year-old Jack's illness and death so he can escape when Old Nick takes him outside in a carpet to bury him. This is the only way either of them will be able to get out of Room.
- Book-Ends: At the beginning, Jack says hello to all of the things in Room. At the end, they return to Room and Jack says goodbye to all the things in Room as well as Room itself, before they leave to move on with their lives.
- Broken Bird: Ma. It's made quite clear that her experience in Room has irreparably damaged her and turned her far more bitter than the sweet person she used to be. Word of God says that she will never really be able to really get over it.
- Carpet-Rolled Corpse: This is part of Ma's Bodybag Trick to help her and her son escape captivity.
- The Cavalry: With a beat cop's brilliant questioning of Jack to locate Ma, the police storm the property in force to rescue her.
- Character Depth: It's a character study, so 3D.
- Child by Rape: Jack was conceived when Old Nick raped Ma.
- Coming-of-Age Story: While Jack is only five years old when the story ends, it is clear by that he has changed much.
- Compressed Adaptation: Though the film evenly splits time between Jack and Ma in Room and in the outside world, it leaves out much of the "slice-of-life" narrative of Room from the novel and a few characters from the second half. Events that took a while in the book also happen much faster in the movie, such as Jack helping the cop find where Room is.
- Constantly Curious: Five-year-old Jack, despite Ma's education of him, is very naive and curious about the world, especially after they escape Room.
- Denied Food as Punishment: Old Nick threatens to leave them alone until they starve to death if Ma ever gives him trouble or tries to escape again.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Having lived indoors all his life, Jack has trouble wearing shoes outside.
- Driven to Suicide: Ma eventually tries to kill herself, but survives.
- Death Faked for You: As part of their escape plan, Joy makes Old Nick believe that Jack died from the untreated illness so he would take the body outside.
- First Time in the Sun: Jack seeing the sky while riding in the back of the truck. The sensory overload of the Unfamiliar Ceiling and the uncomfortable brightness of the sun almost screws up the escape plan.
- In the book, it's early evening and the dimming light doesn't bother him, he even thinks of the fresh air as "black air". But when he does go out in the sun a couple of days later, the light and the wind are all too much. It takes him a couple of weeks to get used to them, and he's still phobic about being rained on.
- Go Mad from the Isolation: Ma's years of isolation before Jack's birth was darkened by this; she left the TV on all day and started to believe that she heard it talk to her. Fortunately, she has a social outlet in Jack.
- GPS Evidence: After Jack manages to escape Old Nick's clutches, an ordinary beat cop is able to locate and rescue Ma by gently interrogating a traumatized child to get a handful of vital clues such as the number of stops Old Nick's truck made, and that the building holding Ma is a shed with a skylight.
- Hates Being Alone: Jack, having lived in a tiny room with his mother all his life, is very unhappy when he can't be with her.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Ma understandably has many small ones while trapped inside Room, which Jack calls "being Gone" or "having a Gone Day". She has a very bad one later after a televised interview, where the reporter blames her for raising Jack in the room instead of asking Old Nick to take him to a hospital; later, she attempts suicide.
- I Just Want to Be Free: Ma hates being trapped in Room, and plans to escape. Her wishes become more urgent after she learns Old Nick has been without a job for six months and, in danger of house foreclosure, might kill her and Jack to hide his crimes.
- Improvised Weapon: Ma tries twice, to kill Old Nick with the toilet seat, but fails.
- Important Haircut: Jack keeps his long hair for a while after escaping Room, saying that that's where his strength is. After Ma's suicide attempt, he has Grandma cut off his ponytail so that Ma can have his strength.
- In the book, the haircut is just as important, but Jack does it himself and it's a general decision he makes. When Grandma discovers him she just "tidies him up", saves his hair and braids it into a bracelet he can give to Ma.
- Infant Immortality: Averted. Ma mentions after the escape that she had another child, a daughter, who died when she was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.
- Innocent Inaccurate: Since he's just five, Jack doesn't understand some of the things around him that are obvious to the reader. Most importantly, he doesn't realize that Old Nick regularly rapes his mother and that's how he was conceived.
- Innocently Insensitive: Due to Jack's age, he doesn't have a complete understanding of the full extent of what his Ma went through in Room, and will bring it up casually in conversation with people. Almost everybody understands this and try to brush it off. Although Ma, struggling with severe PTSD, temporarily snaps and loses her temper at a few points.
- Ironic Name: Ma's name in the movie is revealed to be Joy.
- Kingpin in His Gym: Implied by the treadmill in Old Nick's house.
- Lies to Children: For the first four years of his life, Ma lies to Jack about the existence of other people, to protect him from understanding what they are deprived of. She later confesses this and "unlies" to tell him what's really going on.
- Locked in a Room: This is the premise of the book.
- Lonely Piano Piece: Plays several times in the movie, underpinning Joy's state of mind.
- Mama Bear: Ma, especially whenever Old Nick tries to get a look at Jack.
- Meaningful Name: "Old Nick" is a slang term for Satan. Jack says he saw a cartoon where a guy by that name comes in the night, so he just started calling him that.
- Named by the Adaptation: In the book, Jack often refers to people calling Ma by her "other name" but never reveals what it is. The movie names her Joy Newsome (so that Jack is, by extension, Jack Newsome).
- No Name Given: The readers are never told what Old Nick's real name is. Same goes for Ma. In the movie, Ma has a name: Joy.
- No Object Permanence: Jack has difficulty comprehending that the rest of the world exists outside of his television set.
- Not Afraid of You Anymore: Ma expresses no fear of encountering Old Nick at his court hearing, wanting to look him in the eye to show him that he could not beat her.
- The Outside World: The second part of the story deals with Jack entering the Outside World.
- Paparazzi: They are harassed by these, including a helicopter that tries to take airborne photographs of the mother and child as they are walking on the grounds at the psychiatric hospital they stay at after their escape from Old Nick.
- Playing Sick: Ma and Jack fake that Jack is dying of a stomach bug, then his death, in order to trick Old Nick into taking Jack outside where he can escape.
- Race Lift: In the book, Jack is assisted in his escape and rescue of Ma by Ajeet, an Indian-American guy out walking his dog, and Officer Oh, an Asian-American policewoman. In the film, they are changed to Doug (a white guy) and Officer Parker (a black woman).
- Rape as Drama: Sometimes, Ma makes Jack hide inside the wardrobe so he doesn't have to see what Old Nick is doing to her.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Emma Donoghue was given the idea for the novel from the case of Elisabeth Fritzl, who was held captive in a cellar by her father Josef for 24 years. Elisabeth gave birth to seven of his children, the youngest of whom was five years old when he first emerged from the cellar.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When Jack yells for help while being taken away by Old Nick, a nearby dog walker ends up growing too suspicious, eventually resulting in Old Nick tossing Jack onto the ground and speeding off in his car.
- Shoot Out the Lock: This is how the police get Ma out of the Room once Jack tells them where she is.
- Small, Secluded World: Room is narrated by a 5-year-old who is unaware of anything outside the 12' x 12' room he lives in. Eventually, his mother reveals that they are locked in her kidnapper's garden shed.
- Social Services Does Not Exist: Averted. Social services do exist and immediately spring into action after they escape.
- Stepford Smiler: Ma pretends to be very cheerful and grateful to Old Nick when he comes to Room at night, to keep him happy and to protect her son. She also tries to project a happy image to Jack. But she is still miserable being trapped in Room. Lampshaded when she is interviewed. She says "I did it on autopilot, you know, Stepford Wife."
- Stockholm Syndrome: Averted with Ma, who loathes Old Nick. This doesn't keep some characters from trying to insinuate that she has this, though.
- That Thing Is Not My Grandson: Ma loves Jack unconditionally, but her father rejects him as he can't forget that Jack was conceived by rape. This in sharp contrast with Ma's mother, who immediately accepts her grandson.
- There Are No Therapists: In the film there is no psychological assistance both to the boy or mother in the hospital and thereafter. All we see is Joy sinking deeper and deeper into depression, sleeping all day, fighting with the family until she attempts suicide.
- There is a scene where Jack is with a therapist soon after they return home. Joy refuses to see him.
- This is a drastic change from the book, where they both receive a great deal of counseling. Their therapist, Dr. Clay, is The Shrink version 3. He is an older black man and we get a very clear picture of his personality as well.
- Joy is actually offered therapy when she's first rescued in the film, but quickly shuts down the idea, insisting sge can handle it on her own, which proves to be a mistake. It's implied she goes away to get intense therapy after attempting suicide.
- Two-Act Structure: The first half deals with a woman and her young son, both of whom have been prisoners for years. Then, halfway through the book and the film, they escape, and the story becomes about the two of them trying to adjust to normal lives.
- Unconfessed Unemployment: Old Nick. It gets Foreshadowing in his complaints about how expensive things are.
- Unnamed Parent: Jack always calls his mother "Ma" (and for a long time, he thinks that Ma is her name). He eventually learns that she has another name, but he never uses it. Averted in the movie, where her name is Joy Newsome.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Averted. Ma's escape plan worked out despite the fact that all of its details were spelled out to the audience beforehand.
- Wham Line: "Then I see Ma's pill bottles open on the table, they look mostly empty. Never more than two, that's the rule, how could they be mostly empty, where did the pills go?"
- Wicked Stepmother: Inverted with Leo; despite Ma being hostile to him at first, he's a far better and sweeter grandparent figure for Jack than his mother's father is. He and Jack have a good bond by the end of the book, when Jack considers him to be a "real grandparent" (which Ma hopes her own father will grow into being).
- Wild Child: Discussed and averted. Jack is described by the media as a feral child, but Ma actually raised him quite well, despite their isolation.