Literature / Room

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The film poster.

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 Brie Larson in the role of Ma. The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, won 1 of those nominations, with Brie Larson taking home Best Actress. The film's trailer can be seen here.

Not to be confused with The Room.

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...
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: The movie version of the shed that is Room shows no sign of the soundproofing and general wall solidifying work that its book conterpart underwent and the conversation mentioning it is absent from the movie. It also turns out to be in a quite crowded neighborhood. These two things taken together make the fact that nobody ever noticed Ma and Jack's high-pitched screaming less believable.
  • Anger Born of Worry: Ma gets angry at Jack a few times, when Jack risks upsetting Old Nick, which would endanger them both.
  • 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.
  • Bookends: 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.
  • The Cavalry: With a beat cop's brilliant questioning of Jack to locate Ma, the police storm the property in force to rescue her.
  • 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.
  • Despair Event Horizon: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Jack and Ma actually escape Room halfway through the book, with the second half focusing on their struggle to adapt to the real world.
  • 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 BSOD: Ma understandably has many small ones while trapped inside Room, which Jack calls "being Gone". She has a very bad one later after a televised interview, where the reporter blames her for raising Jack in the room, where 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Locked in a Room: This is the premise of the book.
  • Mama Bear: Ma, especially whenever Old Nick tries to get a look at Jack.
  • Meaningful Name: "Old Nick" is a slang term for Satan.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Rape as Drama: Sometimes, Ma makes Jack hide inside the wardrobe.
  • 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.
  • 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 Room. This doesn't keep some characters from trying to insinuate that she has this, though.
  • That Thing Is Not My Child!: 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.
  • Unconfessed Unemployment: Old Nick. It gets Foreshadowing in his complaints about how expensive things are.
  • 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.
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