I finished reading Emma Donoghue’s, Room this morning and can’t get it out of my head. Room is told from the viewpoint of a five year old named Jack who is imprisoned in an underground room with his mother. Jack doesn’t know he is a prisoner because his mother has built him a world where living in a room is normal. Everything in the room has a name and a place, and to Jack these things have magical qualities that make them almost like living things. Rules govern every moment of time in the room; designed partly to keep Jack safe but also to help his mother retain her sanity.
While their eventual escape from the room is a blessing for his mother, for Jack it is a confusing experience and he wants nothing more than to return to the familiarity of the room. He longs for all of the things that filled the room and for all of the routines that governed his life. Instead he is forced to change his routines and grow used to new things. Behaviors that were acceptable before are frowned upon in this bigger world. There are more rules, rules that make no sense and violate the rules Jack is used to.
When Jack finally talks his mother into returning to the room he finds it is not as wonderful as he had remembered. It is smaller inside, and while his things look familiar he does not find them as compelling as they used to be. Jack realizes that he has outgrown the room and he says goodbye to it and walks back out into the bigger world.
I identify with Jack’s unique view of the world, or with the idea that we all have a unique view of the world. As we grow up we learn the societal norms, we learn how to fit in, and how to fall in line. We carve out safe little rooms of our own that we put our personal beliefs and rules in. Many of these rooms are public that we present to those in our extended social circle. Some are private that we share with only a select few. Then there is that one inner room that we share with no one, which contains all of those things we fear would reveal too much about us. Would people like us if they knew who we really were? Would they understand our view of the world?
It is when you are willing to move beyond that fear that the world becomes really interesting. Messy. Frightening. Exhilarating. The mistakes you make are agonizing and you are embarrassed that you made them and you are so mortified that you don’t want to put yourself in that position again. At that point you have two choices: retreat to that safe little room where everything is comfortable and familiar, or continue to build on this new room until it becomes as familiar and comfortable as the old. The second choice means that you are likely to continue this process again and again and perhaps forever because once you have discovered that the fear is not as bad as you had feared it would be, you won’t be able to stop.