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An Insight into The Trauma in Room and The Outsider

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Room is a traumatic novel, of one young woman who aspires to keep her only child safe from the captor that imprisoned them both in a small shed for seven years. Donoghue’s writing is capable to place the reader within the terrifying experiences witnessed by such a young mind. While readers are seeing through the eyes of a child who has a virgin-like understanding of the world around him, readers are quickly able to fill the gaps with what is truly happening.

Jack is Ma’s son who has the comprehension skills of an infant. describing only what he sees and hears. Inanimate objects that occupy the room become characters to him, like sink and table and toothbrush and bath. Jack views the weekly deliveries of supplies to Room as Sunday-treats rather than viewing these deliveries as a necessity for survival, and a somewhat normal life. In Room, Donoghue captures the perspective of a child, as the terrors, observations and oddities only a child is able to understand come alive in her work. When their captor Old Nick comes by, Jack hides in the wardrobe and counts the creak of the bed until Jack hears the sound of Old Nick’s orgasm and stops.

Donoghue cleverly lets her audience make the leap between Jack’s innocent observations and the harshness of reality in Room. This limited perspective sets up an important contradiction: for Ma Room is a place of terror, but for Jack, it is the only home he knows, where all his imaginary friends live. And no matter how she tries to get him to understand, he cannot understand the trauma she has been through, and how she longs for the outside. For him, outside is just another word for outer space. Jack is only able to comprehend the situations of horror through the stories his mother shares with him. His mother is forced to keep in sedentary in worlds of make believe. Alice in Wonderland is used to represent how they are channed like slaves to a familiar world hoping to one day be freed from the madness, only to stumble along another dead end. While Dora the Explorer is utilized to give them both the courage to free themselves from slavery. The battle is being fought with a petrified mother battling the clock, forced to explain what she herself has little knowledge of, to her innocuous son, to save themselves from their intimidating arbiter.

This novel is criticized by many to be a purely traumatic experience, particularly when both mother and son have only one chance to make their escape. Donoghue shows the true horror about these experiences, addressing the question of ‘what happens next’ directly, rather than leaving it as an open question to ignore. Donoghue’s audience is thrown into the claustrophobia of Room, everything is horribly wrong, and even readers are torn between Jack’s desire to stay where he feels safe and for Ma to escape and return home. The truth of ‘what happens next’ is difficult to face for all characters concerned. From the moment of their rescue, Ma and Jack are hounded by reporters, doctors and un-accommodating family members. In many ways, readers see how Room represented safety to Jack, while outside is where life is new and alien. Where Jack does not get to be with his mother 24/7, where people are strangers, and Jack can bleed.

In continuation, Donoghue introduces a welcome element of satire; since all Jack knows of the outside world is what he sees on TV, he cannot relate to anything in the outside world unless he imagines them as characters on an animal planet, or fitness planet, cartoon planet, etc. He is alien to the world and is taking his first brave steps to become a more self reliant individual. Another target of Donoghue’s subtle wit is the cult of motherhood. A bigger mommy dependence has not often been seen in forms of literature, than the boy who lived in a single room with his mother, breastfed well into his sixth year. Readers are shocked, However, while Ma has failed to wean him off, she is still determined. This is until a woman by the name Barbara Walters enters and interrogates her live on national TV about the breastfeeding.

All things considered, Donoghue leaves her audience with two opposing thoughts. On one side of the spectrum, Jack has slowly, but surely become adjusted to the outside. Including all the stimuli assaulting him from every direction, to becoming an individual of his own. Ma, on the other side. Is left with the uncomfortable notion that she will simply be moving from prison to prison for the rest of her life.

Moreover, readers may come to the conclusion that Ma, may have never truly loved her son, Jack the way she loved her still-born daughter. In a telling sequence, she mindlessly relates the old psych experiment about the monkeys separated from their mothers and fed only by a drainpipe, how they withered away due to the absence of love, not the absence of basic needs. Later on, even she agrees with Jack’s assessment that even the love of their human captors may have been enough to sustain those monkeys. This disturbing exchange is a metaphor. Jack stands in place for the human captor. They serve each other mutually as machines of love, but once they are released from captivity, Ma realizes how clinically she has approached the care of her child, ignoring the actual emotional needs of herself or her son. To an extent, she feels that she used him. However, Ma would never have thought this without the accusing interrogation mentioned above.

Room is described in the voice of Jack, However, it is Joy’s story. Jack’s birth is what saves Joy again and again: “Before I came you watched TV all day and cried and cried. Then I zoomed through the skylight from heaven … you cut the cord and said, ‘Hello, Jack.’” With that hello, Joy was no longer alone. Hope is fragile, though, in someone raped and terrorized repeatedly with no way out. Terror gets inside. It lives there. It’s all too real. Yet, at the same time, it must not be known. The only way to live through the terror of trauma is to say the trauma can’t be happening. 

Jack’s world is claustrophobic, but he does not know it, as it is the only world he has known for the five years of his life. For him, the existence is idyllic, a composite entity composed of only him and his Ma. All the toys, books and collages made from junk by his mother are living entities for Jack. Readers see Room only through his eyes: Emma Donoghue has created a violent joy with the child’s point of view. He is very advanced in certain ways but extremely juvenile in others. His language is a curious mixture of portmanteau words, grammar mistakes, and long phrases picked up from the TV. The author urges the reader to feel the claustrophobia of the atmosphere for Jack’s mother even when he himself revels in it. Coming to the curious relationship between Jack and Ma, the oedipal suggestions are very evident. Ma still breast-feeds Jack, even though he is five years old. His penis always “stands up” in the morning. This is the “mythical drama played out in every nursery”, as Joseph Campbell said: “The urge of the son to kill the father and marry the mother – and the father here deserves to be killed.”

Room is a unique novel that offers insight to the most traumatic experiences a person can be exposed to in their lifetime, while also offering that insight from the point of a young child. H.P. Lovecraft’s novella, The Outsider, provides a similar experience of trauma from an almost innocent view while coming from the tortured mind of a man.

In Room, Jack has a curious outlook of Old Nick, wanting to almost touch him. He quickly gets distracted from his action once Old Nick turns to him. One is able to see that Jack with his naivety, is unable to see how Old Nick has tortured his mother to the point she hardly cares for her safety, but rather for Jack’s. Jack, once he hears his mother screaming at her captor to stay away from her son, runs back to safety being wardrobe.

“I push open the doors, real slow and quiet. All I can hear is the hum of Refrigerator. I stand up, I go one step, two step, three. I stub my toe on something owwwwwww. I pick it up and it’s a shoe, a giant shoe. I’m looking at Bed, there he is, Old Nick, his face is made of rock I think. I put my finger out, not to touch it, just nearly. His eyes flash all white. I jump back, I drop the shoe. I think he might shout but he’s grinning with big shiny teeth, he says, “Hey, sonny.” I don’t know what that — Then Ma is louder than I ever heard her even doing Scream. “Get away, get away from him!” I race back to Wardrobe, I bang my head, arghhhhh, she keeps screeching, “Get away from him.” “Shut up,” Old Nick is saying, “shut up.” He calls her words I can’t hear through the screaming. Then her voice gets blurry. “Stop that noise,” he’s saying. Ma is going mmmmmmm instead of words. I hold my head where it banged, I wrap it up in my two hands.” 

In the Outsider, the nameless narrator is in a state of mourning for his lost innocence, not realizing that due to the minor experiences he has encountered he is naive to the world around him. This nameless vagabond has no want of letting things go, and is content in clinging onto the distant memories of the past where he feels most secure.

“Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness. Wretched is he who looks back upon lone hours in vast and dismal chambers with brown hangings and maddening rows of antique books, or upon awed watches in twilight groves of grotesque, gigantic, and vine-encumbered trees that silently wave twisted branches far aloft. Such a lot the gods gave to me — to me, the dazed, the disappointed; the barren, the broken. And yet I am strangely content and cling desperately to those sere memories, when my mind momentarily threatens to reach beyond to the other.” 

The actions both characters are showing is a desperate attraction to the areas most familiar to them. They are both careful in the ways of clinging onto the past. While both of these characters have varying ages, one is able to understand the acute sense of naivety they both share.

Another important gesture, seen with both of the characters are their enormous curiosity. They both long to see what has been kept hidden from them for far too long.

Jack’s curiosity is first intrigued by a small scratching sound. The audience is quickly introduced to this new noise as the scratching of a mouse. Jack, rather than being afraid of something new, is friendly and wants to learn more about the new creature.

“I hear a sound so I get up not waking her. Over by Stove, a tiny scritchy scratchy sound.

An alive thing, an animal, for really real not TV. It’s on Floor, eating something, maybe a crumb of pancake. It’s got a tail, I think what it is is, what it is is a mouse. I go nearer and whee it’s gone under Stove so I hardly saw it, I never knowed anything could go so fast. “O Mouse,” I say in a whisper so he won’t be scared. That’s how to talk to a mouse, it’s in Alice, only she talks about her cat Dinah by mistake and the mouse gets nervous and swims away. I put my hands praying now, “O Mouse, come on back, please, please, please . . .”” 

In The Outsider, this man, who was not even sure whether he has even heard his own voice, has ventured out of his confined room only to be introduced to a gentle light. His mind, naturally curious, continues to explore, not caring about the potential consequences of his actions.

“My mind, stunned and chaotic as it was, still held the frantic craving for light; and not even the fantastic wonder which had happened could stay my course. I neither knew nor cared whether my experience was insanity, dreaming, or magic; but was determined to gaze on brilliance and gaiety at any cost. I knew not who I was or what I was, or what my surroundings might be; though as I continued to stumble along I became conscious of a kind of fearsome latent memory that made my progress not wholly fortuitous.” 

In conclusion, Room is a novel that has the potential to petrify its audience. Guiding its readers through the eyes of an innocent and trusting child. The novel contains many elements of shock, horror, and worry, and can be compared to the most well known horror author H.P. Lovecraft. The narrator in The Outsider who is trapped in a library is experiencing a precise crisis compared to Room. The confusion that he experiences in his novella leads him to climbing stone stairs in search of quinshing his curiosity. Similarly, to the skylight that Ma and Jack look up to for hope. These two literary frightening masterpieces, are imbued into the current generation, where some victims find inspiration from the demonic incursion that has trapped both of these writers. 

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An Insight Into The Trauma In Room And The Outsider. (2021, November 22). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from
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