Study Guide

Ma in Room

By Emma Donoghue


Bouncing Round the Room

Ma is twenty-seven. We never learn her real name, and Jack only calls her Ma. Kidnapped by Old Nick when she was nineteen, Ma spends eight years inside Room. She has two children while in Room: the first, a daughter, who is stillborn, and then Jack, who is five when Ma formulates a plan for them to escape. With Jack's help, they get away from Old Nick and back into the real world. Ma has a difficult time adjusting. Her parents have divorced. Her friends have mostly moved away. The media constantly hound her. After a failed suicide attempt, Ma recuperates, and she eventually moves into an apartment of her own with Jack.


Inside Room, Jack is Ma's life. She spends every waking moment with him, educating him, feeding him, playing with him. She still breastfeeds him too, which isn't unusual within the context of Room but does earn her some strange stares from others when they return to the outside world.

Ma really wants to return to the outside world, unlike Jack, who doesn't know what he's missing. She puts a lot of pressure on Jack, using him to escape, because she's afraid they will die if they don't get out. Old Nick has lost his job, and if he abandons his house, he will leave them there to starve. Yeah, we'd be pretty desperate too. "You said you were going to be my superhero" (3.241) she tells Jack at one point. Whether she means it as a guilt trip or not, it makes Jack fear letting her down, and it makes him work harder at being brave.

Ma's pretty brave too. She stands up to Old Nick, which is no small feat, given that this is a man who rapes her repeatedly. She has to let him do it in order to survive. Her previous escape attempts didn't pan out, but that doesn't mean she stopped thinking about it. It may seem like Jack does all the work to get them out, but it really is teamwork that frees them.

Hello, World

The world might be brand new to Jack, but Ma has a hard time getting used to it, too—and she's been there before. She has to learn about Facebook, YouTube, and Skype, and she has to deal with all the paparazzi hounding her and her son for photos. It's not the easy return to normal life she was hoping for. She hardly even knows what "normal" is.

Ma really wants to get back to a routine once she's out in the world, but a "routine" in the Outside is a lot less defined than the strict routine she set for she and Jack inside Room. Jack has difficulty understanding, for example, that they can shower before breakfast. Let's not even broach the subject of Denny's and 24-hour breakfast yet, okay? Heck, Jack has trouble understanding the concept of a shower in general. You'd think the kid would have seen an Herbal Essences commercial or two in the last five years…

Anyway, Ma apologizes to him, saying, "Sorry, I guess I'm moving too fast" (4.218), but she has to find a balance between living her own life and helping Jack get acclimated to the outside world. She tells him, "I know you need me to be your ma but I'm having to remember how to be me as well at the same time" (4.1054).

Have a Little Faith in Me

Ma uses her faith to find balance. She believes in the right thing happening at the right time. Inside Room, she lost one child before Jack. When she tells Jack this she says, "Maybe it really was you, and a year later you tried again and came back down as a boy" (4.775).

She also doesn't want to be seen as a hero or martyr. She's just a person, like everyone else. She tells the talk show host, "I wish people would stop treating us like we're the only ones who ever lived through something terrible" (4.1315), and: "All I did was I survived" (4.1311). All this does, however, is make people see her as more of a hero. People love humility.

Unfortunately, Ma can't run away from her past the way she wants to. After the talk show interview, she's exhausted and depressed from confronting her trauma. She tries to take a bunch of pills to kill herself, but she survives. While recuperating, she's absent for a whole part of the novel.

When she gets out, she's ready to move on. Again. But Jack proves to her that she can't move on without seeing Room again one more time. He asks to see it, and she agrees to go with him because she feels she needs to see it, and accept it, before she can move on. And just as Jack always relied on her, she has to learn to rely on him a bit, too.

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