Study Guide

Room Family

By Emma Donoghue

Family

Part 1: Presents
Old Nick

"Should have reminded me, I could have brought him something. What's he now, four?" (1.414)

Technically, Old Nick is family. He's Jack's dad. And it's really weird when he acts like a dad, albeit a really terrible, horrible, no-good, bad dad. He doesn't know how old Jack is, or remember his birthday, but he still wants to bring him a present.

Ma

"You look like me. I guess because you're made of me, like my spit is. Same brown eyes, same big mouth, same pointy chin…" (1.61)

Ma is explaining what she means by calling Jack "the dead spit of me," but she's also doing a good job of explaining DNA and genetics on a level that a five-year-old can understand.

Part 2: Unlying
Ma

"I forgot to say, of course she takes her baby, JackerJack, with her, he's all knotted up in her hair." (2.215)

Ma often tells stories about heroic children named Jack. However, in this story, it's more about the character's mother and how she escapes… and how she almost forgets to bring her child with him. What's the significance of this story, and this omission?

Jack

"I thought he was going to punish us too." I try to imagine. "Like if there were two Rooms, if he put me in one and you in the other one." (2.430)

Ma is the only person Jack knows, so he is incredibly close to her. To him, the worst punishment is to be separated from his mother. That's awfully sweet… and borderline Norman Bates, but he's only five, so we're sticking with "sweet" for now.

Part 4: After

The man who's Grandpa is gone past me without looking, he's nearly at the door. (4.1126)

Defining family isn't easy, especially when the family is as complicated as this one. Grandpa has trouble accepting Jack as an addition to the family. To Grandpa, Jack is only evidence that his daughter was raped. He can't see Jack as his Grandson, only as that horrible reminder.

Ma

"I think what babies want is mostly to have their mothers right there." (4.1277)

Ma definitely thinks that an intense bond between mother and child instantly exists. She'd do anything to protect him, so when the talk show host asks her if things were "difficult," Ma doesn't think of it that way. It wasn't hard or easy; it's just what she had to do.

"It would have been a sacrifice, of course—the ultimate sacrifice—but if Jack could have had a normal, happy childhood with a loving family?" "He had me." Ma says it one word at a time. (4.1345-4.1346)

Ma is insulted by the talk show host, who implies that Jack would have been better off with a "loving family." Ma is his mother. Shouldn't she be family enough? And doesn't she love Jack enough?

Grandma and Steppa

"Of course, of course." The Grandma comes a bit closer. (4.419)

This is Jack's first time meeting Ma's mother, and he doesn't yet understand that he can just call her "Grandma" instead of "the Grandma." It takes Jack a while to understand that everyone has a family, not just Ma, and that her family is his family, too.

Part 5: Living

My family is Grandma Steppa Bronwyn Uncle Paul Deana and Grandpa, only he shudders at me. Also Ma. (5.1)

Jack is starting to realize that the people Ma is related to are his family too, whether he wants them to be or not. He also understands that just because they're family doesn't mean that they like him… and vice-versa.

Jack

"I came down and I was a kid like you, I lived with my mother and father." I shake my head. "You're the mother." (2.486-2.487)

Jack has a hard time understanding the intricacies of family at first—it's weird for him that his mother also had a mother. He thought his only family was Ma, and that her only family was him, but it's actually much larger than that. One thing Jack keeps learning is how much bigger and more complex the world is than he thinks, and this is a good example of that.