Study Guide

Room Society and Class

By Emma Donoghue

Society and Class

Part 1: Presents
Jack

Ma doesn't like Meltedy Spoon but he's my favorite because he's not the same. (1.52)

Once Jack finds himself Outside Room, he is kind of like Meltedy Spoon… he's not the same as anyone else. Although a lot of people like him because of his differences, they also want to make him a part of society. But taking Room out of Jack would be like unmelting the spoon.

Ma

"Uh-oh, hitting's not allowed." […] "Actually, boxing… it's nasty but it's a game, it's kind of allowed if they have those special gloves on." (1.381, 1.386)

Ma tries to explain the way society works, with all its weird exceptions, even though Jack's trapped inside Room. She wants to teach him good morals —like don't hit people—but she also wants him to understand that sometimes people do hit people, and in certain contexts, it's okay. How can anyone keep all these rules straight?

Part 3: Dying
The General Public

"You figure some kind of cult? […] The long hair, no surnames, the state of that tooth…" (3.912)

This is something Jack overhears another cop say to Officer Oh. He doesn't understand what it means, but that's okay. The cop doesn't understand Jack, either. He's the first of many people in society who aren't going to understand what Jack and Ma went through but are going to make assumptions about it anyway.

"I'm so sorry, is your little girl OK?" (3.758)

This is one of the first things Jack hears a person from Outside say. He doesn't understand that the "little girl" is him. People with long hair Outside, like Jack, are usually female, especially little kids.

Part 4: After
Ma

"Then why is she staring at us?" Her arm goes around me tight. "I'm nursing my son, is that OK with you, lady?" (4.34)

Ma is experiencing some culture shock of her own on the Outside. Even though Ma and Jack have lived outside of society for years and years, everyone else expects them to abide by their societal norms. Breastfeeding in public is weird enough to most people; breastfeeding a five-year-old is just unacceptable.

"Donations are pouring in, about a sack a day." "A sack of what?" "You name it." […] "You opened them, says Ma, looking in the envelopes. "Believe me, you need this stuff filtered. F-E-C-E-S, and that's just for starters." (4.559-4.563)

Okay, the outside world is weird. When we find out stuff like this, it makes us wonder if things were better in Room after all. At least there, strangers don't send you poo in the mail…

Jack

"Some of the women grow long hair like us," I tell Ma, "but the men don't." "Oh, a few do, rock stars. It's not a rule, just a convention." "What's a—?" "A silly habit everyone has." (4.1068-4.1070)

All of Jack's questions make Ma, and us, question society's arbitrary rules and customs. Ma has to strike a balance between letting Jack live the way he wants to live and teaching him to conform to society's rules.

I'm learning lots more manners. When something tastes yucky we say it's interesting. (4.739)

Ma has to teach Jack how to behave in "polite society," and a lot of being polite is all in how you word things. It's funny how little tricks like this are passed down from generation to generation. We later learn that Grandma taught Ma this sly way of wording things.

Dr. Clay and Noreen

"So what do you not like so much here?" says Dr. Clay. "Persons looking." (4.572-4.573)

Jack doesn't like people staring. Who does? People think Jack is weird because he doesn't fit into a neat little bubble dictated by society—so they stare at him. But staring isn't polite at all. At least Jack isn't doing anything to make them directly uncomfortable.

Part 5: Living
Grandma and Steppa

"For Pete's sake, we're only talking about a minor sunburn and a bee sting," [Grandma] says. "I raised two children, don't give me acceptable standard of care." (5.370)

When Jack transitions from Room to the Clinic, he feels like he's part of the real world. He's still separated from society in a way, though. He's still protected inside the Clinic, but in the real world, everyone gets hurt at some point. Dr. Clay still wants to protect Jack from sunburns and bee stings, but Grandma thinks that's just a way of life. Who is right?