Study Guide

Room Time

By Emma Donoghue

Time

Part 1: Presents
Jack

[Ma] gets sick of things fast, it's from being an adult. (1.497)

It's true that kids have longer attention spans than adults, at least when it comes to certain things. But being forced to entertain himself with very little, Jack has a very long attention span compared to most other kids. When he's doing stuff that he loves, it doesn't feel like any time is passing at all, whereas time seems to be dragging and dragging for poor Ma, having to read Dylan the Digger over and over again.

Waiting for my cake takes hour and hours. (1.215)

Unless the cake is burned black by the time it comes out of the oven, there's no way it takes this long to bake. Jack just thinks it takes so long, because it does take so long in kid timeā€¦ when he's not doing something to keep his mind occupied, time goes by so slowly.

"Next week when I'll be six you better get candles." "Next year," says Ma, "you mean next year." Her eyes are shut. They always do that sometimes and she doesn't say anything for a minute. (1.251-1.252)

Jack doesn't understand the difference between a week and a year, because both are still an insane amount of time for a five-year-old. Ma, however, does understand the difference, and she cannot bear having to spend another year trapped inside Room.

There's hours and hours, hundreds of them. (2.127)

A day just has twenty-four hours, and Jack is probably only awake for sixteen of them, tops. But when he's bored, without Ma, the hours seem like they're stretched out forever and ever.

Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. "Was I minus numbers?" (1.1)

Jack understands a lot at five, but he still has a rough grasp of time. He doesn't yet understand that he is getting older every single day, not just magically clicking over from four to five on the night of his birthday.

Part 3: Dying
Jack

Stopped, the truck's stopped again, I'm not out already, I was meant to jump at the first. (3.735)

Jack already has a very poor concept of time. Add panic to the mix, and he completely loses all sense of it. He has no idea how long he's in the truck; all he knows is that it's been too long, and he fears that it's too late to attempt an escape.

Part 4: After

"You'll be with your uncle and aunt all the time, you'll be perfectly safe. Or would you rather leave it till another day?" Yeah but no because another day the dinosaurs might be gone. "Today, please." (4.1379-1380)

Jack is starting to realize that, in the Outside world, things change as time passes, unlike in Room, where things seemed to remain static, or at least repeat like a twisted version of Groundhog Day. In the Outside world, if too much time passes, some things are gone forever.

Jack

At 06:12 Noreen brings another whole different tray that's dinner, we can have dinner at five something or six something or even seven something, Ma says. (4.511)

In Room, Jack was always aware of the time, but it seems that he's even more aware of it in the Outside. He's starting to realize that time is merely a suggestion, not a hard and fast rule to abide by when setting things such as mealtimes.

Part 5: Living
Jack

In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time. Even Grandma often says that, but she and Steppa don't have jobs, so I don't know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as well. In Room me and Ma had time for everything. (5.559)

Good question, Jack. We don't quite understand it either. It seems that the more obligations you have, the less time you have to do them in, whether it's a job, family, or being home for the latest episode of So You Think You Can Dance.

Ma

"Well, the thing about breasts is, if they don't get drunk from, they figure, OK, nobody needs our milk anymore, we'll stop making it." (5.824)

After Jack spends time apart from Ma, she is unable to breastfeed him. But the time spent apart also makes Jack realize that he doesn't need to be breastfed anymore. Maybe time apart from each other is healthy for Ma and Jack, after all.