Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Room; A Novel Discussion Questions

This post is for everyone who read Emma Donoghue's Room: A NovelIf you haven't read it, some of these questions may spoil the suspense for you, so I'm adding a jump. 
1. Jack has developed an unusual sense of language from spending his first five years living in one room. He omits words like "the" and "a" before nouns, essentially turning the nouns into proper nouns. What purpose does this serve for Jack and for the novel? How does turning a noun into a proper noun imbue inanimate objects with personality? Do you think that this is something all humans would do in isolated situations? I was thinking of Wilson in the film Castaway.

2. Related to question 1, Jack makes friends and develops emotional attachments to objects because he isn't around people. In his situation, this behavior is easy to understand, but how is it symbolic of the attachments most of us in mainstream American culture have to material items? Have we all replaced things with relationships to actual human beings? What has caused this to happen? Do you think the author was trying to make a statement about consumerism and materialism anywhere in the novel?

3. Why do you think the author chose not to give us Old Nick's real name, especially in a novel where the act of naming things is so important?

4. Grad School Question:  In many scenes involving Ma, she is connected to bodily fluids, often in ways which we might find repulsive, filthy or shocking. We see a lot of things coming out of her body like blood, vomit and breast milk. There is a stain on the floor and in the bed from her births. Her tooth falls out. Her body is constantly giving up parts of itself. What is the significance of this? If anyone has read Kristeva's writings on "the abject" why are these bodily fluids so connected to motherhood? What does it represent in the novel?

5. Connected to Question 4 - It is interesting to note that until Jack leaves Room, he mentions that his blood has never come out of his body. Finally, as soon as he is free and in the world for the first time, he is scraped on the road and bitten by a dog, causing him to bleed. Why is this important? What does it mean that he has never bled until his escape? How is the blood a sacrifice?

6. Ma is very clear about the fact that she mourned the loss of her daughter and was very happy about having Jack, despite that she was impregnated by her rapist captor. She explains that becoming a mother gave her a purpose and a will to live and she never faults Jack for who his father is. Many women would find this hard to imagine and I wonder if some feminists would find the idea of Ma's life regaining purpose through motherhood degrading or empowering. What do you think?

7. Ma makes some very difficult choices as a mother while trapped in Room and she is criticized and questioned for these upon her escape, even by her own father and especially by the talk show host. Does anyone really have a right to ask her these questions if they haven't been in her position? What does it say about our society that we are so willing to bluntly ask people prying and personal questions and to judge the choices of others for our own entertainment? How do you think this relates to Ma's suicide attempt? Does the scene with the talk show make you question your own interest in these kinds of news stories or your own choices about what you watch on TV?

8. One of the choices Ma makes is to not tell Jack there is a world outside of Room. Was this a good idea or a bad idea? What would you have done if you were in her situation?

9. Another choice Ma makes is to continue to breastfeed Jack. Her choice is never explained outright. When questioned by the talk show host, Ma snaps back that she can't believe that out of everything that's happened to her this is what people find most shocking about the story. Why would people find it shocking? Is it anyone's business? Second, why do you think she chose to breastfeed Jack for so long? What purposes would it serve in their situation? What choice would you have made regarding breastfeeding?

10. What do you think are the best parenting choices Ma makes for Jack in Room? What are the worst and why?

11. Ma makes a risky and reckless decision in plotting their escape. Was this a good or bad thing, regardless of whether it worked or not? Was there another way that wouldn't involve traumatizing Jack or did she have no choice?

12. What might have happened had Ma and Jack never escaped? Think of Jack and Old Nick both growing older. What are the implications?

13. Why do you think Old Nick allowed Ma to become pregnant and then keep her baby? One would think this would not be in his best interest. 

14. When Jack is in Room he watches TV and believes that it is showing him things from other planets. In what way IS what we see on TV, even the news and reality programming, as foreign as life on other planets? 

15. In what ways can Jack and Ma's captivity be viewed symbolically? How are they representative of our culture as a whole and in what ways are we all held captive in isolation by the worlds we have created around us?

* This is all I have for now, but as I think of more questions I will continue to add to this post. If you have read the book, please answer whichever questions you like in the comments section or add your own discussion questions. I found this book so intriguing that I really want to hear what other people have to say about it. If you have read this novel for a book club and have found this post through google, please feel free to use my questions, but I'd love it if you let me know what your group had to say and what they thought of the book. * 

7 comments:

slumlord88 said...

Hi, I'll be reading Room after I finish the book I'm currently reading. I've never been part of a book discussion or club so this should be interesting. I'll be back!

Anonymous said...

Excellent questions. One note, though, Jack's blood does come out of his body once while he is still in Room - when the mosquito bites him.

Your questions make me want to reread the book. Again.

mcgrimus said...

To answer the first question, I think when you live in a world in which there are so few things, they are that much more precious. Jack thought all the things in Room were the only such item in existence. Saying "a plant" or "the bed" wouldn't make sense to him. It was great in the final scene to see Jack go back to Room and see some of the objects there, but he's changed, so it doesn't seem like the same place. He still says good-bye to them, but it's almost like he's saying good-bye to the person he was.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author did a superb job imagining the almost unimaginable. Thanks for the suggestion.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the questions. Book club will be here in 30 minutes. I enjoyed the book but sure find it a hard sell when I broach the topic. The NY Times Book Review is spot on.

Anne said...

An original and excellently excuted book which kept you involved until the last page. Many interesting questiions. Nouns - Jack's world was confined and he described himself as if he was physically still attached to his mother -those meager possesions were the only other "personalities" with which he had a "relationship". Nursing Jack was a way to provide calcium and other nutrients as Ma was aware that their diet was inadequate. Old Nick refused to bring vitamins. Her teeth rotted because Jack was robbing her body of calcium but her whole world was Jack, he kept her sane. But Ma was overwhelmed by the reception she got from "outside" Her mother disapproved of her breastfeeding, her father did not want to see Jack at all - much of her decisions were questioned especally by the interviewer -even asked why she had not asked Old Nick to take the child and leave him at a hospital. I believe she was filled with self-doubt and unable to keep going in the "ooutside" and took the pills just to get some peace. Both Ma and Jack are amazingly drawn characters. Much more discussion can be made on this unique book.

auntcindyrose said...

Fascinating premise and a really good read . . .my only nagging question was how Jack (as narrator) could have his own language (clever and difficult to write, no doubt ) and yet SO quickly begin to adapt to adult/outside words once he escapes? I would have expected his understanding and language to take MUCH longer to develop . . . it seemed a little too easy for me. Make sense? Still, a creative book! Not the typical book club fare and I appreciated that!

Chantelle said...

I plan to use some of your questions in leading a discussion group on the book. I hope to report back with how it went and what they had to say. I liked your questions!

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