Prison Sentence in a Cage: Doris Lessing's "To Room Nineteen" example

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Prison Sentence in a Cage: Doris Lessing's "To Room Nineteen"

“To Room Nineteen” by Doris May Lessing is a life sketch about a middle-aged woman in search of freedom from life which she so carefully built for herself. The author shows the protagonist, Susan, going a long way from an ideal wife and mother, who performs the roles imposed on her by society, to a liberated woman, who finds her own freedom and sheds false and constraining norms of society. A brief examination of social and physical environments which condition Susan’s behavior will illustrate the point.

On the surface, the Rawlings are a good match on their own, but being viewed as a proper couple, who do not make mistakes, is essential for their self-assessment. Lessing (1980) describes the first years of their marriage as “everything right, appropriate, and what everyone would wish for” (p. 397). These are not the emotions of a newly married happy couple, but the social evaluation of every decision they make, because to avoid the pitfalls of unhappy marriage the Rawlings plan everything with caution. They shape themselves into an exemplary couple by purposefully and sensibly avoiding mistakes made by others. Lessing (1980) writes, “They looked around them, and took lessons” (p. 398). Susan willingly conforms to social norms making the most important decision in her life, looking over the shoulder, – getting married, choosing a proper house, saying at home for the children. There is so much rationale behind their marriage that they are convinced it cannot fail, but by carefully planning every step and relying on intelligence they eventually find themselves trapped in a set of conventions and expectations.

Once their new routinized life takes to root it begins to determine their actions and thoughts. The Rawlings correct their behavior in accordance with common sense. In the episode with Matthew’s infidelity Lessing (1980) writes, “There was only one thing to do, and of course these sensible people did it; they put the thing behind them, and consciously, knowing what they were doing, moved forward into a different phase of their marriage” (p. 400-401). The fear to do something irrational forces them to suppress their emotions. In another episode, when after sending the twins to school Susan feels that her long-awaited freedom only makes her restless, she chooses not to confess to her husband because the “thoughts were not sensible” (Lessing, 1980, p. 404). She refuses to examine or express her feelings and relies on the most reasonable way of dealing with a problem, but in following social norms she loses her ability to “use their mutual language” (Lessing, 1980, p. 405) and connect.

This seemingly pleasant and carefree life creates a disturbing effect on Susan, when she gradually realizes that her big beautiful house is as oppressing as a cage. Describing the house and the family, Lessing (1980) writes, that Susan “knew that this structure … depended on her” (p.407-408). It turns her life into “a …

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