Lessing’s prose wonderfully intertwines the burning themes of the end of the last century and the beginning of this century. The author explores the limits of human cognition and the complex processes taking place in the inner, often impenetrable, world of man. In addition, in her prose, the themes of family, society, life, death, and women’s psychology become relevant. One of the semantically recurrent images in Lessing’s works is the room. The latter becomes a space of female seclusion, emerging in Lessing’s novels as an expression of a woman’s social position and her experience. Room 19, as a physical space, becomes a means of finding the heroine’s identity; it helps the protagonist escape from the circumstances that confine her.
In the story, the heroine is experiencing an identity crisis of her own. Despite her outwardly good life, Susan is deeply unhappy. Her husband’s affair severely hurts her, her children are annoying, and she does not feel free, which is the most important thing. This desire to eliminate constant pressure on her pushes the heroine to seek a place where she can feel carefree and at ease. The movement from one to the other is shown as stages of the heroine’s agonizing search for herself. At one point, readers may think that the heroine has found peace, but her husband’s investigation suddenly deprives her of her sense of freedom. Lessing shows the tragedy of his heroine, who, in the story’s final scene, chooses to commit suicide in room 19 (1978). It turns out that any other space in her mind is associated with the need to play one social role or another, to function mechanically rather than to be oneself. And to exist in this way, constantly pretending to be someone she is not, Susan cannot.
Each space corresponds to social roles or their iconic absence and is characterized by different influences on the heroine. The near-perfect beautiful house makes the heroine feel depressed, frightened, and unhappy. Her children’s touches become excruciating for her; she describes the hugs as “a human cage of loving limbs” (Lessing, 1976, p. 8). In the family, the heroine feels like a prisoner serving time. She cannot find peace in it and begins to think that demons haunt her. At the same time, the impersonal space of the cheap hotel heals Susan and gives her back the freedom her life circumstances have deprived her.
The story begins with a declaration of the collapse of Susan Rowling’s idyllic world, whose raison d’être for decades was the care of children and home. The exposition of the story depicts a typically idyllic space. Lessing shows the life of a married couple and their healthy and happy children in a large house away from the city’s noise, in the lap of nature (1978). The everyday life of the Rawlings family is also reproduced, transforming the idyll into a rational routine. Susan’s day consists of the constant care of her family and the fulfillment of her many responsibilities. Time becomes eventless for her and is limited only to the primary few realities of life.
When Susan learns of Matthew’s infidelity, the home space ceases to be even formally idyllic. The discrepancy between the outwardly favorable and prosperous image of wife, mother, and hostess and her actual state of mind leads to internal conflict and the heroine’s rejection of her life. Although inseparable from the family space, Susan begins to reject it and feels tired of it. Her perception of the garden changes also indicates the change in the heroine’s emotional state. Susan avoids going out into the garden; she experiences irrational fear and anxiety. The desire for her own space echoes Susan’s willingness to sort herself out. The heroine needs her own room both as an expression of inner protest and as a space where she can be alone.
Trying to find privacy in her home, she occupies the spare room upstairs. At first, her family does not bother Susan with every little thing, but they soon forget about it, and this room becomes another living room. Susan’s subsequent attempt to sort herself out becomes an escape to a remote corner of Wales, but the open space wilderness brings Susan no relief. A new step toward a genuinely anonymous area becomes finding a rented room. The complete anonymity and peace during the hours spent in room 19 give Susan meaning and strength in her life. However, all this disappears when the heroine’s husband, concerned about Susan’s regular absences from home, investigates and discovers her secret room.
The Rawlings’ marriage was based on the principles of reasonableness and common sense, the desire to consider each other’s interests, and the intelligent distribution of family responsibilities. The principles of rationality also justify the potential for adultery, do not allow the expression of anger or emotion, and assume adherence to prescribed roles. Rationality leads to a total lack of spirituality and affection, and the relationship between spouses becomes dispassionate and businesslike. The story’s search for Susan’s identity is accomplished by changing spaces. Susan models a different reality in which she is free from constraints and breaks down traditional notions of a woman’s role.
Lessing, D. (1978). To room nineteen. Cape.