Doris Lessing's To Room Nineteen Essay
In Doris Lessing's short story, "To Room Nineteen," the main character, Susan Rawlings,
has a drastic change in lifestyle from that of a successful, independent woman with her own
apartment, to that of a conventional 1950’s housewife. On the other hand, her husband has the
freedom to work outside of the house and frequently visits social events, still living the life of a
single man. Although Susan finds life dull with her new lifestyle, she tolerates these gender
roles, until her husband takes advantage of his liberty and jeopardizes their marriage by having
an affair. She rationalizes his actions and her denial of their relationship issues results in her
gradual mental instability. Critic James Gindin denies that Doris Lessing's short story "To Room
Nineteen" indirectly critiques female inequality during the 1950's, although many signs indicate
James Gindin's criticism on Lessing's work is written in 1963, and his conservative
opinions reflect that the gender roles were still dominant during this time. He believes that “To
Room Nineteen” is not analyzing women oppression of the 1950’s, but rather analyzing a woman
who is confused about her sexual identity. Gindin sees Susan as a masculine woman who drops
her career life and her own apartment for married life, assuming "that she can control her
domestic world in the sane, masculine way that she controlled her job." Gindin’s perception of
this story is that Susan is not being held back by the masculine world, but that she played
masculine roles before her marriage and she does not want to accept her feminine roles now. His
critique patronizes women and gives a lesbian-like perception of Susan, as he believes that her
desire for a masculine life detracts her husband and makes him have an affair. Gindin perceives
the story through Susan’s husband, Matthew's point of view, who believes that her happiness has
been corrupted by the feminine roles of raising children. Matthew tells his wife “They’ll be off
your hands, darling Susan, and you’ll have time to yourself.” Matthew believes that by granting
her time to herself, she would be able to pursue her career again, since Susan admits that her
“soul was not her own, but her children’s.”
However, Susan is quite tolerant of the drawbacks patriarchy has on women. Susan’s
tolerance subsides with her husband’s infidelity since she secretly feels he disrespected her. So it
is not that Susan envies her husband’s masculinity as Gindin presumes, or that she wants to
continue her career as her husband presumes. In fact Susan does not demonstrate a need for a
masculine role or power; it is quite the contrary. With her family’s “au pair” girl and the support
of her husband, Susan could return to her career if that is what she truly desired, leaving the older
children at school and the younger ones with the nanny. What she and her husband both desire is
a reason to say “For the sake of...
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DORIS LESSING'S "TO ROOM 19" SYMBOLS
2213 WordsJan 16th, 20149 Pages
TO Room 19: SYMBOLS Women in patriarchal societies are brought up to have certain values, like to have a desire to be good mothers and good wives. However, as much as they try to do these things, they find that their passions and instincts are put down and this leads to misery and insanity. Women have voiced their concerns about the problems of being a woman in a man's society for years. Feminist literature existed before feminism as a movement did. Finally, in the 20th century, this led to the second and third waves of feminism criticizing the limitations of patriarchal and sexist society for women. Doris Lessing in her story “To Room Nineteen” uses many symbols to explain how women in patriarchal society feel oppressed and unfulfilled.…show more content…
“While Susan’s madness can be explained as the result of the clash between her impulsive, complex personality and the orderliness of the Victorian Angel, it can also be seen as resulting from the conflict between her private wishes and the public expectations that were placed on her, and on women in general.” (Sandoiu) The common social problems of women are why neither one of them, Susan or Matthew, can look at any part of their marriage and say, “For the sake of this is all the rest” (253). Matthew does everything in his power to make Susan happy, asking her how her day was (“not as interesting, but that was not her fault”), and trying to support her because “both knew of the hidden resentment and deprivations of the woman who lived her own life... and is now dependent on a husband” (254). Matthew does cheat on her, but Susan and Matthew end up agreeing that this is natural (255). All of this, however, makes Susan feel that she was being “poison[ed]” by “resentment” and that “she was a prisoner” (263). As the narrator explains, “She must tell Matthew – but what? She was filled with emotions that were utterly ridiculous, that she despised...” (264). Like many women, Susan was trying her best to be happy and grateful in a situation that she emotionally hated. The symbols of poison and prison, both slow and dreadful, are used to emphasize how Susan can be suffering even as she seems good on the outside. Her entire