Room: Why Write in the POV of a Child?

Amanda McHugh ‘18/ Emertainment Monthly Executive Publisher

One of the first decisions a writer must make before embarking on a story is determining what point of view they’re going to write in. While there is the standard first, second, and third POV’s, something that isn’t always taken into account is age. Emma Donoghue, in her award-winning novel Room, captures why writing from the point of view of a child can drastically change how you read the story—but in a good way.


Image Credit: Goodreads
Image Credit: Goodreads

The story starts on Jack’s fifth birthday, seemingly normal at first. It’s not yet clear right off the bat what the situation is he and his Ma are in, but within the first few pages what seems normal to Jack clearly should not be. Jack gives everything in the eleven-by-eleven foot room a proper name; the wardrobe he sleeps in at night is Wardrobe, and the bed Ma sleeps in is called Bed. There are other examples such as Rug, Thermostat, Watch, Rocker, Duvet, Toilet, Sink, Door, Lamp, Shelf, but the most important one is Room. This styling technique is a clever way to show the world through a five-year old’s mind, who has not seen anything else but these objects inside Room. His clear cut, precise language lets the reader see the room in a basic, simple way. Though he doesn’t see Room as malicious, the way Ma does. He enjoys being inside Room, and listening to Ma read him stories, and doing their daily activities of watching some TV, and playing “P.E” where he runs around and jumps on the bed.

Donoghue’s eerie tone is unique because while Jack sees all of this to be normal, the reader is forced to become distant from him knowing his lifestyle is far from normal. He sees their daily routine as almost fun and looks forward to Sunday Treat every week brought by the mysterious Old Nick. As Ma creates their ultimate escape plan, Jack’s inner thoughts are so reluctant to go along with it. He cried and fought with her, but the reader truly sees his emotions through his narrative as he thinks of how much he hates Ma at that moment, and how much he doesn’t want to leave Room. It can become difficult here reading the mind of a five-year-old. Jack is almost annoying with how stubborn he seems to be, but remembering he’s a scared five-year-old always puts things into perspective. Even when Ma is “unlying” to him and starts telling Jack about the real world, Jack is resistant and doesn’t believe her. The reader almost wants to jump in and shout to Jack “she’s telling the truth, there’s more to it than Room!” The reader has a hard time connecting with him because of the situation he was born within. His thoughts of wanting to stay in Room continue even after they escape Room.

Seeing the world through a five-year old’s mind who has never been in the “outside” world is just as well written. Donoghue captures Jack’s first moments outside to be loud, large, and with so many more objects Jack has never encountered. Through Jack’s mind, we only read descriptions of juice, syrup, and stairs, but know what it is as Ma tries to explain everything to him. Everything to Jack in the real world seems foreign when, to the reader, it’s everyday things. When Jack goes to a mall and sees a book he used to have in Room, the reader sees Jack trying to grasp the idea of multiple copies of the same book so more than one person can own it. Even when he goes into a public bathroom, he still recalls seeing “many Toilets” in one place, rather than understanding that toilets exist all over the world, and not just inside Room.

If the story were written in Ma’s point of view, the tone of the story wouldn’t have been as eerie, but rather thrilling and nerve-wracking. Jack is relatively calm throughout the story, even while in Room. If the reader were inside Ma’s head, the images of hatred towards the man who kidnapped her would cloud the story, as well as the desperation to escape, and the fear of not being able to get away. Instead, the reader feels like everything inside Room is supposedly fine because Jack thinks it’s fine. But then when they are no longer in Room and return to everyday life, the reader feels like they are in someplace foreign because to Jack daily life is foreign. This reversal of roles is because Jack had never seen the outside world before, and struggled to grasp everyday concepts most people take for granted. Ma’s point of view would have felt like life was better after Room, which doesn’t make for as interesting or unique story. While by the end of the novel the reader sees Jack beings to come to terms with the outside world versus Room, but still much more for him to learn.

Room is a novel to be examined for its five-year-old protagonist, and to be looked up to for writers considering writing a story from the eyes of a child narrator. Not every story would be suited for a young narrator, so knowing the motivations behind it are important. Jack’s narration added to the story, rather than distracted. The point of view is an important aspect of a story, and can often make or break it. Jack’s young point of view changed how the tragic story was told by giving it a unique twist not often heard, leaving the storyline lingering in the reader’s head days after it’s finished.

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