To Room 19 by Doris Lessing is a story about a marriage that should have been perfect, but went horribly awry when the protagonist, Susan Rawlings, finds herself feeling empty and unfulfilled. Despite her four beautiful children, perfect husband, and huge white house with a garden, Susan can’t seem to find herself once her youngest children are old enough to go to school. At the root of the emptiness that Susan feels is the desire to be completely alone, unbound by the responsibilities of motherhood and being the ever-cheerful wife she has been until now. She tries to find a space to call her own within her house or out in the garden, but somehow her family manages to tarnish her solitude and she goes searching for a space elsewhere. Eventually, Susan becomes so desperate to escape the life everyone had thought would be perfect that she heads into town to rent out a dingy hotel room every day, feeling completely indifferent to the suspicions that may arise because of it. She arranges for the maid and nanny to take care of her household while she’s gone so that she can escape completely. In the end, Susan escapes her family entirely by becoming so crazed that she takes her own life in Room 19 of the hotel she had come to know as her own, leaving her once-perfect life behind.
This story is particularly interesting when analyzing place and space because Susan’s ideas of freedom seem to contradict the notions of freedom we’ve seen so far in other stories. In The House on Mango Street, freedom went hand-in-hand with an image of a house very similar to the house Susan actually owned. Spacious, unfenced, many rooms, and a beautiful garden with a river close by, this house would seem to represent freedom and happiness for most. Instead, when Susan finally finds a space to unload her worries, it is small, sleazy, cramped, and overall aesthetically unpleasing. And yet here is where she finds comfort.
I think that this idea relates very closely to what Tuan describes in his fifth chapter of Space and Place. He describes how others affect our space in very major ways, how once others share a space with us, all of their thoughts immediately come into play of our own. Once others enter our space, we can no longer think as freely as we do when we’re alone. This is exactly how Susan must have felt in her own home. There was always someone there, always someone that needed her attention, always someone to have in mind. The type of escape Susan needed was of solitude, not of space, which explains why she didn’t even feel free while on vacation to the mountains. All the space in the world wouldn’t have helped Susan so long as her family knew how to contact her.
In the end, Susan’s husband, Matthew, sends someone to the hotel where she had found her peace, and this completely destroys her sense of disappearing while she was there. Once that happened, the only way for Susan to leave her life behind was in the most literal of ways. Hence, in the same room where Susan seemed to have found herself, she loses herself completely, and takes her own life. Freedom for Susan meant freedom from others, not freedom from small space, and once others had discovered her, there was no point in searching for her freedom in the living world anymore.