Paper 2, Rough Draft

Lois Lost in Landscapes

Rough Draft

In Margaret Atwood’s “Death by Landscape,” the main character, Lois, is trapped in her past because of a tragic experience at summer camp when she was younger. On a canoeing trip, she and her best friend, Lucy, separate from the group to investigate a lookout point and Lucy mysteriously vanishes. Now, Lois’ apartment is practically wallpapered in landscape paintings, reminding her constantly of that horrible memory. Her relationship with the landscape paintings indicate that she is trapped within those memories, and needs those paintings to feel that Lucy is still with her. Analyses of landscapes, time, and symbolic objects by Yi-Fu Tuan and Edward S. Casey help us to understand the way in which Lois remains in the past by surrounding herself with the landscape paintings.

On the canoeing trip, the girls stop to make camp at a marked lookout point. Lucy and Lois decide to venture up the cliff, in which “spindly balsam and spruce trees grow to either side” (Atwood 111). They’re in the middle of the forest, on top of a cliff, where no one can see or hear them. Tuan explains that “in a dense forest environment… aural space is less focused” and that “forest sounds are not precisely located” (Tuan 119). This is because of the many trees and other dense geological structures that turn the space into “a dense net of place with no overall structure” (ibid). It’s not hard to understand then, how someone can easily go missing, or how, had Lucy fallen off the lookout into the water, why it was that “there had been no sound of falling rock; there had been no splash” (Atwood 114).

Lucy reminds herself of this moment every day by looking at her landscape paintings. All of the paintings are “pictures of convoluted tree trunks… of a lake with rough, bright, sparsely wooded cliffs… of yellow autumn woods” (Atwood 100). Lois surrounded herself with the images; the walls were covered in “blocks of pictures, above and beside one another” (99). Lois preferred them like this. She wanted these pictures to be prominent because they were important to her, and having them cover her walls “[had] more of an impact” than if they were few and farther apart (ibid). In this way, Lois made it so that she could never leave the lookout point where she lost her best friend, never escape her memory, and remain in her past forever.

Throughout the story, there are many different implications of time passing. A very clear indicator is that the story revolves around a summer camp. Because the girls were apart for a full ten months out of the year, “when they met in the summer, it was always a shock… It was like watching someone grow up in jolts” (105). Lois also thinks to herself at some point that her and Lucy’s names “date [them]” and that “now [they were] obsolete” (ibid). These things indicate that, while in camp, time actually felt as though it were passing very quickly.  It is only later on that Lois finds herself stuck in the past. In “Time in Experiential Space,” Tuan explains that the different perceptions of time are either located in objective space or in subjective space. He says that “subjective space belongs to the mental realm,” while things like “cyclical time [such as] the movement of the sun… [are] located on objective space” (Tuan 120). This is interesting in Lois’ case, because her sense of the physical passing of time—what should be located in objective space—has been taken over by her subjective space in which her haunting memories reside. Atwood makes this notion of Lois’ awareness of time particularly prominent when, just before Lucy disappears, “Lois looks at her watch” (111). Clearly, when Lucy was still around and the girls were in camp, Lois was very much aware of the passing of time, for “she [was] the watch-minder” while “Lucy [was] careless of time” (ibid). It is only after Lucy disappears and Lois is left to carry out her life without her friend that she forces herself to stay locked in that moment instead of moving on.

Tuan then goes on to explain the significance of landscape paintings. He reminds us that upon looking at landscape paintings, “we almost automatically arrange its components” to be able to set them in terms of our own lives (Tuan 123). We picture ourselves inside the painting, and “imagine ourselves traveling down [the countryside] road” in the picture (ibid). Distinguished professor and phenomenologist Edward S. Casey also explains that landscapes are more than just representations of geological formations. Rather, when painting the landscape, “the artist’s body… displays its sense of the place it paints” and not just “the landscape’s precise contours” (Casey 261). We look at landscape paintings, and become a part of the scene. Casey explains that in these portrayals of wide horizons and lush trees, he “feel[s] that [he is] already over there, out there” in the scene (265). When Lois looks at the paintings in her apartment, she too is transported back into the scene that they represent, for when she “looks at her pictures… it’s the same landscape they paddled through” (Atwood 117). Of course, these images are not paintings of the same lookout on which Lucy and Lois stood years before. But to Lois, they were exactly the same, and she chose to surround herself with the images so as to constantly live within them, and be transported back to that crucial, tragic moment in her life.

Casey also calls these broad images worldscapes, in which the image is a “non-enclosed, ever-expanding totality” much like scenes described in Lois’ paintings of lakes that stretch out before her as seen from high up places (Casey 265). He explains that “what matters in a worldscape is the… panoramic sense of endless space and… time” (ibid). This is important because for Lois, her landscape paintings represent an endless time for Lucy. Lois is traumatized by the fact that Lucy’s fate is unclear, and therefore feels the need to ensure that she live on in some way. The paintings give Lucy endless time in which to live and last in Lois’ life. Lois feels that “every one of [the paintings] is a picture of Lucy” (Atwood 118). Because the landscape paintings are there, Lucy “is in Lois’ apartment” and “she is entirely alive” in Lois’ mind (ibid). It is for this reason that Lois feels the need to remain stuck within her memory of Lucy and that dreadful moment on the canoe trip. If Lois were to move on and risk forgetting what that moment meant to her, she would risk losing Lucy for the second time, this time forever. Lois chooses to surround herself with her paintings so that she can stay in the landscapes, and so that Lucy can peer out through them and continue to live within them.

Through her landscape paintings, Lois keeps herself trapped and surrounded by the memories of her and Lucy at the lookout over the lake. Casey and Tuan help us to understand how and why it is that Lois feels this connection to the landscapes by explaining that these images are not just representations of a scene. Rather, Lois’ affinity for the paintings shows us “the process by which… a story gets attached to an object” (Casey 14). She demonstrates “the habit of mind that looks behind objects to events, and sees in objects a sign of something else” (ibid). Behind those paintings lies Lucy’s story and hence what remains of her life. For this reason, Lois must keep the paintings close to her, in order to keep herself within the past and Lucy within the present.

Published in: on March 31, 2011 at 5:12 pm Comments (0)

The Things They Carried

In Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” we are transported to various scenes of a troop of young soldiers in the middle of the Vietnam War. O’Brien tells story after story about the war, the soldiers, and about the many physical and emotional things they carried with them while at war.

While there were various select sentences in Tuan’s chapter on “Intimate Experiences of Place” that pertained to “The Things They Carried,” I didn’t quite feel that the bulk of what he was talking about related too much to O’Brien’s work, particularly because Tuan spends so much time discussing the notions of “home” while the boys in the army are so very far from their homes. I can understand that in many ways, the soldiers find a type of “home” within each other, such as Norman Bowker and the way he couldn’t find meaning in life outside of the war. Still, I think that the whole point of the story is largely about how they are NOT home, they are not in a place of comfort, they are not surrounded by familiarity of childhood memories. On the contrary: they are destroying the homes of others. In this sense, I don’t feel Tuan was particularly helpful in understanding “The Things They Carried” despite how beautiful many of the concepts discussed were.

However, there were a few things I thought related well to O’Brien’s book. Tuan talks about how it is the people and objects within our spaces that turn them into intimate places. He explains that “in the absence of the right people, things and places are quickly drained of meaning so that their lastingness is an irritation rather than a comfort” (140). This holds particularly true for when O’Brien returns to Vietnam with his daughter. She couldn’t possibly see how much these scenes meant to him, and he couldn’t possibly explain it to her, because his experience wasn’t really about the place itself in its physical meaning. Rather, it had to do with the people he knew, fought with, and lost there.

Another aspect of Tuan’s work that I thought related well to “The Things They Carried” was about expressing memory. He says that intimate places “may be etched in the deep recesses of memory and yield intense satisfaction with each recall, but they are not recorded like snapshots in the family album” (141). I find this statement to be extremely significant because everything O’Brien is doing in “The Things They Carried” is recalling memory and trying to project what he saw and felt unto us, the readers. Note that whether the details in the memories are true or not is completely irrelevant. Memories aren’t like photographic evidence in which you can pinpoint exactly who was standing where and what they were wearing. Rather, what sticks out in a memory is what was important to the overall feel of the experience, and this is what O’Brien is doing in his book. Tuan sites a story of a professor in a California university whose “day was brightened” because he saw his two favorite students sitting under a skimpy looking tree waving to him (141). Tuan explains, “all who read the passage and nod in recognition, whether or not they have taught in an American college… share it to some degree” (148). This is particularly important because it shows how we all have experiences of intimacy and emotion without being able to fully express how or why it made us feel a certain way, but the knowledge that that phenomenon has occurred is enough to allow us to identify. In this way, O’Brien retells his experiences and projects emotions and occurrences revolving friendship, disappointment, and life being simply unfair. Even without having gone to war, most of  us can identify with these feelings. Reading O’Brien’s work only heightens our sensitivity to them, and allows us to share in some of the experiences he discusses in “The Things They Carried.”

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 10:59 am Comments (1)

Death by Landscape

Tuan’s ninth chapter of Space and Place, “Time in Experiential Space,” seems at times as though it were written as a supplement to Margaret Atwood’s “Death by Landscape.” In the short story, the main character, Lois, is stuck in her past because of an experience from childhood that haunts her every day. As a girl, Lois went to camp with a girl named Lucy. On a canoe trip, Lucy mysteriously disappears off a lookout point in the forest and Lois is the only one who was there. She is made to feel responsible, and for this reason she carries the weight of Lucy’s lost life with her throughout every occurrence in her own life. This manifests itself in a collection of landscape paintings Lois keeps in her home. These landscapes serve as snapshots of where Lucy disappeared, and Lois feels that Lucy lives through the landscape paintings.

In this chapter, Tuan discusses many interesting concepts that pertain to Margaret Atwood’s story. He says that physical space has been called “spatialized time” (118). This feels like exactly what Lois was trying to do with her paintings. The physical space in which that terrible moment in Lois’ life took place represents that time period itself. Lois can’t let go of the landscapes because she can’t let go of that time and event. Tuan also discusses the difference between objective and subject space. Objective spaces are physical, tangible objects, while “subjective space belongs to the mental realm” (120). He says that “cyclical time—the movement of the sun and the pendulum swing of the seasons—is located on objective space” (120). However, for someone like Lois who is trapped in one moment, the passing of time has little bearing on her life. Yes, she marries and has children, but because she feels trapped with Lucy, she feels that her life has been lived for someone else… the passing of time is more subjective for Lois than objective.

What’s especially crucial in our discussion of “Death by Landscape” is Tuan’s discussion on the way time and space is perceived in a forest. He says that “in a dense forest environment… aural space is less focused. Forest sounds are not precisely located,” which could explain why Lois may not have been able to identify exactly where Lucy’s scream came from, why they didn’t hear the splashing of water or the falling of rocks, and why they never found Lucy (119). It would have also been extremely difficult to locate Lucy in the forest because there, “space… is a dense net of places with no overall structure” (119-120).

Finally, Tuan begins to discuss landscape paintings. He says that upon looking at a landscape painting, “we almost automatically arrange its components” to be able to set them in terms of our life (123). In a scene of a countryside, “we imagine ourselves traveling down [the] road” in the painting (123). This phenomenon couldn’t hold truer for Lois in the way she needs to keep the images of that moment with Lucy in her life, in her home, to constantly live through them and to allow Lucy, who she feels looks out at life through the paintings, to live and exist within them as well. By keeping the paintings around, Lois keeps herself in that moment, never letting go of Lucy or the moment her life changed forever.

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 11:41 am Comments (0)

Babylon Revisited

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited,” the main character, Charlie, is attempting to put his life back together after a three-year rough patch that involved alcoholism, the collapse of his marriage, and the death of his wife. Now that he’s been sober for a year and a half and is financially stable despite the crash of the stock market, Charlie’s main goal is to regain custody of his daughter Honoria from his wife’s sister and brother-in-law. However, Charlie’s return to Paris only reminds him of the life he used to lead, and the various settings described in the story are very telling of the relationships between the characters.

            The first place Charlie visits is the bar he used to go to with his friends. It was a busy place, full of life, and now has hardly anyone in it. Tuan says in his chapter on “Architectural Space and Awareness” that “architecture is key to comprehending reality” (102). There is a strong connection between the attachment Charlie has to the physical place itself and to all the memories he has there. The contrast lies in the fact that the architectural space has remained the same, but that so much else has changed. As Tuan says, this forces Charlie to see the reality that, although he is back to where his past took place, much has changed including himself.

            Another important instance of physical surroundings having an effect on relationships is within Marion and Lincoln’s home. Tuan explains that “built environment clarifies social roles and relations” (102). This is especially true when it comes to people’s homes. Charlie notes how protected the children feel in Marion’s house, and it’s extremely significant that Charlie needs to enter someone else’s domain in order to obtain something that is his. At this point in time, Honoria’s guardians are Marion and Lincoln, and they have been more of parents to her than Charlie has. They are the parents of the household, and Charlie feels the strain of the relationship between them every time he enters the building.

            Tuan also speaks of a social awareness that comes with private and public domains. He says that everyone knows of the differences between “inside and outside, of intimacy and exposure, of private life and public space” (107). Unfortunately, some people are more conscious of these differences than others. The turning point in the story comes when Charlie’s boisterous friends from the past take the liberty to find Lincoln’s address and invite themselves over. They come in the middle of what started as a hopeful discussion about Honoria’s custody, and ruin Charlie’s chances of getting his child back. They were completely disrespectful of Charlie’s private life, and their loudness and disregard for someone’s intimate space shows that they weren’t concerned about interrupting anything of importance at all. They blurred the lines of behavior fit for “outside” and behavior fit for “inside,” and because of this, Charlie’s plan is ultimately ruined.

Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 1:42 pm Comments (0)

The Lottery

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a terribly saddening story about a village that is so stuck in its traditions that it fails to evolve and change them, even if it would mean preserving justice and life. Every year, an innocent member of the society selects their fate at random, choosing a slip of paper from a tattered box to determine who will be stoned to death by the rest of the village. There are many things wrong with the story that cause the reader to question why the village would continue such an awful custom. Firstly, the village doesn’t seem to welcome logic, neither in terms of the practice itself nor in terms of the continuation of the practice. If the village believed in a god that needed human sacrifices, as cruel as it would be, at least this practice makes some sort of cohesive sense if it’s a genuine belief. But this lottery seems to have no purpose other than the fact that it’s tradition. At one point, the eldest member of the village makes a reference to having enough food because of the lottery. However, when a younger member explains that “some places [had] already quit lotteries” and that they were doing just fine, the comment is brushed of with disdain (Jackson 250). Obviously there was proof that the lottery was not necessary for their survival, and yet no one seemed interested in changing the custom. Apparently, nearly all humans hold fast to their beliefs and myths despite logical proof that they have erred. Tuan uses explorers searching for mythical locations such as paradise as an example. Even “repeated failure to locate [the mythical places] did not discourage explorers from making further efforts [to find them]” (Tuan 85). When it comes to myths and beliefs, more often than not logic is rejected in favor of maintaining the comfort that comes with believing one knows the infallible truth. Another thing that bothered me about the village was that their belief in maintaining tradition was very inconsistent. They no longer bother listening to the instructions, and “much of the [original] ritual had been forgotten or discard” (Jackson 248). There were very obviously many aspects of the tradition that had change. Why, then, were they so opposed to changing their tradition of murdering an innocent person? If they wanted to maintain culture, they could have held a symbolic lottery to demonstrate the customs of the past, but refrained from killing anyone to show how the culture has evolved. The hypocrisy is unbearable.

The village is also a perfect example of the human tendency to seek routine and maintain their beliefs. Year after year, the village participates in this horrendous tradition without giving their actions any thought. This is extremely common for those who find comfort in routine, especially with those traditions with which they’ve been raised since childhood. Tuan explains that “to be livable, nature and society must show order,” and to this society, order meant maintaining this yearly ritual (Tuan 88). He goes on to explain that “to discard the idea… would have threatened a whole way of looking at the world” (Tuan 86). This is certainly understandable and can be observed frequently in people’s lives. Imagine a child’s reaction when discovering that what they had believed for so long to be the Tooth Fairy was in actuality their parents coming in the middle of the night to replace their teeth with coins. Their world is shattered, and I imagine for many in this village, the realization that their beloved tradition held absolutely no purpose would have been devastating; many would refuse to believe that their annual heartless murder was for no reason at all.

Though it is rare, it is possible to let go of superstitions upon realization that they are flawed or illogical. Tuan brings in the case of the Puluwatans: “as a pragmatic people, [they] readily abandon rituals and taboos when these are shown to lack power” (Tuan 87). Many in history have let go of false beliefs, from the notion that the solar system revolves around the Earth, to the idea that tossing alleged witches into the river to drown was an appropriate response to suspicion. But in this village, the value of tradition and culture overrides that of fairness, mercy, logic, and the preservation of life.

Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm Comments (0)

To Room 19 , Final draft

In the short story “To Room Nineteen” by Doris Lessing, Susan Rawlings is a woman living what seems like the perfect life with the perfect marriage. However, it soon becomes clear that Susan isn’t as happy with her life as one might think upon first glance. Slowly but surely, Susan begins to drift away from her home life in attempts to find freedom through solitude. This reaction can be analyzed by taking a closer look at how Susan relates to the places in her life such as her beautiful home with her family and the small hotel room to which she escapes. Reading the fifth chapter of Yi-Fu Tuan’s Space and Place alongside “To Room Nineteen” helps us to understand the counterintuitive notions of space and freedom Lessing describes in her story. In this way, Tuan’s insight helps us recognize Susan’s fear of responsibility and desire for freedom as they relate to the places in her life.

From the outside, it seems as though Susan lives the ideal life with a big house and a beautiful garden for her children and loving husband. However, as the story progresses, we see that Susan becomes more and more “reluctant to enter her big beautiful home” (Lessing 530). This same attractive, picture-perfect house begins to push Susan away, for in it are the many responsibilities that come with adult-life and motherhood. The more these responsibilities weighed down on Susan, the more it felt “as if something was waiting for her there she did not wish to confront” (530). This seems strange because, typically, “spaciousness is closely associated with [freedom]” as Tuan explains in Space and Place (52). By this logic, one would think that Susan would feel plenty free in her big home with the spacious, lush garden to wander through. However, although “freedom implies space,” space does not always imply freedom (52). What Susan truly needed was space from her family, and freedom from her responsibilities.

This becomes evident when Susan takes her vacation to the mountains in Wales. Physically, she had all the space in the world, from huge mountains to tall skies and deep valleys. But with her family calling her multiple times a day, Susan felt like “the telephone wire [was] holding her to her duty like a leash” (Lessing 538). Tuan explains this phenomenon by stating that “solitude is broken not so much by the number of organisms in nature as by the sense of busy-ness—including busy-ness of the mind” (61). This is exactly what Susan felt, for although she was alone physically, her family weighed down on her mind constantly, ruining her sense of solitude. Though they tried to be helpful and supportive, Susan’s family couldn’t understand this critical concept. Had they been able to go a few days without calling her or without Mrs. Parkes nagging her with household business, perhaps Susan’s vacation would have appeased her craving for solitude. Alas, the opportunity was spoiled and Susan returned to her home feeling more exhausted than when she had left.

For all of these reasons, Susan felt it necessary to seek out Room 19 in Fred’s Hotel. This was Susan’s escape, not because it was a vast, open land like the mountains were, but because no one knew she was there. It didn’t even matter that “the room was hideous” because “she was free” (Lessing 541). The room she was shown was small and dingy, with only one small window and cheap looking sheets on the sole bed that was there. All Susan needed was to be “alone and with no one knowing where [she was]” (Lessing 537). In this way Susan’s relationship with the dreary motel room allows us to understand the counterintuitive notion of freedom as relating to space. This was the only place she could get away from herself and be free. Here, “she was no longer Susan Rawlings… she had no past, no future” and it had nothing to do at all with physical space (542). Instead, it was the cramped little motel room that gave Susan her freedom, giving us insight as to why she searched out Room 19.

We also saw something interesting in the scene where Susan meets Mrs. Townsend. The presence of just one other person ruined Susan’s entire attempt at solitude. Here, we can compare Susan to the pianist Tuan discusses on page fifty-nine of his book. He explains that for a shy pianist practicing alone in a room, the presence of just one person shatters his world and forces him to stop his work immediately. Like the pianist, Susan’s solitude was obviously tarnished by the presence of others. Tuan touches on this idea as well when he says that “the company of human beings—even [one] other person—has the effect of curtailing space” (59). He explains that when we are alone, we can allow our thoughts to “wander freely over space,” but that “in the presence of others, [our thoughts] are pulled back by an awareness of other personalities who project their own world onto the same area” (59).

Another crucial aspect of Susan’s solitude wasn’t just that no one was around, but that no one knew where she was. Tuan explains why Susan’s solitude is tarnished even with someone’s mere knowledge of her location, saying that “crowding is an awareness that one is observed” (60). Once Susan felt that her husband was keeping a close eye on her, the feeling she got from the room “was not the same, [for] her husband had searched her out” (544). Her husband’s suspicions were completely understandable, but at the same time, had he respected Susan’s need to be away, perhaps her hunger for solitude would have remained sated by the little motel room she had found.

It also becomes clear throughout the story that Susan desperately needed to escape her household responsibilities in addition to her family. Between hiring a fulltime au pair girl and running off to London for the hotel, it is clear that Susan had no interest in being with her family at home. Even when she was home for supper, all she could think about was how desperate she was to be alone again. The association she made between her responsibilities and her house drove her away to be in Room 19 where she was completely alone and hidden from the outside world. There, she could let go of her life completely for the duration of the day and go back to pretending to love her home life at night.

By understanding Susan’s relationships to her spaces, we can understand her need to escape the life she built for herself. Her detachment to her beautiful home signifies the way she let go of the perfect life she created with her family while her need for Room 19 highlights how much she wished to be completely alone. Once her husband found her out, the solitude that Susan had searched for so desperately was tarnished. After this, Susan felt cornered into escaping life altogether. No amount of space could satisfy her, because now it seemed that her family would find her even in the smallest and most hidden of places. The only way Susan could leave her life behind completely was by taking it herself, and she finds this permanent escape in Room 19, the only place that allowed her to be completely free.

Published in: on at 12:59 pm Comments (0)

Cathedral

In the short story “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver, a husband is narrating his experience meeting his wife’s close friend for the first time. This friend, Robert, is a blind man and the wife’s true confidante in life. At first, the husband is very discontent with the prospect of having a blind man in his home because he had never really spoken to or known anyone personally who was blind. This seems very insensitive at first, but to some degree I can understand why he might be nervous to interact with Robert. However, I think that the husband felt threatened by his wife’s and Robert’s closeness, and was anxious more because of that jealousy and resentment than anything else. The entire evening, the husband takes careful note of just about everything the blind man does, from the way he eats dinner to the way he lights his cigarettes. Eventually, Robert & the husband are left by themselves watching television while the wife sleeps on the couch. It occurs to the husband that, while they were watching (or listening to as in Robert’s case) a program about cathedrals, Robert may not have a clue as to what a cathedral looks like. He tries to explain to Robert what it looks like, but feels that his explanation is inadequate. It seems significant to the husband that cathedrals mean nothing to him; they have no spiritual or religious value at all. Robert suggests that they draw the cathedral together, and this is an extremely moving part of the story. Finally, the husband closes his eyes in order to assess his work. This creates a beautiful irony seeing as the husband held so much animosity towards Robert for his blindness for the majority of the story.

Ironically, I don’t necessarily feel that the cathedral tells the most about the husband’s character. It’s obviously very significant, but I think the first place we’re made aware of is the husband’s home. He feels very threatened by Robert’s and his wife’s relationship, and the fact the Robert was being invited into his home, his territory, is very significant for the husband. What’s also clear is the constant separation between the husband & Robert physically—they never sit next to each other. Any time the husband, wife, and Robert go into the living room to talk, the wife & Robert sit next to each other on the couch and the husband sits apart on the sofa chair. This points clearly to the emotional distance between Robert & the husband (as well as the distance between the husband and wife, for that matter). Even when Robert and the husband are on the same couch sharing a joint, the wife sits herself down in between them, separating them instantly. It’s only at the very end when Robert & the husband begin to draw together are they close, and this experience is what breaks the barrier between them. It’s clear that the differences the husband felt between he and Robert are completely broken when he appreciates the image he drew by temporarily becoming like Robert and closing his eyes.

Published in: on March 3, 2011 at 12:59 pm Comments (0)

To Room 19, Rough Draft

In the short story “To Room Nineteen” by Doris Lessing, Susan Rawlings is a woman living what seems like the perfect life with the perfect marriage. However, it soon becomes clear that Susan isn’t as happy with her life as one might think upon first glance. Slowly but surely, Susan begins to drift away from her home life in attempts to find freedom through solitude. This reaction can be analyzed by taking a closer look at how Susan relates to the places in her life such as her beautiful home with her family and the small hotel room she escapes to. Yi-Fu Tuan also helps us to understand these counterintuitive notions of space and freedom in the fifth chapter of his book Space and Place.

From the outside, it seems as though Susan lives the ideal life in a big house with a beautiful garden for all of her children and loving husband. However, as the story progresses, we see that Susan becomes more and more “reluctant to enter her big beautiful home” (Lessing 530). This same attractive and picture-perfect house begins to push Susan away, for in it were the many responsibilities that come with adult-life and motherhood. The more these responsibilities weighed down on Susan, the more it felt “as if something was waiting for her there she did not wish to confront” (530). Typically, “spaciousness is closely associated with [freedom]” explains Tuan in Space and Place (52). For this reason one would think that Susan should feel plenty free in her big home with a huge, lush garden to wander through. However, although “freedom implies space,” space does not always imply freedom (52). What Susan truly needed was space from her family, and freedom from her responsibilities.

This becomes evident when Susan takes her vacation to the mountains in Wales. Physically, she had all the space in the world, from huge mountains to tall skies and deep valleys. But with her family calling her multiple times a day, Susan felt like “the telephone wire [was] holding her to her duty like a leash” (Lessing 538). Tuan explains this phenomenon by stating that “solitude is broken not so much by the number of organisms in nature as by the sense of busy-ness—including busy-ness of the mind” (61). This is exactly what Susan felt, for although she was alone physically, her family weighed down on her mind constantly, ruining her sense of solitude.

For all of these reasons, Susan felt it necessary to seek out Room 19 in Fred’s Hotel. This was Susan’s escape, not because it was a vast, open land like the mountains were, but because no one knew she was there. Because of this, it didn’t matter that “the room was hideous” because “she was free” (Lessing 541). The room she was shown was small and dingy, with only one small window and cheap looking sheets on the only bed that was there. None of this mattered because Susan’s escape was not only of her family, but of anyone else as we saw the first time she attempted escape in the lonely Miss Townsend’s hotel. Here we can compare Susan to the pianist Tuan discusses on page fifty-nine of his book. He explains that for a shy pianist practicing alone in a room, the presence of just one person shatters his world and forces him to stop his work immediately. Susan needed to be “alone and with no one knowing where I am” (Lessing 537). Through this relationship, the one between Susan and the dreary motel room, we can understand the counterintuitive notion of freedom as relating to space. This was the only place she could get away from herself and be free. Here, “she was no longer Susan Rawlings… she had no past, no future” and this is exactly the feeling she was seeking when she searched out Room 19 (542).

Clearly, Susan’s solitude was tarnished by the presence of others. Tuan touches on this idea as well when he says that “the company of human beings—even [one] other person—has the effect of curtailing space” (59). He explains that when we are alone, we can allow our thoughts to “wander freely over space,” but that “in the presence of others, [our thoughts] are pulled back by an awareness of other personalities who project their own world onto the same area” (59). He also explains why Susan’s solitude is tarnished even with someone’s mere knowledge of her location, because “crowding is an awareness that one is observed” (60). Once Susan felt that her husband was keeping a close eye on her, the feeling she got from the room “was not the same, [for] her husband had searched her out” (544).

Throughout the story we get more and more evidence that Susan needed to escape her responsibilities at home. Between hiring a fulltime au pair girl and running off to London for the hotel, it is clear Susan had no interest in being with her family at home. Even when she was home for supper, all she could think about was how desperate she was to be alone again. The association she made between her responsibilities and her house drove her away to be in Room 19 where she was completely alone and hidden from the outside world. There, she could let go of her life completely for the duration of the day and go back to pretending to love her home life at night.

By understanding Susan’s relationships to her spaces, we can understand her fears and desire. Her detachment to her beautiful home signifies the way she let go of the perfect life she created with her family while her need for Room 19 highlights how much she wished to be completely alone. Once her husband found her out, that solitude that Susan had searched for so desperately was tarnished. After this, Susan felt cornered into escaping life altogether. No amount of space could satisfy her, because now it seemed that her family would find her even in the smallest and most hidden of places. The only way Susan could leave her life behind completely was by taking it herself, and she finds this permanent escape in Room 19, the only place that allowed her to be completely free.

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