Feminist by nature, Doris Lessing’s masterwork To Room Nineteen depicts the impact of a patriarchal social and cultural structures on the mental health of Susan Rawlings, which finally leads to her committing suicide in the hotel room she reserved to escape society and find solace in solitude. Susan is one of the most interesting characters in literature; she becomes psychotic and dies as a result of distancing herself from traditional conventions that she can no longer tolerate.
Doris Lessing is a prolific author who has created a large number of high-quality works on a wide variety of themes and in many genres. The spiritual and mystical themes of Lessing’s writings range from philosophical issues about life to generational conflicts, the investigation of the human psyche, politics, etc. Lessing has written extensively about the inner thoughts of women, namely how women get disillusioned, leave the patriarchal culture, and become estranged. In To Room Nineteen, her protagonist Susan adopts the role society expects of her and remains inside the patriarchal society’s bounds throughout her life. However, after a tragic encounter, she begins on a mission to discover her identity, which causes her to despise social and cultural conventions since she can no longer tolerate the afflictions associated with society’s expectations. She thinks she has lost her genuine identity owing to the multiple identities forced on her by society, such as that of a loving mother, an understanding wife, and the ideal companion.
Feminist analysis of the perfect marriage as considered by the society
Susan and Matthew are seen as a great pair by society. They love and care for one another and appear to have a healthy connection. Susan is initially satisfied with her married life. Susan, a professional woman before her marriage, plays the role of a typical housewife, becomes pregnant four times, and quits her career after marriage. She does not comprehend that by retreating from public to private life, she is committing the worst error of her life, which will come back to haunt her in the future. She assumes the role of a traditional lady with ease. For the sake of harmonious home life, she compromises her instinct to work. She is supposed to be a decent, considerate, and submissive wife in her patriarchal society. And she becomes just what is anticipated. As her spouse works outdoors, she adheres to the “Cult of Domesticity.” She is satisfied with this lifestyle for ten years until she realises she has lost herself.
She neglects her happiness while attempting to fulfil the position she has acquired in response to society’s expectations. She is no longer the formerly independent working woman. She has transformed into a different person, one she rejected while working outside the house. She is now a captive within her own home and is no longer free. The everyday rituals of caring for her children, spouse, and home have imprisoned her. This feeling of sadness and desire to reawaken her actual personality are the causes of her demise.
Alienation of Susan Rawlings and the disintegration of domestic life
“All Susan knows is that she is trapped in her own house and feels like a long-term prisoner, living out a prison sentence.”
Susan has sacrificed her happiness in an attempt to please everyone. She fears losing her individuality after spending ten years of her life in the prison society has constructed for her. She wants solitude to discover herself. She cannot find the time to be herself because she has so many duties. She dedicates every day of her life to serving her family. She longs for the day when she will be liberated from such obligations and have the opportunity to reconsider her identity. She finds the label “angel of the house” more intolerable. She has lost interest in her responsibilities and family life.
She feels constrained, restricted, controlled, caged, domesticated, tamed, dominated, and sad. The mystery of her identity plagues her for the remainder of her life. Who is she exactly? A submissive wife and excellent mother or a strong, independent woman? She needs time to consider such inquiries, which she seldom receives. She begins to dislike herself and her personality. She disapproves of the lady she has become. She despises society for transforming her into a lady she was never.
This isolation causes feelings of uneasiness and annoyance. If she cannot enjoy her life, she cannot effectively serve her family. The treachery of her spouse also contributes to her insane state. She slips into a mental state of turmoil as a result of living in a patriarchal culture and patriarchal family where she is expected to adhere to cultural norms. As a result, her home life disintegrates as she no longer feels joy in her husband’s warm embrace or her children’s affections.
Away from home is the one place where she thinks she can be herself again. She desires to find herself by spending time alone. As a result of her overwhelming feelings of grief and sadness, she hires a hotel room in which she would commit herself.
Patriarchy and the disintegration of a society
Throughout history, insanity or schizophrenia has been considered a feminine trait. Due to a dearth of study, however, no one paid attention to the causes of the greater prevalence of insanity among women. The causes of mental imbalance in women are societal in nature. In patriarchal societies, women have socially defined roles and duties. The socially manufactured roles of girls, wives, and mothers constrain and confine them. No matter how hard they try, they cannot escape it due to the massive social pushback. In such a circumstance, women cannot maintain mental and emotional wellness. Depression and anxiety, therefore, knock on the door. To Room Nineteen is a reflection of the reality that women’s wishes and aspirations must be taken into account to prevent mental illness.
Susan Rawlings’ mental state is chaotic because she is no longer a strong, independent woman capable of making intelligent judgments. She becomes withdrawn and cut off from the world. She prefers death to life since she can no longer sacrifice herself, her personality, or her goals for the sake of her family or society.
In a patriarchal social structure, women are frequently considered “the other,” leading to the breakdown of the entire community. Suicide rates increase because women can only escape their sorrows via death. If a woman has a healthy mental state, the family as a whole benefits, and vice versa.
Through Susan Rawlings, Lessing demonstrates the circumstances of traditional housewives in a patriarchal society. The desire of such ladies to be alone in order to be happy is also depicted in the narrative. Susan is transformed from a strong, confident woman to someone she no longer recognises as a result of the uneven power dynamics in her private and public life. To Room Nineteen is a narrative about the deterioration of Susan’s household and social life as a result of patriarchal pressure to maintain her socially imposed status.