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In the brief stories “To Room Nineteen” by Doris Lessing and “Death By Landscape” by Margaret Atwood, two women discover themselves isolated from the world and the people around them. This paper will compare and contrast each story to reveal that although both female protagonists are isolated by their circumstances, their individual reactions to their situations are extremely various.
In “To Room Nineteen” Susan’s isolation is triggered by a number of aspects: society and the time she resides in, an unfaithful spouse in a damaged marriage, and her own failure to deal with her unhappy life.
“… She knew he had been unfaithful because of his sullen air, and his glances at her, comparable to hers at him: What is that I share with this individual that guards all pleasure from me?” (p. 871) Susan feels trapped by her life and her family, and pestered by her husband’s infidelity and the understanding that this social standard which she should find out to accept.
In “Death by Landscape” Lois’ isolation is from the reality she is entrusted to no household. Her kids have actually grown up and left house and she is a widow. This leaves her without any one to support or take care of her. “While Rob lived, while the boys were growing up, she could pretend she didn’t hear it, this empty space in noise. Today there is nothing much left to distract her.” (p. 35) Lois is tortured by her past instead of her present, the terrible experience of a youth buddy disappearing has actually remained with her for a years.
In both stories the protagonists share the conflict of the circumstances they live in -oppression from external power. For Lois, she is never able to quite move on from her friend’s disappearance. “She would never go up North, to Rob’s family cottage or to any place with wild lakes and wild trees and the calls of loons.” (p.35) One of the major factors of her conflict is the result of her childhood camp leader Cappie, trying to unfairly blame her for the death or disappearance of her friend Lucy: “Didn’t what? Says Cappie softly. Didn’t what, Lois? Lois does the worst thing she begins to cry. Cappie gives her a look like a pounce. She’s got what she wanted.” (p.34)
Susan is isolated by her own unhappiness and growing mental instability. She struggles to maintain appearances and live up to societal expectations. “She said to Matthew in their bedroom: I think there must be something wrong with me.” (p.875) Her husband is no support to her and as he continues to carry on an affair, the distance between them increases, as well as her feelings of isolation. Susan hires a nanny to avoid the responsibilities of her family in order to try and escape them. She finds a room at an anonymous inn, which she uses as reprieve but this only amplifies her feelings of isolation and loneliness.
The key difference between the two protagonists is that over time, Lois is able to come to terms with her conflict and learn to accept it. She realizes that her friend’s disappearance is not her fault; the camp leader simply needed someone to blame. For Cappie, the idea of having no explanation for Lucy’s disappearance is simply too much to comprehend. Though the experience still haunts her, Lois tries to move on with her life.
Susan, however, falls victim to her conflict. She is unable to cope, when her husband confronts her asking if she is having an affair, she cannot face the prospect of coming to terms with the truth and reality of her life. Seeing no end to her struggles, Susan decides to commit suicide in room 19.
Both women are isolated from the world and the people around them due in part to the circumstances of their lives. Although both sets of circumstances are very different, they are the root cause of the conflict of the worlds in which both women seek to remove themselves from. Each character takes a different path that leads ultimately to the difference between life and death.
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