I. Doris Lessing: “To Room 19”
a) Characterization of Susan and Matthew
b) A look at the Rawlings` marriage
II. Fay Weldon: “Weekend”
a) Characterization of Martha and Martin
b) A look at their marriage
III. Comparison of “To Room 19” and “Weekend”
a) Similarities and differences between the main characters
b) Thematic comparison
c) Comparison of narrative voice and point of view in both stories
“Ah, to be all things to all people: children, husband, employer, friends! It can be
done: yes, it can: super woman” (Weldon 1978, p. 312).
The short stories “To Room 19” by Doris Lessing and “Weekend” by Fay Weldon present two dissimilar woman who have problems to handle their lives in their families. As the quotation above shows, they have to take over a lot of different roles. This is sometimes very hard and demands a lot from the women.
In my research paper I analyse what the problems in these two families are and how they have arisen. Moreover I have a detailed look at the attempts the characters make in both stories to solve these problems. Of course I also take into my analysis some theoretical questions of narrative fiction. An extensive comparison of the results I have made in both stories makes up the end of my paper.
I. Doris Lessing: “To Room 19”
a) Characterization of Susan and Matthew
The short story “To Room 19”, written by Doris Lessing, contains two main characters. These are Susan and Matthew Rawlings, who are married with each other.
To understand this short story fully it is necessary to take a detailed look at the main characters. I am going to start with Matthew Rawlings.
His external appearance is described with the adjectives “handsome, blond, attractive, manly” (Lessing 1963, p. 154) and “blue-eyed” (Lessing 1963, p. 161). He is presented as a perfect- looking man who fits exactly to all the other perfect things which occur throughout the story. These are the perfect-matched couple, the “balanced and sensible family” (Lessing 1963, p. 151) and the perfect house in Richmond, to name just a few things.
Consequently Matthew has to be a gorgeous man to go together with all the ideal things which exist in the story.
Furthermore he is portrayed as a sensible and intelligent person.
He works as “a subeditor on a large London newspaper” (Lessing, 1963, p. 150) and earns a lot of money. He likes his job but he doesn´t see in it “a reason for living” (Lessing 1963, p. 152) although he lives “his real life in his work” (Lessing 1963, p. 168) and not at home. This means he is more interested in the events and people at work than in the happenings in his family at home. Even though he is a “full-time husband [and] […] father” (Lessing 1963, p. 152) who comes home from work every evening, he cares less for his family than for his job. One proof for this fact is that he has affairs. This shows that he doesn´t care much about the feelings of his wife.
But one can´t say that Matthew is completely uninterested in the state of his wife. After he realizes that something is wrong with Susan he is concerned. He tries to talk to her but he doesn´t get answers. He is suffering under her strange behaviour (p. 169).
He doesn´t “want to interfere” (Lessing 1963, p. 173) but he wants to find out why his wife behaves in so weird ways. So he sends a detective to find out where to she vanishes every day. This makes clear that on the one hand he has a big interest in Susan and her condition.
But on the other hand he doesn´t try to understand her problems. When she tells him one day that she “need[s] to be alone more than [she is]” (Lessing 1963, p. 161), he just comes back with the argument that he himself isn´t ever free, too. And he explains to her that one can´t be completely free in life – excepted “being dead” (Lessing 1963, p. 161). Everybody has his duties and so does he. But he never complains about it. He reproaches her.
Matthew can´t understand her dilemma and he doesn´t even make an effort. He is sort of thoughtless and inconsiderate regarding the solution of Susan´s problems.
Superficially regarded he seems to be there for her. He “comfort[s] her with his body” when she is crying and “drive[s] the misery out of her with his big solid body” (Lessing 1963, p. 158). But as I have elucidated in the paragraph before he doesn´t try to help her with her problems. He listens to her but he doesn´t make an effort to understand what she is saying.
Furthermore he doesn´t mind to hurt her feelings because he is unfaithful.
Accordingly it can be said that Matthew is only at first sight a perfect husband. Under his ideal surface he hides some bad sides.
Another thing that can be added to his covered bad sides is his proposal to make a foursome with Susan´s fictional lover Michael Plant and his really existing mistress Phil Hunt. Of course his idea seems to be the only sensible solution to get out of this complicated situation. But people don´t think in sensible ways all the time. Emotions play always an important role. And it is definitively no nice character trait to forget to think of the emotions of other people. But Matthew does so. If he would not, he could have said to his wife ‘Let´s end our affairs and try to find a way back to the nice relationship we have had once’.
The situation I have just described is not the only one when he thinks in reasonable ways. Another example is that he doesn´t want to believe that his wife is mad. He would be very terrified when he would find out that she spends her days in Room 19 with doing nothing instead of having an affair there. This would scare him so much because it is not sensible to sit hours and hours in a lonely room and feel absolutely happy. Before he believes in this he rather believes in Susan having an affair. And even if there were many proofs speaking against an affair, he would kid himself about it. He would never believe that she is mad.
Now it is time to analyse the character of Susan Rawlings in detail.
Before she becomes pregnant she “work[s] in an advertising firm” (Lessing 1963, p. 150). But she gives up her job when the first baby is born. She doesn´t go back into work although her firm asks her to come. Susan knows that “children need[…] their mother to a certain age” and until the four children aren´t “of the right age” (Lessing 1963, p. 153), she would not work again.
Her life can be described as perfect: a lovely husband who earns enough money to pay for her and the children´s sake, “four healthy […] children” (Lessing 1963, p. 153), a large house located in a nice area and a daily woman who helps her with the burden of the household.
Even the affair which her husband has with a girl named Myra Jenkins can´t destroy this wonderful circumstances in her life. She forgives him, “of course”, because “the whole thing [is] not important” and “it [is] banal” (Lessing 1963, p. 153). She thinks in sensible ways as Matthew does, and she is aware of the fact that “the idea that […] a pretty girl […] could be […] relevant [is] ridiculous” (Lessing 1963, p. 154). Such a momentary adventure hasn´t got the power to end the love of Susan and her husband. She keeps hold of the marriage for every price. And the affair with Myra Jenkins wasn´t a single mistake. When he comes home from an adventure, Susan knows he has been unfaithful “because of his sullen air, and his glances at her” (Lessing 1963, p. 155).
She always tries to think in intelligent ways. She keeps her emotions away. Emotions which would be understandable after a shock like Matthews affair. But she understands it because she is intelligent and knows that “no one can be faithful to one other person for a whole lifetime” (Lessing 1963, p. 153).