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NEGOTIATING MOTHERHOOD IN CONSTRAINING SPACE IN EMMA DONOGHUE’S ROOM

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p align="justify">This study sheds light on how Ma, the female character in Emma Donoghue’s Room negotiates her roles as a mother of a five-years-old Jack while living inside a constraining room built by Nick, her kidnapper. It particularly focuses on how Ma attempts to re-define her motherhood within built and discursive spaces that Nick constructs. The study employs the concepts of Sarah Ruddick on maternal thinking and Marsha Marotta’s MotherSpace. Marrota delineates two spatial aspects contributing to shape mother’s subjectivity; built spaces and discursive spaces. Built space is the 11x11m room representing Nick’s authority. Nick also partly constructs the discursive space within the room. The finding shows that Ma is able to create her own discursive space as her effort of conforming her motherhood, within the constraining built space. Ma successfully performs her sense of motherhood – such as providing him physical needs like nutritious food and nurturing his cognitive development.</p
Negotiating Motherhood in Constraining | 83
PARADIGM: Journal of Language and Literary Studies Vol. 2 No. 2, 2019
NEGOTIATING MOTHERHOOD IN CONSTRAINING SPACE IN EMMA
DONOGHUE’S ROOM
Putti Aisyah, Hujuala Rika Ayu
Universitas Negeri Surabaya
puttialif@mhs.unesa.ac.id, hujualarika@unesa.ac.id
Abstract
This study sheds light on how Ma, the female character in Emma Donoghue’s Room
negotiates her roles as a mother of a five-years-old Jack while living inside a
constraining room built by Nick, her kidnapper. It particularly focuses on how Ma
attempts to re-define her motherhood within built and discursive spaces that Nick
constructs. The study employs the concepts of Sarah Ruddick on maternal thinking
and Marsha Marotta’s Mother Space. Marrota delineates two aspects contributing
to shape mother’s subjectivity; built spaces and discursive spaces. In the case of Ma,
built space is the 11x11m room representing Nick’s authority. Nick also partly
constructs the discursive space within the room. The finding shows that Ma is able
to create her own discursive space as her effort of conforming her motherhood,
within the constraining built space. Ma successfully performs her sense of
motherhood such as providing him physical needs like nutritious food and
nurturing his cognitive development.
Keywords: Motherhood, motherspace, built space, discursive space
INTRODUCTION
This paper examines the efforts of the mother figure, Ma, in Emma Donoghue’s Room
in performing her motherhood within a confining situation. Nick, the kidnapper, creates
the confining situation in the form of a 11x11 room where he uses his power to control Ma
and Jack. This paper applies the concepts of Sarah Ruddick on maternal thinking and
Marsha Marotta’s motherspace. Marotta in MotherSpace: Disciplining through the Material
and Discursive (2005) emphasizes the significances of built and discursive spaces in
constructing motherhood. This paper particularly sees the interaction of distinguished
spaces in Donoghue’s Room in shaping the subjectivity of Ma.
Emma Donoghue’s Room tells about a girl being kidnapped and locked in a 11x11 m
room. Nick, the male character in the novel kidnapped Ma when she was 19 years old.
During her captivity, she gave birth to a boy named Jack. Together they live in this small
room for seven years. The room is soundproof and no insulation at all. The kidnapper
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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18860/prdg.v2i2.7674
supports them with enough electricity, water, and food. There is only a glass window on
the ceiling of their room and all daily life equipment such as bed, bathtub, wardrobe,
television, and kitchen all in one space. The only connecting door to the outside is fitted
with an electronic safety lock with a secret code, which is only known to the kidnapper.
Being a mother is one of the most powerful acts that a woman can perform. McDaniels
states that when someone chooses a position as a mother, she chooses to give a large
part of her life to the process of producing, guiding, and managing the lives of others
(2004). However, in the case of Ma, being a mother is a forced one. It is not a choice. Being
a forced mother within the constraining situation, she in fact, is challenged to show the
behavior of compassion and mutual care for her child. This paper firstly unravels the
geography of the room as the constraining space then sees how Ma performs her
motherhood within that limiting space.
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
This study specifically applies Marsha Marotta’s theory of MotherSpace and Iris
Young in Motherhood and Space: Configurations of the maternal through politics, home, and the
bod (2005). Motherhood is the state of being a mother based on the lexicon. The author
describes motherhood as a state when a woman gives birth to a child and then her world
changes. Marotta emphasizes that motherhood is a social construction, calling attention to
the role it plays in political and social control (p. 17). As a social construction, it is not
nature that determines how mothers should be at any particular point in time but rather
ideology and cultural forces. Women have babies and care for those babies. Motherhood
and motherSpace are tied to the historical moments in ways that reflect power relations at
that moment.
Marotta describes MotherSpace as a way of making power relations within and
through the function of being a mother. This becomes clear when the focus is on the
practices of mothers. Marotta then adds the meaning of practices from Foucault’ quotation
practices may be understood as places where what is said and what is done, rules
imposed and reasons were given, the planned and the taken for granted meet and
interconnect (Burchell, Gordon, & Miller, 1991, p. 75).
Combining her understanding and Foucault’s statement above, it can be concluded
that the everyday habits and activities of individuals include disciplinary practices which
help create environments and behaviors, which contribute to the construction of particular
kinds of individuals who tend to follow the social order and rules, tend to live their lives
according to the prevailing ideology of the time. Foucault explains, for example, that
society tends to make rules about what is right and what is wrong, and also what are the
punishments if someone disobeys the rules. This order and rules have been made to
maintain what society sees as the balance among them.
Furthermore, the discourse that supports the rules and orders within society must be
taught to the young generation which becomes the task of every parent. The main task of
a mother specifically. Then, as a conclusion, Marotta describes this task has become the
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space that limits the movements and behavior of mothers as this task is required to
complete the function control of mothers. Marotta states that through the variables of
territory, communication, and speed, mothers are encouraged to feel powerless to escape
MotherSpace (p. 19). Like the panopticon, which is based on the normalizing gaze that
establishes the visibility of power, MotherSpace is linked with seeing and being seen. For
mothers, material space is arranged in such a way that their presence or absence is
immediately visible. Discursive space is organized so that if children are unruly or engage
in risky behaviors, mothers are criticized for being absent and blamed if anything goes
wrong. Marotta sees mothers as objects rather than subjects (p. 20). This is especially can
be found in a space where neighbors do not know one another so that mothers feel isolated
from others.
Furthermore, in Maternal Thinking: toward a Politics of Peace (2005), Ruddick
emphasizes the importance of maternal practice as part of performing motherhood. She
defines maternal pratice as “a response to the reality of a biological child in a particular
social word” (p. 17). In this context, motherhood is directed toward the fulfilment of
children needs within certain social cluster. Maternal practice is therefore characterized
by three demands: preservation, growth, and social acceptance. Being a mother means
being committed to fulfill these demands, not only for the child’s sake but also for the
social groups in which a mother is recognized “whether by force, kinship or choice”,
through the work of preservative love, care, and training.
The first duty of mothers is to protect, preserve their children and, to keep them safe.
Preserving the lives of children is the central constitutive and also the aim of maternal
practice. Ruddick also added that to be committed to meet children's demand for
preservation does not require enthusiasm or even love; it means seeing vulnerability and
responding with caution rather than harassment, ignorance, or running away (p.19).
The second demand of motherhood is to nurture the children’s emotional and
intellectual growth as Confortini and Ruane (2013) explained below:
To foster growth … is to sponsor or nurture a child’s unfolding, expanding material
spirit. Children demand this nurturance because their development is complex,
gradual, and subject to distinctive kinds of distortion or inhibition…. Children’s
emotional, cognitive, sexual, and social development is sufficiently complex to
demand nurturance; this demand is an aspect of maternal work ... and it structures
maternal thinking (p. 83).
The third demand for maternal practice is training and social acceptability of children
where children is formed by a social group where the mothers belong to. Then, the
children will be “accepted” as the mothers teach them in “acceptable” ways based on the
groups. The acceptance is believed as something unnatural, cannot grow naturally,
therefore, children need their mothers to train them. The training methods could be varied,
from respectful to abusive, or even mix of some methods (p. 21).
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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18860/prdg.v2i2.7674
METHOD
As a descriptive qualitative research, close reading is particularly used in this research
to analyze the novel and answer the questions proposed in the introduction. Reading a
novel is important to accomplish the themes of the novel. The data are limited on the
mother’s parenting style for the development of the son. The next procedure is making an
outline of the whole content of the thesis. In the outline, it has been decided what
statements of the problem are going to be. The first part of the discussion focuses on
elaborating the room as the built space and how the room supports Ma’s motherhood. The
second part of the discussion emphasizes on the discursive space and how within this
limited discursive space Ma’s negotiate her efforts.
DISCUSSION
Room as the Embodiment of Built Space
Part of this paper focuses on the bodily description of the room. The title of the novel,
Room, can be understood as a fixed and concrete place, principally comprising the inside
and the outside parts. Referring to the concept of motherspace, room can be categorized
into the built or material space that are “bounded and visible” (Marotta, p.15). Marotta
uses the word “space” interchangeably to not merely refer to particular location but also
“the practices associated with assignments or roles that are carried out there” (p. 16).
Physically, the room where Ma and Jack are being locked is around 11 x 11 m for.
Together they live in a small room for seven years. The room is soundproof and no
insulation at all. The kidnapper supported them with enough electricity, water, and food.
There was only a glass window on the ceiling of their room and all daily life support
equipment such as bed, bathtub, wardrobe, television, and kitchen all in one space. The
only connecting door to the outside was fitted with an electronic safety lock with a secret
code, which was only known to the kidnapper.
Inside the room, Jack is Ma's life. She spends every moment with him, educating him,
feeding him, playing with him. She still breastfeeds him too, which is normal within the
Room because in the room they only belong to each other. No rules or categories to be
fitted as the right or wrong one. Unlike Jack, Ma wants to return to the outside world. Jack
does not know anything besides the room. Jack divides the world into two areas of realms.
There is Room, as Jack calls it because he can name things inside the room into characters
as he please and his mother teaches him how to. The second area is Outer Space. For Jack,
Room is a place of such warmth, fun, intimacy, and routine. For Ma, it’s a very different
story. Seven years earlier she was on her way to her college’s library when she met a bad
man who kidnapped her as she explained how Old Nick kidnapped her.
The first one is to protect and preserve their children means to fulfill their body needs
to keep on living. A mother has to provide milk and notorious food for her child. Keeping
a child healthy is not only giving food but also how to make their body fit as well through
exercise.
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I can smell Ma beside me, I’ve got the best nose in the family. “Oh, I forgot to have some when I
woke up.”
“That’s OK. Maybe we could skip it once in a while, now you’re five?”
“No way Jose.”
So she lies down on the white of Duvet and me too and I have lots. (8)
Jack is still breastfeeding even though he is 5 years old. The quotes above show when
Jack woke up he was laying next to Ma and ask for the milk. Normally, the breastfeeding
will stop when the child is 2 years old. However, in Ma’s situation, she only wants the best
nutrition for her son, Jack so that he will not get sick easily since they were being captive
and she is sure that Old Nick will not bring Jack to go see doctor is he is sick. Therefore,
the best she can do is giving him the best medicine and nutrition, her breast milk. The
breastfeeding has made Jack healthy and that’s why Ma still continue giving him even
after they have escaped the room.
The second demand of motherhood is to nurture the children’s emotional and
intellectual growth. As mothers, they are responsible to teach their children not only how
to speak but also how to solve the problem and support them with basic knowledge.
Usually, children can start attending school when they are around 3 or 4 years. However,
in Ma’s case, she is the only one to teach Jack all of that since she is being kidnapped and
locked in a small room. Despite her captivity in Room. She civilizes and humanizes Jack.
She passes on her cultural knowledge to him, from religion to tooth-brushing to rules.
Indeed, throughout their five years of captivity, Ma commits to the preservation,
nurturance, and training of Jack.
As a mother, Ma has given her best to her son, Jack. She has kept jack safe from Old
Nick for 5 years. Ma teaches Jack how to read, write, play, and how to imagine through
the storybooks he read. Ma scheduled everything for Jack’s training in proper time:
storytelling, exercises, eating, playing, bath, etc. She instructs him like an instructor, teach
him like a teacher, and guide him like a friend. Jack is taught through demonstrations,
illustrations, and narration of multiple stories. Therefore, Ma already gives Jack what he
needs mentally and cognitively. It means Ma has fulfilled the second demand of what is
called the good motherhood
The third demand is social acceptability. This skill of acceptability cannot naturally
develop in social context but it has to be trained (Ruddick, p.21). It has to be trained since
it will be the assignment to see a mother’s active aims to make her children ‘acceptable’.
Every mother’s training strategy might be different such as persuasive, manipulative,
educative, abusive, seductive, or respectful and are typically a mix of most of these.
However, once a woman become successful in being a good mother to her children can be
seen also from this social acceptability demand.
The social acceptability can be seen through the good bonding between Ma and Jack.
They both accept their roles and existence towards each other. Ma has taught Jack how to
react and respond to her as his mother. This is the example for basic socialization, interact
with other people. And not only with Ma, Jack also has developed interaction with Old
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Nick. Jack always thinks that Old Nick is the bad guy. They don’t really talk much about
Old Nick since Ma wants to protect Jack from him.
“Get away, get away from him!”
“I can be quiet,” she says, she’s nearly whispering. I hear her breath all scratchy. “You know how
quiet I can be, so long as you leave him alone. It’s all I’ve ever asked.” (p.27)
Ma’s Negotiation of Motherhood in the Constraining Room
Ma’s psychological trauma that pushes her to the point of emotional breakdown, but
rather the trauma induced by the interviewer’s violent attempts to shape, control, and
manipulate Ma’s narrative (Ruddick, 11). Ma starts to control her son in almost everything.
She gives schedules and order to Jack for daily activities, including in how to act towards
Old Nick. Normative motherhood assumes and dictates an asymmetrical relationship
between mother and child: a mother is for the child, not the child for the mother (Ruddick,
p.11). But with Ma and Jack, their relationship is truly reciprocal. Ma needs Jack as much
as Jack needs Ma. But because this reciprocity violates the roles and rules of normative
motherhood based on society standard, Ma is labeled as a bad mother in her decision to
keep Jack with her in captivity.
However, despite of her psychological trauma, Ma sees Jack as her salvation. She is
willing to put Jack’s need of mother than her suffering. For Ma, becoming and being a
mother is indeed the best thing because it is precisely through her maternal practice and
the reciprocity of her close relationship with Jack that she acquires an authentic selfhood.
And because her identity as a mother is self-created and sustained by reciprocal mother-
child love, Ma establishes resistance and achieves redemption in motherhood. In its
portrayal of motherhood as both resistant and redemptive, Room offers a necessary
challenge and corrective to normative motherhood. It conveys how mothers may be
empowered through maternal authenticity and mother-child reciprocity.
Marotta states that through the variables of territory, communication, and speed,
mothers are encouraged to feel powerless to escape MotherSpace (p. 19). Despite being
strong in front of Jack as his mother, Ma also feel powerless towards Old Nick. She really
depends on Nick for their daily needs, and also she cannot win Old Nick physically. For
mothers, material space is arranged in such a way that their presence or absence is
immediately visible. This situation has matched with the way Ma taking care of Jack inside
the room where she conducts normative motherhood towards Jack. She take care
everything related to Jack’s need, activities, and his growth. Being locked in the room
doesn’t give her much opportunity to give Jack better chances in his needs. Despite being
bitter and being angry to Jack, Ma tries her best to be a good mother to him because she
loves Jack very much.
Being a mother in a society mean women has to fulfill its standard. For women, this
standard can be seen as the space that limits their way to do their own motherhood to their
children. As Marotta argues, the society persuades mothers to engage in certain practices
that reflect choices that put the needs of others before their own. When we link practices
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with the construction of subjectivities, we can begin to understand why, beyond violence
or the coercion of force or economics, mothers make ‘choices’ that reduce their income,
benefits, time to develop themselves, and so on. Society tends to make rules about what is
right and what is wrong, and also what are the punishments if someone disobeys the rules.
The punishment may come in social judgment and people will label a woman as bad
mother if she does not fulfill their standard. In Ma’s case she was being judged for giving
Jack breast milk even though Jack is already 5 years old. According to society rules, mother
should stop breast feeding their children at the age of two. However, in Ma’s situation,
she need to keep Jack healthy and all she knows best is her breast milk. She surely know
if Jack get sick, Old Nick will never want to bring Jack to go to see doctor.
Society wants to educate Ma about what is right and what is wrong about her way of
motherhood and this has made her depressed. The main task of motherhood is always
given to the mother since we live in patriarchy society. In the patriarchal society as stated
by Young, a woman serves as the construction material and as the place within which man
dwell. Woman serves as the material envelope and container of man existence. Man seeks
nostalgically to return to home by making buildings and putting things in them that will
substitute for that original home. Therefore, the task for nurturing the children will always
be the mother’s side. That’s why the terms will always be motherhood instead of
fatherhood. This pressure from society has once again creates space to limit Ma’s
motherhood towards Jack. The rules and judgment from society limit the movements and
behavior of mothers as this task is required to complete the function control of mothers.
What become the contrary is the rules in society often changes between time to time. For
example about formula milk and breast milk, during 1980-2000, society tend to campaign
for formula milk for the babies born on that era. Nowadays, in millennial time, the
campaign of giving breast milk feeding until the babies reach 2 years old is a mandatory.
Nothing is permanent about society rules and assignment since the society itself also
develops between time to time. There will be new rules, new standard, and new
assignments for parents. Therefore nothing can be used permanently or correctly as
standard to judge how a woman is a good mother or bad mother.
CONCLUSION
This study concludes that Ma has accomplished three demands of motherhood inside
the room. The first one is to take care of Jack growth by giving him physical need like
nutritious food. And the second one is the cognitive development of a child where Ma
has taught Jack to read, to think, and to be able to imagine a story of his own through the
story-telling activity. The third demand is accomplished later after they got out from the
room. At the end of the story, Ma and Jack can live in their own home and they both
seem has adapted to society and continue their live together.
Ma’s motherhood has been limited by space both inside and outside the room. Inside
the room, the space is the room itself, where she has limited access to knowledge about
motherhood and she only takes care of Jack based on what she knows. Once Ma and Jack
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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18860/prdg.v2i2.7674
escaped from the room, Ma once again has faced the space created by society. The space
crated is the rules and assignment for women to be considered as good or bad mother.
Society wants to know how Ma take care Jack alone inside the room and they want to
make sure that Ma has fulfilled their standard to make sure Ma has the label as good
mother according to their standard.
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Chapter
For millennia, the image of Penelope sitting by the hearth and weaving, saving and preserving the home while her man roams the earth in daring adventures, has defined one of Western cultures basic ideas of womanhood. Many other cultures historically and today equate women with home, expecting women to serve men at home and sometimes preventing them from leaving the house. If house and home mean the confinement of women for the sake of nourishing male projects, then feminists have good reason to reject home as a value. But it is difficult even for feminists to exorcise a positive valence to the idea of home. We often look forward to going home and invite others to make themselves at home. House and home are deeply ambivalent values.
Chapter
The built spaces and discursive spaces that contemporary mothers inhabit constitute a powerful force that helps shape their subjectivities and their possibilities, define who mothers can be and what they can do at any given point in time. This chapter examines the role that space plays in creating and sustaining power relations involving mothers, with particular attention to how material or built spaces, and discursive spaces interact.
Article
How is it possible to create more just forms of peace in our world? This article responds to calls for a feminist theory/peace studies collaboration by integrating work on feminist care ethics and conflict transformation. We propose that justpeace is possible by strengthening ways of knowing which sustainably weave together understandings of “self” and “other” to support relationships of care over dehumanization and violence. Building on Sara Ruddick’s work, we argue that her “maternal thinking” can be understood as a feminist “weaving” epistemology or flexible way of knowing that promotes meaningful inclusion, symmetrical power relations, and positive peace through three major practices: (1) living with dissonance, (2) creatively overcoming disconnects between the interests of the self and the other, and (3) bridging practical goals for surviving the present with more idealistic goals for best practices in the future. As such, it provides an alternative to “othering” practices at individual, national, and international levels which reinforce asymmetrical power relations, strengthen unjust social, economic and political structures, and support violent conflict. In conclusion, we illustrate how this weaving epistemology supports human rights practices promoting people over profit, equality over discrimination and violence, and restorative rather than retributive forms of conflict transformation.
Article
This interview explores Emma Donoghue's writing process for her novel Room. It positions Room in relation to both Donoghue's career as a transnational writer, that is, as one who has moved from Ireland to the UK, and from the UK to Canada, and her feminist background. This interview concludes with a wider consideration of her novel's treatment of the relations between gender, narrative and the contemporary family.
Book
Based on Michel Foucault's 1978 and 1979 lectures at the College de France on governmental rationalities and his 1977 interview regarding his work on imprisonment, this volume is the long-awaited sequel to Power/Knowledge. In these lectures, Foucault examines the art or activity of government both in its present form and within a historical perspective as well as the different ways governmentality has been made thinkable and practicable. Foucault's thoughts on political discourse and governmentality are supplemented by the essays of internationally renowned scholars. United by the common influence of Foucault's approach, they explore the many modern manifestations of government: the reason of state, police, liberalism, security, social economy, insurance, solidarity, welfare, risk management, and more. The central theme is that the object and the activity of government are not instinctive and natural things, but things that have been invented and learned. The Foucault Effect analyzes the thought behind practices of government and argues that criticism represents a true force for change in attitudes and actions, and that extending the limits of some practices allows the invention of others. This unique and extraordinarily useful collection of articles and primary materials will open the way for a whole new set of discussions of the work of Michel Foucault as well as the status of liberalism, social policy, and insurance.--Publisher description.
Article
Adrienne Rich (Baltimore, 1929), autora y feminista norteamericana, se gradua del Radcliffe College y recibe el Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, que implica la publicación de A Change of World, el primero de sus varios libros de poesía, en 1951. Alcanza el reconocimiento público a escala nacional con Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law: Poems, 1954-1962 (1963), debido tanto a sus cualidades líricas como al tratamiento de temas relacionados con el feminismo, y es galardonada por Diving into the Wreck: Poems, 1971-1972 (1973), culminación de una búsqueda denodada de figuras y metáforas de lo cotidiano tomadas del subconsciente, con el National Book Award de 1974. Asume su identidad como lesbiana en 1976, mismo año que publica su trabajo más conocido entre los lectores de lengua española: el ensayo Nacida de mujer, cuyo título completo en una traducción posterior (Nacemos de mujer: la maternidad como experiencia e institución) refleja de un modo más claro la relevancia de esta contribución para el análisis feminista de la maternidad. El folleto Twenty-One Love Poems (1977), incluido un año más tarde en Dream of a Common Language: Poems, 1974-1977, demarca el primer tratamiento explícito de la sexualidad lésbica en su obra poética, que ha reunido en volúmenes sucesivos como Poems: Selected and New, 1950-1974 (1974), The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950-1984 (1984) y Collected Early Poems, 1950-1970 (1993). La poesía de Rich ha sido accesible en lengua española a través de la Antología poética, 1951-1981 (1986) y una Antología poética (2003), ambas seleccionadas y traducidas por Myriam Díaz-Diocaretz, y del volumen bautizado como Poemas, 1963-2000 (2002), en tanto en su obra en prosa pueden encontrarse –además de Nacida de mujer- Sobre mentiras, secretos y silencios (1979), Sangre, pan y poesía: prosa escogida, 1979-1985 (2001) y Artes de lo posible (2001).
The Production of Space. Donald Nicholson-Smith (transl)
  • Henry Lefebvre
Lefebvre, Henry. (1991). The Production of Space. Donald Nicholson-Smith (transl). Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell.
All Those Years , I KeptHim Safe " Maternal Practice as Redemption and Resistance in Emma Donoghue's Room
  • A O'reilly
O'reilly, A. (2010). " All Those Years, I KeptHim Safe " Maternal Practice as Redemption and Resistance in Emma Donoghue's Room. Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, 8, 89-98.