1. This door was life. It was air. The bottom starting-point of becoming a person. I simply must have this room with the shut door.
This phrase from Chapter X, when Sara finds the room she wants to rent, describes the bases on which Sara plans to build her new, independent life. The first of these is economic improvement, getting an education so she can later get a job that will pull her out of poverty. Practically, a private room will give her the quiet she needs to focus on her studying, which will help her get through school and on to her dreamed-of employment. Psychologically, the room helps keep Sara focused on the goal she is working so hard to achieve. Having her own room frees Sara somewhat from the pull of her family’s needs and expectations, which are so different from her own. The room also gives Sara a small taste of her completed goal. As Mrs. Smolinsky says earlier in the novel, in America only the rich can afford privacy. Sara values her first cramped, dirty bit of this piece of the American dream, and the solitude she’ll gain when she is a working teacher promises to be even more wonderful.
The room is even more important to the second base of Sara’s new life, the quest for her own identity. If Sara had stayed in her parents’ home, she would have remained what she had grown up being—a mere extension of her father’s will. Under Reb Smolinsky’s roof, his beliefs about a woman’s place in the world would always hold sway, and he would always have too much influence on Sara’s daily life for her ever to be able to escape those beliefs. If she had married someone like Max Goldstein, who wanted her merely as another possession, she would have become an extension of her husband’s will instead of her father’s. Her mother desperately worried about Sara’s single status, and though Fania hated her marriage, she worked tirelessly to push Sara into a similar state. If Sara had remained with any of these people, her own opinions and ambitions never would have survived. Only on her own, in her own little room, can Sara find the silence and the freedom necessary to discover who she is.