Mrs. Dalloway written by Virginia Woolf presents a unique narrative style where the readers come to know the story through the words of the protagonist Clarissa Dalloway, they read about her feelings, emotions and thoughts. The story is a portrait of a middle-aged woman that Woolf paints utilizing Clarissa’s thoughts and actions that eventually help her convert the ideology of life of the English middle class and describe the cultural sphere of the time in a novel. This paper analyses Mrs. Dalloway as a classic example of the use of stream of consciousness by Woolf to portray the protagonist Clarissa Dalloway as a vivacious bearer of life as opposed to the deathly pale world of Septimus Smith.
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Clarissa Dalloway, the protagonist of the novel, is a middle-aged woman who was about to throw a party at her home the day which was described in the novel. The author leads us through the life of this woman for that day and explores the various facets of life. The novel begins with Clarissa walking down the road, shopping for her party that is going to be held in the evening. Through the description of the woman and how she manages her daily affairs we see Clarissa as the one who is taking immense pleasure in life and all its physical and sensual sides. Clarissa is found on the street purchasing flowers and appreciating everything she sees: “carriages, motorcars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and singing” ( Mrs. Dalloway 4).
Clarissa neither approves nor disapproves the exciting and bustling urban life. In fact, she is lost in a world of her own, a cocoon that remains unobstructed by the bustling city life. In her delight, Clarissa is free from egotism and judgment. Her outlook on life is nonjudgmental as she does not approve a thing for what it is but because it is. Clarissa enjoys just being a part of life and her view on life is one that is ingrained in the wonders of existence. She is serious about life and takes living seriously. Since Clarissa’s love for life is nonjudgmental she does not categorize her affection neither does she coerces: “Had she ever tried to covert anyone herself? Did she not wish everyone merely to themselves?” (Mrs. Dalloway 126).
The free spirit of Clarissa clashes with the dominant patriarchal society of her time. The grammar of masculinity needs to define the subject and the object of power in order to create the dominant sex. Woolf, through Clarissa, distinctly differentiates love, compassion, and sacrifice as distinctly feminine characters while judgment and hierarchy are strictly expressed as male characters. This confirms Woolf’s belief as a feminist writer in her nonfictional work A Room of One’s Own where she describes the gender role discrimination prevalent during her time in the English society (A Room fo One’s Own 12).
The character of Clarissa is based on the essence of her belief in love and existence. Clarissa’s thoughts are centered on the moment and the readers enter her mind that focuses on the moment from the very first line. Clarissa’s life rests in the moment, though she is not completely aware of her point of view: “But every one remembered; what she loved was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab” (Mrs. Dalloway 29). The stream of consciousness of Clarissa’s self abounds the sense of self and thus dissolves in her awareness of the basic physical existence.
Clarissa is the one who is mixed with life not only through the sense of life but also through her awareness of the physical existence of life. Peter notes Clarissa’s fear of death in the novel. Clarissa associates her desolated attic room with her loneliness in marriage and death. Her bed, no longer a symbol of her marriage, marital happiness, and fertility, becomes a symbol of her shrinking life and mind and symbolizes her coffin (Mrs. Dalloway 31). Peter expresses Clarissa’s philosophy of life and death when she was young as: “Since our apparitions, other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places after death” ( Mrs. Dalloway 153).
Thus, in other words, it can be understood as an existential philosophy, which states that even though the physical entity ceases to be at the moment, the memory remains. Thus, the remains of their youth are portrayed clearly in Clarissa and Peter’s memory and therefore for Clarissa, they remain as “present”. Thus, in this dichotomy of past and present Clarissa confronts her self – her marriage, her affection and/or resentment for Peter, and her half-awareness of her love for other women.
Thus, in Dalloway human experiences are merged together into a mesh of experiences, imagination, and memory. In this novel, Woolf shows the existing network of communication between individuals that forms the character of the person. For example, Lady Burton muses on how Hugh and Richard still remain with her even after they leave, “as if one’s friends were attached to one’s body, after lunching with them, by a thin thread, which … became hazy with the sound of bells, striking the hour” (Mrs. Dalloway 112). However, Woolf acutely shows the difference berween the sensibility of the sexes as Richard, on his way back, snaps his connection to Lady Burton with a conscious awareness of his bond with Clarissa.
The connection between Septimus and Clarissa also presents a unique turn to the novel. The story is about Clarissa Dalloway and other contrasting characters that the true balance of the novel is achieved. The main characters of the novel resemble weights in a weighing machine that balance out one another. The characters of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith simply demonstrate this idea. Both Clarissa and Septimus are like their alter egos, two lives that almost never intersect, but run parallel to present to the readers two parallel sensibilities.
Both characters are similar and different at the same time, creating a juxtaposition and balance in the novel. Thus, through Septimus’s character, the readers get to understand the real Clarissa. Woolf calls Septimus Clarissa’s double, but she never pays a lot of attention to this character. When she hears of Septimus’ death from Bradshaw, it alters her mood, and she muses over the deeper meaning of her party at that moment. Clarissa thinks of Septimus’s suicide and her thoughts engulf her. The juxtaposition of the two characters, so different from one another, in two parallel worlds in the same story brings out the characters more intensely.
Clarissa is full of life and Septimus is a muse of death in that lively environment. Clarissa is able to loose herself, while Septimus holds himself tightly to his own ego. Thus, these two characters, juxtaposed in two different worlds, bring forth the character’s intensity. Mrs. Dalloway, therefore, presents an intense character of Clarissa juxtaposed to the morose, gloomy character of Septimus to bring out the plot more strongly. This ‘othering’ of the two characters helps readers realize other characters.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room fo One’s Own. New York: Penguine, 2001. Print.
—. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Penguine Classics, 1999. Print.