Term Paper: Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

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Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Specifically it will discuss the passage "[H]alf the time she did things not simply, not for themselves; but to make people think this or that; perfect idiocy she knew (and now the policeman held up his hand) for no one was ever for a second taken in" (Woolf 10). This passage indicates how much importance Clarissa Dalloway places on the opinions of others, and how insecure she really is. She is a simple woman caught up in a very complex time in history, and her indifference is both disconcerting and somehow charming at the same time. She also has a distinct inability to concentrate on the topic at hand, (note how she digresses to the policeman raising his hand). She is somewhat like a wayward bird, flitting innocently from one topic to the next - unable to settle for any one topic or person in her fluttering life.

Throughout this work, Woolf portrays Mrs. Dalloway as a "simple" woman, who has little education or deep understanding of the world around her. Woolf notes, "She knew nothing; no language, no history; she scarcely read a book now, except memoirs in bed; and yet to her it was absolutely absorbing; all this; the cabs passing; and she would not say of Peter, she would not say of herself, I am this, I am that" (Woolf 8-9). The finds Peter's letters "dull," and seems to gloss over the losses of her friends during the war. She is insecure, and often sees herself as "nothing" or "invisible," and yet, she is very sure of herself in certain situations, such as when she helps and counsels young people, which is mentioned throughout the novel. Woolf writes, "Over and over again he had seen her take some raw youth, twist him, turn him, wake him up; set him going. Infinite numbers of dull people conglomerated round her of course" (Woolf 77). She is the consummate hostess, and perfectly sure of herself in these situations, but these situations are always unimportant social occasions, rather than occasions that really matter or mean something important.

Woolf portrays Mrs. Dalloway as a simple and unworldly character, and yet, she is incredibly detail oriented. She notices things on her daily walks that other people might overlook or never pay attention to. For example, Woolf writes, "And then, opening her eyes, how fresh like frilled linen clean from a laundry laid in wicker trays the roses looked; and dark and prim the red carnations, holding their heads up [...]" (Woolf 13). She notices the world around her in ways many of the other characters do not, and this is one of the ways the author differentiates her from the other characters that surround her. The author uses these differences to indicate the simplicity of Mrs. Dalloway compared with the complexity of characters like Peter and Septimus. However, Woolf also uses her simplicity to comment on the social aspects of England and the after effects of the war.

Throughout the book, Woolf shows the complex English society and how even the poor revere the Queen and the trappings of the royal family, including wealth and extreme privilege. Woolf writes, "[P]oor women waiting to see the Queen go past -- poor women, nice little children, orphans, widows, the War [...]" (Woolf 20). Clearly, these women do not blame the Queen for their woes, and in fact, many, including Clarissa Dalloway, want to emulate the Queen. Clarissa imagines herself hosting an elegant party the same night as the Queen, and others watch the progress of the royal limousine through the streets of London with awe and reverence. The royal family is an important, even vital, part of English society, but Woolf seems to use Clarissa's simplicity as a metaphor for the English people and their simple "hero worship" of the royal family, simply because they are royal and privileged. In fact, there are subtle references to the differences between the classes throughout the novel, from the way Clarissa behaves with the servants to Peter's constant comparison of "the Dalloways" and his own social status, which is clearly below them. Woolf writes, "As for caring what they said of him -- the Dalloways, the Whitbreads, and their set, he cared not a straw -- not a straw (though it was true he would have, some time or other, to see whether Richard couldn't help him to some job)" (Woolf 50). Again, Woolf portrays the beneficent "Sir William" as a wealthy socialite and politician who strews his favors among the poor for his own satisfaction and reward. This is another element of the difference between the social classes that Woolf uses to illustrate the novel. Thus, social structure in England is central to the novel, and Woolf employs many different aspects of English society to infuse this class distinction and obsession into the novel, which indicates the shallowness of English society - leading back to the shallowness of Clarissa and her self-involvement. She is the epitome of English society, hopelessly eager for approval while distancing herself from others or the "masses."

Clarissa follows along with the others who worship the royal family, and she has little understanding of anything other than her own, very small and simple world. However, the character in contrast with Clarissa, Rezia, suffers from all the problems that Clarissa cannot even imagine. Woolf writes, "She put on her new hat and he never noticed; and he was happy without her. Nothing could make her happy without him! Nothing! He was selfish. So men are" (Woolf 23). Rezia is alone in London, with no one to confide in or share her worries. She is lonely, but she is also desperately afraid she will lose her husband. In her simplicity, Clarissa is far less emotionally involved with the people in her life; in fact, she turns Peter away and then is surprised when he marries someone else. She can be happy without a man, but her happiness is much less involved and deep, which separates her from the other characters and from the people in her life as well. They distance themselves from her, because she always seems to have a distance around her that separates her from others. This is apparent in the constant inconsequential details she notices and in the way she cannot concentrate on one topic for too long before flitting off to another. That is not to say that she does not have moments of pain and illumination. She does, they simply are far fewer than most of the others in the novel.

Woolf does show some deep emotions and perceptions in Mrs. Dalloway, but they are infrequent, as this passage notes. Woolf writes, "Then, for that moment, she had seen an illumination; a match burning in a crocus; an inner meaning almost expressed. But the close withdrew; the hard softened. It was over -- the moment" (Woolf 32). However, through much of the novel, Mrs. Dalloway is much more concerned with the opinions of others, rather than her own thoughts and opinions. The illustrative passage notes this, and gives a strong clue to Mrs. Dalloway's character that will continue throughout the novel. She is insecure and yet self-centered, extremely simply yet capable of complexity, and completely captivated with how others see her, rather than how she sees herself. She lives for approval from others, and in doing so, receives little approval from herself. This is especially apparent in her relationship with Peter. Woolf writes, "Always when she thought of him she thought of their quarrels for some reason -- because she wanted his good opinion so much, perhaps" (Woolf 36). She is so desperate for the approval of others that she never stops to think of what that means to her own self-esteem and opinion of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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