Clarissa Dalloway in “Mrs Dalloway”

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Clarissa Dalloway in “Mrs Dalloway”

This essay will analyze the motifs, symbols, and themes in Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.” It will discuss Woolf’s use of stream of consciousness and the novel’s exploration of post-WWI society, identity, and time. Also at PapersOwl you can find more free essay examples related to Mrs Dalloway.

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The significance of the title being the name of the main character, Clarissa Dalloway is that it demonstrates the multitude of relations within the book. Throughout the first part of the book, Clarissa represents how society viewed women during the post World War I era, and denotes the changes in gender roles and perceptions through Clarissa’s identity and her party. The main reason for the title being stated as Clarissa’s married name rather than her maiden name is to emphasize Clarissa’s choice to marry Richard Dalloway to keep her social status within society, which even though she wants independence, really takes away independence.

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Also, she associates herself with Richard and the upper class of society, more than she does the reset of society. It shows that she belongs to a man, and gives us insight on the time period where women, to rich man, were supposed to be arm candy and spend their time around the house and planning things like parties. The common job of people with the surname Dalloway was a farmer, and ironically, though most people with that last name were farmers, this name is the surname of the upper class man in government. The original title of the novel was The Hours, which Michael Cunningham retrieved and used for his 1998 novel which indicated the importance of time displayed throughout this novel. The novel is constantly changing from past to present, with the striking of Big Ben bringing the characters back to reality to show the disorganized thoughts of the human mind and give the novel a sense of organization.


The symbols and motifs within the novel, Mrs. Dalloway support the main themes of social oppression, mental health and perception within the early 1900s. The trees and flowers depict feeling of emotion through the use of color and beauty while also demonstrating different classes through the different bouquet at the flower shop. The use of water and waves within the novel is crucial to serve as a constant reminder that death is inevitable while also suggesting fluidity and intensity between characters. Throughout the novel, Shakespeare plays a key role in many character lifes: Septimus using Shakespeare as an aspiring poet before the war and the references to the Cymbeline. Clarissa quotes Shakespeare’s plays and she also reads a few lines from Shakespeare’s play, Cymbeline in flower shop to suggest death through the constraints of life. Time also gives order to thoughts and memories that Clarissa encounters and is constantly brought up as a reminder that death is inevitable. Big Ben is a symbol of the importance of time while emphasizing the passage of time and awareness of eventual death. When Septimus dies, everyone in the town talks about death and how death makes life meaningful. During the 1920s many hierarchical changes were occuring due to the aftermath of the war, however the idea of social classes maintained it’s status: the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. There are all these class differences, like Ms. Kilman who is ugly and of the lower class, and Ellie Henderson, especially at the party, who barely doesn’t really fit in and thought Clarissa didn’t want to invite her because she is poor which brings in the idea of titles expressed throughout the novel. Lord, lady, duke, Mrs. Mr. all of these change a person’s identity and how people view them. Before Mrs. Dalloway was married, she did a lot of frivolous things, but then she got married, and her husband went off to work and her only freedom was with the parties she threw. The Prime Minister symbolizes England’s old old values and hierarchical society which can also relate back to post war ear of London. Walsh’s pocket knife also symbolizes Peter’s flightless and inability to make decisions while also revealing Peter’s defensiveness. Weapons usually portray sexuality and power however this scenario suggests Peter’s weariness with defining his own identity. All of the symbols and motifs used throughout the novel all lead into the major themes of social oppression, mental health and perception during the 1900s in London.

Plot/Narrative Structure:

The novel, Mrs. Dalloway, take place over the course of one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway in her preparation for an evening party she is hosting. Due to the novel taking place in one day, Woolf uses indirect discourse and stream of consciousness to represent the inner thought process of multiple characters through the use of flashbacks of important memories in each character’s life. The stream of consciousness type narrative allows for the point of view to transition smoothly and gives us insight to the backgrounds and past experiences of the characters, also allowing the readers to see the characters deeper emotions and motivations. Woolf’s use of free indirect discourse which allows her to represent the inner thought process of multiple characters. It’s a form of third person narrative where the characters thoughts and feelings are filtered through the narrators voice. This technique allows the author to explore the nature of human consciousness by tracing the mental process involved in a characters every day interactions.

During the morning section of the novel Clarissa strolls through Westminster on her way to a flower shop and ends up running into an old friend, Hugh Whitbread. During her reunion they hear an explosion comes from a diplomatic car as it heads to Buckingham palace which represents England’s old patriarchal values. During this scene there is also an aeroplane skywriting which represents how people see things in different perspectives. When Clarissa gets home, Peter Walsh makes an unexpected reunion with Clarissa although the meeting intertwines with their thoughts of the past: Clarissa turned down Peter’s marriage proposal. During this scene numerous flashbacks occur of past memories to depict the backstory on Clarissa and Peter. During the next scene the narrative switches to Septimus during his meeting with Sir William Bradshaw. In the scene the reader gets flashbacks to Septimus’s life before the war as an aspiring poet. After the war Septimus becomes numb to the horrors of war due to having to watch his friend Evans die. Bradshaw then diagnosis Septimus with, “” lack of proportion “” which demonstrates people’s inability to accept mental health issues throughout this time period. As the scene moves along the narrative switches between Richard and Clarissa as we experience the lunch that Hugh Whitbread has with Lady Burton and Richard Dalloway, the lunch in which Clarissa was not invited to and was quite jealous of. At this ‘business’ lunch, the subject of Peter being home, was brought up and Richard feels threatened at their once great love, and decides to go home and tell Clarissa that he loved her. Finally, as lunch ends, we find ourselves in a childhood memory of Lady Burtons. As the day turns to sun down the narrative switches back to Septimus giving insight on how Septimus reacted to his diagnosis. Septimus and Lucrezia are in their home, and finally having a normal conversation, which makes Lucrezia really happy, but at the same time Septimus sees even more inner turmoil and conflict with the doctors saying he MUST do certain things. Dr. Holmes then shows up to take Septimus to an asylum, however the prospect of seeing Dr. Holmes, cause Septimus to breakdown. Septimus wants freedom, to be away from the doctors, so he tried to figure out how to kill himself. He did not want to die, but he did not want to see Holmes. In order to avoid this fate, he jumps from a window to his death. Dr. Holmes then calls him a coward, not even concerned for him which depicts how society viewed those who are different or mentally ill.

Then the narrative perspective shifts to Peter Walsh instead of Septimus and Lucrezia. He sees the ambulance go by, not knowing who is in it. He contemplates how people can do whatever they want in private, so loneliness is a privilege. Then he contemplates his love life and his past with Clarissa, remembering how she is superficial. He is back in his hotel room. He gets a letter from her saying it was nice to see him that morning. He was annoyed by that. She wrote it right after he left.

Then he remembers Daisy. His pocket knife reminded him of her. She was so naturally charming. She said she would do anything, give everything to him. However, people like Mrs. Burgess saw the social barriers which relates back to the theme of social oppression.

All these important people were coming to the party. Both Ellie Henderson and Aunt Helena were there and they both had bad eyesight. Ellie thought Clarissa didn’t really want her there. Richard greeted Ellie who looked lonely. Richard talked with his political friends. Then, Sally arrived and Clarissa wanted to talk to her and Peter Walsh, but she put them aside to talk to all these other important people. She said she wanted her to be dancing, but people were just talking, but the younger people didn’t really talk. The Bradshaws arrived and Richard thought he was an amazing doctor. Then everybody started talking about the man that killed himself. She felt like that man, and she went to her room, while her friends wondered where she was. Everybody was leaving, but a few people decided they would show courage. They all went to talk to someone and Peter Walsh said Clarissa Dalloway was his reason for living. The overall plot focuses on the themes of social oppression, as seen through the different class statutes at Clarissa’s party, the cruelty of mental health illnesses, portrayed through Septimus, and the idea of perspectives though the use of stream of consciousness and free indirect discourse.

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Clarissa Dalloway in "Mrs Dalloway". (2019, Mar 19). Retrieved from