There are many close, intimate interactions between the characters in Virginia Woolf’s 1925 classic novel Mrs. Dalloway. This brilliant technique of Woolf uses associative and dissociative bound during conversations without using traditional characterization or dialogue.
She uses stream-of-consciousness to convey both narrative and expository information in Mrs. Dalloway. They provide the reader with information by way of their interior monologues in the novel. Clarissa relives memories of years ago when she didn’t return Peter Walsh’s love because of her stream of consciousness.
His thoughts were interrupted by a phone call from his mother. “What happened, son? What’s wrong? Are you okay?” she asked. “There has been a lot happening…of course, I have done it, thought Peter; it has almost broken my heart too, he replied. “It was more than sad news, though—it was a new beginning for me. I overcame the angst that comes with change, but I guess it’s natural for anyone facing their mortality to be so despondent” he thought to himself.
But as soon as he reached out to her, she jerked back. I don’t want you near me, he thought, she seemed to say. I’ll have everything–you too–I’ll have that–but give me everything first. (Woolf 21). Peter may still be hurting from Clarissa’s rejection, as shown through this stream of consciousness. We can learn a little more about who he is as a person and what he might want in terms of relationships.
In one of the first instances of stream-of-consciousness, we are introduced to Clarissa Dalloway at the beginning of the story. She is one example of a character with a temperament who would make all sorts of quick thoughts. As she watched the taxi cabs go by, she found herself constantly feeling out. Although she didn’t think of herself as particularly clever or extraordinary, she always felt completely removed, disconnected, and vulnerable to what was happening all around her in the world.
“She’d been given this ragged history of the world, with which she was too much absorbed in reading to be conscious of history, and content with these topics infinitely repeated in her dreams” (Woolf 4).
Clarissa starts by focusing on a car, and then she briefly talks about some of her earlier days before returning to the taxi driving past. Clarissa speaks aloud about her thoughts, which the reader learns out loud.
The first-person narration in this chapter is characteristic of a stream-of-consciousness narrative. The associative bounds it uses are meticulously used to reveal key information about this chapter’s characters, showing readers what the characters know about themselves and each other.
Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway illustrates the strong connection between thoughts and people around us with streams of consciousness. When Woolf uses this method, she is able to convey her idea that it’s tough to understand a character based on physical traits such as gender or race. Instead, it’s those internal thoughts that really shape a person, allowing for an empathetic relationship with readers.
When you tell a story from the perspective of a character, what should be important is how past experiences and emotions affect that character’s current state. This moment in Clarissa’s memory is an example of this :
After her sister’s death, Sylvia experienced great anger and bitterness. She battled the Gods who never lost a chance in hurting or spoiling human lives. As with most tragedies, your behavior can come directly after the event. If you’ve been hurt before, it may help to remember that God knows how to bring those wounds back up.
When the sister of Clarissa’s lover commits suicide, Clarissa’s mind immediately turns to her own life. And while understanding and compassion are scarce in the fictional realm of To The Lighthouse, one thing remains consistent: Clarissa never allows herself to be consumed by selfishness or displeasure. Her detached mentality from life as a whole is an incredible way for the reader to understand that tragedy does not necessarily have to set you into a dark place; rather it may prompt you to reflect on your own life and actions.
As illustrated through conversations in which Clarissa compares her past happiness with her life now, there is still grief and pain involved but what is given back to the reader is a connection and sympathy for this flawed woman who must carry around such heartache on a daily basis.
Mrs. Dalloway stresses the importance of thoughts over impressions. The novel is guided by Woolf’s use of streams of consciousness, which captures the connection between inner monologue and open dialogue and allows for information to be shared when jumping from one stream of consciousness to another.
Woolf uses associative/disassociative leaps along with dialogue to highlight this theme at various points in the story. This is illustrated through Rezia’s struggle with Septimus, who appeared emotionless and dead to the world. To Rezia, he was so difficult that she said “Septimus has been working too hard” (Woolf 11).
This moment embodies her thoughts and feelings and perfectly highlights the central idea by illustrating what it must’ve been like trying to get anything out of him before, then briefly jumping in time to a situation when Rezia explained what happened to her mother about what had happened in regards to Septimus’ behavior.
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