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A Comparative Study Of The Presentation Of Characters' Mental States In Mrs Dalloway By Virginia Woolf And The Hours By Michael Cunningham.

2525 words - 10 pages

"I adumbrate to a study of insanity and suicide: the world seen bythe sane and insane side by side." Virginia Woolf's description ofher intentions for Mrs DallowayBy clarifying Mrs Dalloway as a story of insanity and suicide we are lead to presume that the focus of this novel will be 'insanity', a marginalized mental state. But Woolf subverts this social conception of mental instability, and writes instead a novel, which reunites insanity and society. By doing this she liberates insanity from its marginalized existence to portray insanity and society as mutually dependant, to the point of being almost indistinguishable. Michael Cunningham The Hours is a descendant of Mrs Dalloway; Cunningham attempts to readdress Woolf's concerns without the restrictions of historic censorship. As a result The Hours literally reside in a more externalised world; the increase in dialogue symbolises a reduction in taboo. Ironically however, I feel this novel gives a more restricted portrayal of mental states as Cunningham strives to understand and then universalise what it is to be insane. By documenting the ongoing existence of 'insanity', Cunningham explores insanity as an inevitable part of society, his use of multiple narratives from three different time periods places emphasis on the idea that insanity is not just a freak occurrence in the course of history. In contrast, Virginia Woolf with a personal history of mental instability asserts and maintains the difference to be found among character's mental states. This difference is what allows Woolf's characters to "coalesce to become one existence" and thus she de-marginalizes insanity without excluding it.Woolf moves throughout Mrs Dalloway through a community of minds. The novel is an "unbroken flow of perceptions" following one narrative. Woolf breaks away from the conventional structure of a novel, avoiding chapters and instead using the natural structure of time to form the backbone for her narration. Throughout the novel Woolf moves effortlessly in and out of the minds of characters, exploring a myriad of individual voices. Collective images, like water and an obsessive narration of their consciousness, unite the characters, which distils and renders their experience. However essentially the characters are united with time, the natural rhythm that life endures. The cadence that pervades the novel is one of two contrary movements, and embodied in the opening of the book, "what a lark! What a plunge!" Here Clarissa Dalloway describes the erratic tempo of the novel, rising in constructive and efficient action, and then falling with disintegration and isolation. Each character embodies different rhythms throughout the novel, and these elemental beats connect and divide characters. Unlike Woolf, Cunningham follows three separate characters throughout The Hours, following multiple narratives. The characters stories are not instantly interrelated and are divided into separate sections- forming the chapters of...

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