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The Value Of Existence Essay

1180 words - 5 pages

In her 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf is so meticulous in her examination of one day that she is able to deconstruct and examine the entire lives and identities of her characters. Woolf seeks to dive beneath the surface of everyday life in order to extract meaning from the seemingly monotonous depths of an English society struggling in the wake of the most devastating war the world had ever seen. The reader is given access to the meandering thoughts of Woolf’s characters, and even as Big Ben regularly tolls out the passing hours, the linear nature of time is called into question as the characters are unable to separate their memories of the past from their views of the present. Woolf’s characters are complex and emotional, but their lives are exclusively internal and isolated. Weighed down by their thoughts and their pasts, the characters find themselves drowned within their own minds, unable to turn desires into actions and change the circumstances by which they feel repressed. Mrs. Dalloway explores the way in which the inability to communicate and take action against an unsatisfactory reality renders the individual—or “the self”—inconsequential and impotent.

Characters in Mrs. Dalloway embark on winding mental journeys that ultimately bring nothing in the way of tangible action, demonstrating their inability to affect a change on their external surroundings. The characters lack the capacity for external communication, and as such, their internal revelations remain unnoticed by and unimportant to the people around them. The illusion of meaning where there is none to be found is an underlying theme of the novel. Peter Walsh demonstrates this when he spends half an hour stalking an attractive stranger on the street and convinces himself that he loves her: “She became the very woman he had always had in mind; young, but stately; merry, but discreet; black, but enchanting” (52). Peter’s feelings for this girl are ephemeral and superficial, yet being deeply absorbed in his own thoughts, he is able to briefly give himself the illusion that he “has escaped” from his monotonous, empty life. However, after the girl walks into her house and disappears from Peter’s life forever, he is forced to accept the meaninglessness of the entire adventure: “It was smashed to atoms— his fun, for it was half made up, as he knew very well; invented, this escapade with the girl; made up, as one makes up the better part of life, he thought— making oneself up; making her up; creating an exquisite amusement, and something more” (54). Even when she takes a quick glance in his direction, the girl does not notice Peter (54), demonstrating the futility of his chase and his inability to communicate with and affect a change upon others. A prominent symbol of Peter’s inability to turn thought and desire into meaningful action is his habit of playing with his pocketknife. Peter has spent “thirty years” (44) fidgeting with his...

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