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Whitaker's Table Of Precedency Essay

735 words - 3 pages

How does “it” mean, what is “it” about and what does “it” reveal about the ethics of Virginia Woolf’s poetics of the implicit, and therefore of fiction? Through “A Mark on the Wall”, it is easy to examine the structural and thematic function in Woolf’s fictional prose around “Whitaker’s Table of Precedency”.
As a pronoun replacing a noun or referring to a clause, “it” first seems to call for our knowledge of language as a code and designates language as explicit. “Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail”, the narrator of Woolf’s famous short story concludes in an anti-climactic moment deflating the reader’s expectations as to the nature of that “small round mark, black upon the ...view middle of the document...

Woolf then compares the hierarchical and even the patriarchal order of what Woolf calls in this same story the “Whitaker’s Table of Precedency” with the infinite richness of humanity as being a metaphor, not by the definition of the mark as a snail but by its potentially unstable nature. Woolf writes of how we like to construct positive images of ourselves, how fragile we as humans are and of how shallow reality really is. Interestingly, while the story flits from idea to idea, there’s one motif (besides the mark) that recurs, Whitaker’s Table of Precedency. Whitaker’s exemplifies “the masculine point of view which governs our lives”. She uses it to represent the faith we have in rules, and the way we let the rules and reality prevent our seeing the “sudden gleams of light”. In the reflexing light of modernism’s rejection of univocal determination of meaning, the reader may also conceive the story as the expression of a syntagmatic movement taking him from the illusion of significance as transparent and stable (the mark is a snail) to the revelation of signification as a...

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