Clarissa Dalloway, the protagonist in the novel Mrs. Dalloway, tried hard in order to balance her internal life to that of the outside world. In the novel, the reader could see that her life is full of activities, that her world is full of sparkling and impressive things like fashion and parties that are constantly present in high societies. However, this world does not satisfy her in the manner that she wants to be satisfied and thus she walk into that world trying to look beyond the superficiality of that world, in search for some deeper meanings.
Clarissa constantly yearns for privacy which made her liable towards introspection thus giving her a deep faculty for emotion which is not present in the other characters in the story. In spite of this, Clarissa is also concerned with superficial things such as the way she look and so she keeps herself always composed, hardly ever sharing her thoughts or feelings with anybody. She makes use of endless flow of genial chatter and activities in order to keep her soul out of reach thus making her appear superficial or trivial even to those people who supposedly know her well.
Clarissa is also continually superimposing the past with the present; she endeavors to reconcile herself to life in spite of her strong recollections of the past. In most part of the story Clarissa mull over aging and mortality with anxiety, even while performing life-affirming deeds. In spite of the fact that she is content with what she have in life she never releases the doubts she have concerning the choices which made her life as it was in the novel (especially her choice of marrying Richard instead of Peter). Her rationale behind this choice is that life with Peter would be hard in contrast to life with the financially secure Richard.
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However, Clarissa is aware that she gave up passion and love in exchange for the security life in the upper-class society has to offer. There are times that she wishes she could re-live her life all over again and she particularly feel a sense of clarity and tranquility when she observe her neighbor through her window, and she also accepts the possibility of death. As was the case with Septimus, Clarissa ardently feels the domineering forces in life, and she settle with the notion that the life she have at the moment is all she would ever get yet in spite of this her resolve to persist still exists.
Septimus Warren Smith on the other hand is a veteran of World War I. He suffered from shell shock which made him lost in his own mind which made him loathe himself for being incapacitated. At the same time, he is also an individual who is full of guilt. Septimus’ doctor ordered his wife, Lucrezia to make Septimus notice and be concern of things other than himself since Septimus appears to have completely escaped from the outside world. Septimus has been living in a world known only to himself wherein he hears and see things which could n
ot be seen or heard by others. In this world Septimus is able to talk with his already deceased friend, Evans. He appreciates the beauty the world has to offer however he is afraid that the people living in it do not have the ability to be honest or kind. In this regard we could see that the author of the novel means for Clarissa to tell the audience the sane truth in this world and for Septimus to tell us the insane truth. This tactic works out well in that Septimus’ indifference allows him to judge others more harshly than Clarissa. The world outside Septimus world is intimidating and from his point of view it offers very little hope.
At first glance or on a superficial level, Septimus appears to be different from Clarissa however he exemplifies many attributes in common with Clarissa (such as her way of thinking). In this manner one could even mistake Septimus as Clarissa’s double in the story. Both of them have beak noses, they both like Shakespeare, and most importantly they both fear repression.
At the same time, Septimus also provides as a contrast between conscious struggle of the working class veterans and the blind affluence of the high society. His actions lead the readers to think of the legitimacy of the English society he fought for in the World War I. Since Septimus’ line of thinking is the same with that of Clarissa the line which seems to divide sanity with insanity becomes thinner and thinner as the story progress. Septimus decided to end his problems by committing suicide, a dramatic and tragic act which eventually helped Clarissa to accept her own choices as well as the society in which she is a part of.
All throughout the novel, Clarissa, Septimus, Peter along with the other characters could be seen trying to find an outlet which they could use for communication and enough privacy. In the novel one could see how hard it is to balance communication and privacy. For example, in the novel one could see Clarissa throwing different parties left and right in an endeavor to draw people together however she also feel swathed within her own philosophical thoughts and soul and thinks how mysterious it is for her to exist in her room while her neighbor exists in another.
Even when she rejoice in her neighbor’s independence she know deep down inside that it is accompanied by an unavoidable melancholy. The war has also changed the people’s notion of what English society ought to be like, and it is difficult to reconcile those who still believe in upholding the traditional English society with those people who are looking for constant change. In spite of all the efforts put forth by the characters it remains difficult to make consequential connections in the disorganized postwar world portrayed in the novel. Finally, Clarissa views Septimus’ demise as a desperate albeit legitimate attempt for communication.
During the 19th century, the British Empire appears indestructible in that it was able to expand on other territories like India, Nigeria, and the like. The British Empire is one of the largest empires ever written in history. However there came a time that the English became vulnerable even on their native land. In spite of the fact that the Allies won the war, it is as though the victory is merely based on name since the extent of the injuries they received is so devastating.
Due to this, the English citizens lost their faith on the empire following the war. Many people no longer believe that England is still invincible and they refuse to adhere to the constraints made by the empire to them particularly since the benefits are rakes only by the selected few while all of England fought for it.
In 1923, the year when this novel first appeared, the old institution along with its set of repressive values is facing their end. English citizens, particularly the younger generations such as the novel’s Clarissa, Septimus, and the like experiences the failure of the British Empire as powerfully as they do their own personal failures. Citizens who still uphold the old tradition are mostly comprised by the older generation like Aunt Helena and Lady Bruton. In this regard the reader could contemplate that Aunt Helena’s eyeglasses was most likely used as a symbol of her inability to see the crumbling of the British Empire.
The threat of oppression is also one of the relevant themes in the story. In a way, Mrs. Dalloway has so many things similar to the film The Hours. First and foremost the film was largely based on the novel Mrs. Dalloway. The film and the novel both shows how people are frightened by the threat of oppression and that those who could no longer deal with the threat sees suicide as a means of escape. In the movie The Hours, the three main protagonists always contemplate the notion of suicide as a means of escape.
As to the question on whether Clarissa and Septimus would make the same choices they made if they are part of the contemporary world, I believe the answer is yes. True, things have changed a lot since the early 19th century however people still has to cope with different kind of pressures and problems. Not simply because you are living in a world completely different from before it already means that you would not be dealing with things our predecessors dealt with.
Everyday we are faced with many choices and our personality and ability to cope up with all of these which determines which choice we would make. Septimus would still commit suicide if she is faced with another kind of threat in the modern world, and Clarissa would most likely still act the same way. The movie The Hours provided us with a modern day Clarissa and she is very similar to Mrs. Dalloway’s Clarissa, thus I believe that it is your own personality, the way you handle and view things which is more important.
No matter what kind of world you are put in you would still face many obstacles albeit on different guise, thus if you are weak you are likely to make the same choice regardless of your environment. For Clarissa (in novel and in film alike), in spite of the appeal of suicide, she still choose to fight the battle which is called live and that is primarily the reason why she did not choose to escape by means of suicide.
Woold V. (1990). Mrs. Dalloway: Harvest Books; 1st Harvest/HBJ edition.
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