One theme that runs through some of the books we’ve read is acceptance by normalcy; who is publicly accepted and not judged for what they are. This them is present within “Heart of Darkness”, “Melanctha”, “Mrs. Dalloway”, and “Their Eyes were Watching God”.
“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” (Conrad 5)
“Rose Johnson was careless and was lazy, but she had been brought up by white folks and she needed decent comfort. Her white training had only made for habits, not for nature” (Stein 1)
” ‘Let us go on, Septimus,’ … People must notice; people must see.” (Woolf 15).
“‘What she doin’ coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?—Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?—Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?—What dat ole forty year ole ’oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?t'” (Hurston)
In Heart of Darkness and Melanctha, which were published in 1899 and 1909, people that don’t measure up to the ideas of public acceptance are people of color; Rose’s “white training” elevates her, and in Heart of Darkness, it’s made clear that conquest once required taking from those with a different complexion. Later in 1925, Septimus Warren Smith of Mrs. Dalloway, is having shell shock while his wife worries that people are watching him, because even as a veteran, having any kind of problem in public is considered unacceptable. By the time we reach Hurston’s work in 1937, he main character Janie is judged by the public simply because they do not know things about her.
The sun became extraordinarily hot because the motor car had stopped…old ladies on the tops of omnibuses spread their black parasols; here a green, here a red parasol opened with a little pop…
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt, 1925. Page 15.
The entire passage as a whole is quite interesting. The focalization is very fast paced and all over the place.
“Far was Italy and the white houses and the room where her sisters sat making hats, and the streets crowded every evening with people walking, laughing out loud, not half alive like people here, huddled up in Bath chairs, looking at a few ugly flowers stuck in pots!
‘For you should see the Milan gardens,’ she said aloud. But to whom?
There was nobody. Her words faded” (23).
I think that this passage conveys the feelings of homesickness and isolation really well. It is terrible to feel like there is nobody who you can talk to, who would want to listen to you, and that your words mean nothing to anyone and disappear.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt, 1925. Print.
“What are they looking at?” said Clarissa Dalloway to the maid who opened her door.”
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1925. Print. p.29
In the entirety of the previous pages, we are shown the dozens of people who look, whether it is the motorcar, Septimus and his wife, or the plane making letters that no one can agree upon. This statement from Clarissa, as a result, comes off rather curious because it implies that she might not be completely acknowledging how much she, herself, looks and pays attention to different events. Another way of viewing this is that there are many small events happening, but she is not consciously paying attention to them. It is as if she is moving thoughts around in her own mind and then suddenly realizes that other people are looking around, too.
“It was wonderful. Never had he done anything which made him feel so proud. It was so real, it was substantial, Mrs. Peters’ hat.
“Just look at it,” he said.
Yes, it would always make her happy to see that hat. He had become himself then, he had laughed then. They had been alone together. Always she would like that hat.”
Virginia Woolf often uses free indirect discourse, (though there is direct dialogue here as well in the middle), in her writing which makes it rather difficult trying to determine whose perspective (as it always seems to be changing), or mind you are really getting a piece of, or if it even might just be the unknown narrator.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Inc. 1925. Print. pp. 144
“Here he was walking across London to say to Clarissa in so many words that the loved her. Which one never does say, he thought. Partly one’s lazy; partly one’s shy. And Clarissa–it was difficult to think of her; except in starts, as at luncheon, when he saw her quite distinctly; their whole life. He stopped at the crossing; and repeated–being simple by nature, and undebauched, because he had tramped, and shot; being pertinacious and dogged, having championed the downtrodden and followed his instincts in the House of Commons; being preserved in his simplicity yet at the same time grown rather speechless, rather stiff–he repeated that it was a miracle he should have married Clarissa; a miracle–his life had been a miracle, he thought; hesitating to cross. But it did make his blood boil to see little creatures of five or six crossing Piccadilly alone.”
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1925. Print. 115-116.
In Mrs. Dalloway, the narrator seems to flow freely in and out into each character’s deepest levels of thought. On a deliberate plane, Richard is thinking about his love for Clarissa and his job, but the voice is distinctly not Richard’s (perhaps it sounds like Woolf or Clarissa?). The narrator seems to express Richard’s most innermost thoughts–thoughts even Richard may not be aware of–in describing him as “pertinacious and dogged” and having “championed the downtrodden.” Woolf then immediately switches to a more straightforward example of free indirect discourse when Richard “repeats” that “it was a miracle he should have married Clarissa.” It seems to me Woolf is interested in just recording the influx of sensory details into the mind but she wishes to delve into the subconscious and bring to awareness thoughts that the characters themselves can’t know.
“The sounds of Big Ben striking the half-hour stuc out between them with extraordinary vigour, as if a young man, strong, indifferent, inconsiderate, were swinging dumb-bells this way and that.” (Woolf 48).
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt Inc., 1925. Print.
The idea of time is so important in this passage because it humanizes “time” by describing Big Ben as a “young man” and throughout the story Big Ben disrupts people during their daily routine, reminds them of their time, and helps them become aware of their time while also pacing them. Big Ben is constantly mentioned throughout the story almost making it seem to the reader as if it was one of the main characters. It keeps reminding the characters in the story that time is important and can not be wasted.
“Through all ages — when the pavement was grass, when it was swamp, through the age of tusk and mammoth, through the age of silent sunrise, the battered woman — for she wore a skirt — with her right hand exposed, her left clutching at her side, stood singing of love — love which has lasted a million years, she sang, love which prevails, and millions of years ago, her lover, who had been dead these centuries, had walked, she crooned, with her in May; but in the course of ages, long as summer days, and flaming, she remembered, with nothing but red asters, he had gone; death’s enormous sickle had swept those tremendous hills, and when at last she laid her hoary and immensely aged head on the earth, now become a mere cinder of ice, she implored the Gods to lay by her side a bunch of purple-heather, there on her high burial place which the last rays of the last sun caressed; for then the pageant of the universe would be over.”
Peter Walsh seems to be projecting his own dissatisfaction with love onto a random battered woman in a park; in that case, this monologue might not be interior at all because it doesn’t completely belong to either character.
“The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will, but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest, and air of probability embalming the whole so impeccable that if all his figures are to come to life they would find themselves dressed down to the last button of their coats in the fashion of the hour. The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way” (149).
Woolf, Virginia. The Common Reader. New York. Hartcourt Inc. 1925. Print.
This applies to many writers who are constrained by their own free will. I feel like the tyrant(s) is censorship along with publishing companies since it limits them to write what they truly desire. They want to see the writers provide plots, comedy, tragedy, love interest etc. into their writing since people who work for the publishing companies assume that is what everyone wants to read. Writers tend to obey the tyrant by pleasing them with these impeccable novels, short stories and poems. Soon after this period of modernism began and we see authors begin to rebel against the typical love interest/tragic/comedy stories and decides to make something filled with tragedy instead of comedy. Authors want to break free from tradition and start writing at their own free will.
“‘Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumcised spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible?”
Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 150. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.
The page should reflect the truth of life, in that it may be messy and uncoordinated, but still manages to be (somewhat) comprehensive. Good fiction is not so much defined by imitation, as it is by being able to look deeply within ourselves, and using our unique conscious to speak (and write) of the world as we live it and know it.