What Part Does the Theme of Marriage Play in Mrs. Dalloway?
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In the novel Mrs. Dalloway, which follows a day of Clarissa and those whose lives brush hers, illustrates the futile artificiality of upper class lives. Portrayal of marriage reflects the contemporary situation of women after marriage and the lack of communication among individuals at post-war period of London.
As reflected by the novel, few women of Clarissa’s generation can escape the fate of marriage and confinement of being merely a housewife. Even Sally Seton, who throws a critical view towards the upper class flimsy life style when she is young, finally marries a wealthy man and has five sons. Just as Clarissa remarks,’ her voice [is] wrung of its ravishing richness; her eyes not aglow as they used to be’. Clearly, Sally has lost much of her vivacity and discernment after being Lady Rossester. Clarissa, similarly, chooses to settle down with a ‘sportsman, a man who only cared for dogs’ and give up pursuing her dreams.
After marrying, most women lost their independence and do things for the sake of their husband rather than themselves. Family and husband come before their own interest. Sally, Clarissa and Mrs. Bradshaw are typical examples. When Sally sees Clarissa again in the party, the first thing that she blurts out is that she has ‘five enormous boys’. Undoubtedly, her boys are her greatest pride and are of utmost importance. Clarissa is also conscious that she is not being Clarissa anymore. She is merely being Mrs. Richard Dalloway. When comparing to Clarissa in Bourton, who has great interest in politics, Clarissa in London cares more about the flowers for her party rather suffering Albanians. Lady Bradshaw is another stereotypical portrayal of ‘the typical successful men’s wife’. She ‘[will] do worthy work back in London, attending bazaars or taking photographs’ when her husband is seeing his rich country patients’. She has to help her husband maintaining good reputation among the social circle. She does everything purely for her husband rather than herself. On the contrary, Miss Kilman, Elizabeth Dalloway’s tutor, stands as a figure who advocates the independence of women. She, being singled, earns her own living and has ideas of her own. She is much more independent when compared to the married women, such as Clarissa. In short, the social norms imposed on married women limit their personal development and independence.
Marriage, as depicted by Woolf, lacks communication and warmth. The failed connection exists between husband and wife, and probably between all other individuals. The situation is reflected as Richard Dalloway fails to express his love to his wife. Readers get the feeling that Richard has hoped to express his love to Clarissa at other times as well, but has also failed. Lurenzia also suffers from failure of communicating with her insane husband, Septimus. She can hardly understand his writings on the envelopes. Lurenzia also suffers from failure of communicating with her insane husband, Septimus. She can hardly understand his writings on the envelopes. Lack of communication between couples highlights the fact that even individuals of close relationship fails to understand each other, not to mention strangers.
Marriage also lacks intimacy as viewed by Woolf. Clarissa sleeps alone at the altar as insisted by Richard due to her illness. Her lack of intimacy in marriage is symbolized through the metaphor of a virginal nun. However, Clarissa is content with her relationship with Richard. She enjoys her own privacy in the room where she can preserve her habit of reading. Clarissa’s choice brings out the fact the individuals should give each other independence even after marriage, rather than possessing every moments of one’s life. In short, women, by keeping suitable distance with husbands, helps preserve their own personality.
To conclude, the depiction of marriage reflects Woolf’s idea and observation of marriage at her time. Women are greatly limited by their marital status and their independence are greatly stripped off after marrying.