The Cultural Significance of The Hours Essays

The Cultural Significance of The Hours Essays

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In his novel The Hours, Michael Cunningham creates a dazzling fabric of queer references while intertwining the lives of three different women into one smooth narrative. In this essay, I will discuss what makes The Hours into a piece of queer literature, how the novel has contributed to the genre, the cultural significance of the novel, and several points made in Jeanette McVicker’s critical article “Gaps and Absences in The Hours.” My aim, however, is not to create the illusion that Michael Cunningham’s The Hours is strictly a queer novel but to highlight what makes the novel queer and to discuss Cunningham’s idea of sexual orientation as a fluid entity.
Marilyn Farwell discusses what makes a lesbian narrative in her book Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives:
“Does the text have a political purpose? Can we identify the lesbianism of the authors and characters? What do these writers and characters say about lesbianism and more particularly their own lesbianism?” (Farwell 11)
Using Farwell’s breakdown as a guide, we can then determine what makes a novel like The Hours into a queer narrative.
In an interview with Steven Drukman, Cunningham discussed the political purpose of the novel:
“I originally imagined I would…try to use the AIDS epidemic very much the way Woolf used World War I – with this sense of a new culture rising up out of the ruins of the old.” (Drukman 62)
As an author, Cunningham dedicated much of his early writing to chronicling the experience of gay Americans in the age of AIDS, working closely with the gay activist group ACT UP several times. He was able to use his experiences as an activist to bring the characters in The Hours to life and to successfully substitute AIDS for World War I trench warfare a...


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...et through that one and then, my god, there’s another. ” (Cunningham 197-198)
Additionally, they are also haunted by the voices of their past – eventually leading to both Septimus’ and Richard’s deaths. The parallelism between the two characters is impeccable, leading me to believe that if Richard is “emptied out of the world” as McVicker states, then Septimus must be as well.
By exploring the various queer references in The Hours, I have untangled some, but hardly all, of the allusions that Cunningham wove into his novel by adopting, and adapting, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway for his own purposes. He is able to transform the reader’s view of literature and of queer narratives by reviving an old work and giving it a modern spin – replacing World War I with AIDS and exploring the sexuality of Mrs. Woolf, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Dalloway through their respective eras.

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