Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot

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Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot are representative works of two separate movements in literature: Modernism and Post-Modernism. Defining both movements in their entirety, or arguing whether either work is truly representative of the classifications of Modernism and Post-Modernism, is not the purpose of this paper; rather, the purpose is to carefully evaluate how both works, in the context of both works being representative of their respective traditions, employ the use of symbolism and allusion. Beckett’s play uses “semantic association” in order to convey meaning in its use of symbolism; Woolf’s novel employs a more traditional mode of conveying meaning in its own use: that is, the meaning of symbols in Mrs. Dalloway is found within the text itself. Woolf’s novel exists as its own entity, with the reader using the text as the only tool in uncovering any symbolic meaning, while Beckett’s play stimulates the audience in such a way that the audience projects their own meaning in the symbols presented. “Semantic association” is the term used by Dina Sherzer in her essay describing how Beckett uses dialogue to “devaluate language [in order to form] a linguistic construction which animates the play while expressing the absurd” (Sherzer 145). Sherzer states that Beckett’s use of language is associative; that is, the audience comprehends dialogue and symbolism on their practical level and their metaphysical levels. When Estragon complains, while attempting to take off his boot and failing, that there is “Nothing to be done,” Vladimir replies: “I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everyt... ... middle of paper ... ...s limiting the text in some ways, though still creating a complex set of images and allusions in order to convey meaning. Woolf’s novel exists as its own entity, while Beckett’s play exists outside of the text. The reader is engaged in different ways in both works: Woolf requires a reader to understand her message through symbolism; Beckett requires nothing from his audience except what has become an intuitive reaction: place meaning into text. Works Cited Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove P, 1954. Harper, Howard. Between Language and Silence. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1982. 109-134. Sherzer, Diane. "De-construction in Waiting for Godot." The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society. Ed. Barbara A. Babcock. London: Cornell University, 1978. 129-146. Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando: Harcourt P, 1925.
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