Rebecca West and Virginia Woolf give great significance to the families of their respective main characters in The Return of the Soldier and Jacob’s Room because it gives the reader a greater insight to the formation of and reasoning for both Chris and Jacob’s nature. Each of these characters have multiple families to deal with: Chris has Kitty and Jenny on the one hand, and Margaret on the other, while Jacob deals with his mother and brother as well as his connections to society and academia. The distinctions between each character’s multiple families cause them to behave differently in various situations, and provide reasons for their actions. It is said that we are shaped by our surroundings and molded by our families, and Woolf and West’s male protagonists prove to be no exception to this rule.
The opening scene of Jacob’s Room depicts Mrs. Flanders and Archer searching for a young Jacob along the beach, already showing that the titular character is detached and separate from those around him. Instead of walking with his mother and brother on the shore, Jacob is more interested in the escapades of a crab in a tidal pool, an early indication of his future pursuit of knowledge and his penchant for isolation. Aside from this first mention, Jacob’s biological family is mentioned very rarely throughout the remainder of the novel, as Woolf focuses on his social and academic family instead. However, Jacob’s tendency to distance himself from many of his friends probably stems from the slightly distracted air of his mother, who seems to love and care for him but at the same time is scatter-brained and somewhat unaware of her surroundings. Jacob i...
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...e complete without the care and heartache handed them by the families they gain and lose throughout the courses of their short lives. Woolf states it perfectly, realizing that “life is but a procession of shadows, and God knows why it is that we embrace them so eagerly, and see them depart with such anguish, being shadows... Such is the manner of our seeing. Such the conditions of our love” (Woolf, 96). Jacob is only partially loved and cared for by his mother, and therefore carries this half-affection into his social interactions, eventually regretting the supremely human act of falling in love. Likewise, Chris is two completely different people between Margaret and Kitty– loving and content with Margaret, once he is returned to reality he becomes one of the “brittle beautiful things” that Kitty so loves to have in her presence, a mere shadow of his soul (West, 6).
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