Essay about Cunningham's The Hours: A Story about Life and Death

Essay about Cunningham's The Hours: A Story about Life and Death

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Cunningham's The Hours: A Story about Life and Death


"The Hours" by Michael Cunningham is a complicated story that explores life and death. Cunningham attempts to distinguish his writings from author Virginia Woolf's by characterizing sanity and insanity while each protagonist contemplates their own life and suicide. Each woman in The Hours wrestles tension and confusion throughout the novel giving a sense that these issues transcend time. By introducing issues of homosexuality, infidelity, and suicide the reader is invited to think of life's experiences within the context of daily life.

Cunningham makes extensive use of intertexts to parallel author Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" which originally was titled "The Hours". The author makes references to Woolf's other works including "Mrs. Dalloway in Bond St.", "The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection", "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown", and "A Room of One's Own". In The Hours, all the characters and narrative strands connect to characters in Woolf's stories, principally Mrs. Dalloway. The Hours is broken down to trace a single day in the life of the story's three central characters, Mrs. Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (Clarissa Vaughn) and Mrs. Brown.

Mrs. Woolf parallels author Virginia Woolf preparing to start a new novel. Her day starts dealing with the characters who in real life work for her and her husband Leonard Woolf at their publishing company Hogarth Press. Mrs. Dalloway (Vaughn) appears to be a modern day Clarissa Dalloway who is the central character in both of Woolf's works; Mrs. Dalloway and Mrs. Dalloway in Bond St. Mrs. Brown is a narrative about Laura Brown, who is about to read Mrs. Dalloway; her name also connects with Woolf's essay "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Br...


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...pitiless light. And, there was nothing. Isabella was perfectly empty. She had no thoughts, she had no friends" (2464).

After living with AIDS for so long Richard ends the story by committing suicide. "I am afraid I can't make the party" referring to the party Clarissa is throwing in his honor. Richards says, "I don't think two people could have been happier than we've been." (200). Then Richard slides off the windowsill and falls. This is the same line Virginia ends her suicide note to her husband Leonard with, "I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been (7). Virginia walks to the river, places a heavy stone in her coat pocket, wades into the river and drowns.

Works Cited

Coffee, Michael. "Michael Cunningham: New Family Outings". Publisher Weekly 245 (1998): 53-54.

Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1998.

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