Although the entire novel tells of only one day, Virginia Woolf covers a lifetime in her enlightening novel of the mystery of the human personality. The delicate Clarissa Dalloway, a disciplined English lady, provides the perfect contrast to Septimus Warren Smith, an insane ex-soldier living in chaos. Even though the two never meet, these two correspond in that they strive to maintain possession of themselves, of their souls. On this Wednesday in June of 1923, as Clarissa prepares for her party that night, events during the day trigger memories and recollections of her past, and Woolf offers these bits to the reader, who must then form the psychological and emotional make-up of Mrs. Dalloway in his/her own mind. The reader also learns of Clarissa Dalloway through the thoughts of other characters, such as her old passion Peter Walsh, her husband Richard, and her daughter Elizabeth. Septimus Warren Smith, driven insane by witnessing the death of his friend in the war, acts as Clarissa's societal antithesis; however, the reader learns that they often are more similar than different. Thus, Virginia Woolf examines the human personality in two distinct methods: she observes that different aspects of one's personality emerge in front of different people; also, she analyzes how the appearance of a person and the reality of that person diverge. By offering the personality in all its varying forms, Woolf demonstrates the compound nature of humans.
As an extremely unconventional novel, Mrs. Dalloway poses a challenge for many avid readers; Woolf doesn't separate her novel into chapters, almost all the "action" occurs in the thoughts of characters, and, the reader must piece together the story from random bits and pieces of information...
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... more. All of these contrasts affirm Woolf's contention: no one can or should ever be denoted as someone with only dominant characteristic, because no one remains unvarying. Yet this novel isn't just about Mrs. Dalloway or her complex nature, but rather of Woolf's realization that as Mrs. Dalloway is multi-dimensional, every human is a mixture of his/her concepts, memories, emotions; still, that same human being leaves behind as many different impressions as there are people who associate with that person. Furthermore, Woolf evokes the following question: If everyone's impression of another is just a fragment of the whole, what is the "real world" like, where everyone's consummate nature is in view? Only then does one realize that such a thing, a consummate nature, doesn't exist, and with the human personality, what you see at this very instant is what you get.
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