Clothing and Gender in Virginia Woolf's Orlando Essay

Clothing and Gender in Virginia Woolf's Orlando Essay

Length: 1048 words (3 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Strong Essays

Open Document

Essay Preview

Clothing and Gender in Virginia Woolf's Orlando


In her novel Orlando, Virginia Woolf tells the story of a man who one night mysteriously becomes a woman. By shrouding Orlando's actual gender change in a mysterious religious rite, we readers are pressured to not question the actual mechanics of the change but rather to focus on its consequences. In doing this, we are invited to answer one of the fundamental questions of our lives, a question that we so often ignore because it seems so very basic - what is a man? What is a woman? And how do we distinguish between the two?

It seems that in ordinary life, we are most likely to distinguish between a man and a woman by clothing. This is more difficult to do in the present day, in which women have adapted much traditionally male clothing for their own use, but in the time periods in which Orlando is set it was still the case that men and women wore distinct clothing. If we consider our everyday experience, it becomes clear that this is the means we use, at least from a distance. Other cues such as hairstyle, quality of voice, and so on enter the equation later, but clothing comes first. A man with long hair is eccentric at worst; a man wearing a dress runs the risk of being beaten to a pulp for this transgression. People wishing to undergo a sex-change operation must undergo a period of living as the opposite gender before going through with surgery - the first and most important thing invariably done here is to purchase a new wardrobe.

So, if clothes are the cues that we use to differentiate the two genders, then it is no surprise that Orlando's sex change takes place when it does. In the opening paragraph of Chapter Four, upon Orlando's departure from Turkey, Woolf writes...


... middle of paper ...


...ch woman when in fact it is not very clear what she is. Woolf posits that her choice of clothing points to something deeper: "Clothes are but a symbol of something deep beneath. It was a change in Orlando herself that dictated her choice of a woman's dress and of a woman's sex" (188). If only it were possible for us to change our genders and all the social baggage that comes with them merely by changing our clothing? But Orlando's life is in some ways magical, and this makes it possible.

Works Cited and Consulted

Boehm, Beth A. "Fact, Fiction, and Metafiction: Blurred Gen(d)res in Orlando and A Room of One's Own." Journal of Narrative Technique 22:3 (1992): 191-204.

Thompson, Nicola. "Some Theories of One's Own: Orlando and the Novel." Studies in the Novel 25:3 (1993): 306-17.

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando: A Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Analysis Of Virginia Woolf 's ' Orlando ' Essay examples

- With everything in life we have the good and bad, the easy and the hard, the weak and the strong, or the smart and the ignorant. The symbol of life is like a great big ying yang sign. Sometimes women have a greater advantage over men on certain things just as men have an advantage over women on other things. Virginia Woolf shows us in her novel Orlando, that there are advantages and disadvantages in being either man or women. She used a fictional character named Orlando who goes back and forth, trying to reason with the fact that he became a woman and had to live in a society where men ruled and women had many more restrictions and expectations than men did....   [tags: Woman, Gender, Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom]

Strong Essays
1205 words (3.4 pages)

Orlando, The Titular Character, Orlando Essay

- Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the titular character, Orlando, goes through three extraordinary experiences. Orlando never ages beyond the age of thirty, transforms into a woman, and then gives birth. The events that Orlando goes through are given very vague detail into how they occur and are only explained by the unnamed biographer who claims the events are true. Therefore, can the biographer be trusted when telling the reader that Orlando has not aged past thirty, turned into a woman and given birth....   [tags: Gender, Female, Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom]

Strong Essays
1089 words (3.1 pages)

Virginia Woolf's Orlando and the Relationship between Virginia and Vita

- Virginia Woolf's Orlando and the Relationship between Virginia and Vita It has been said the novel Orlando is the longest love-letter ever written; a celebration of the bond between women. The relationship between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is well documented and known to have been intimate. That Virginia was passionate and giddy about her relationship with Vita is also known and displayed in Orlando. But Orlando also offers a rare intimate glimpse into the mind of Virginia Woolf. An unselfconscious work, it reveals her mind, talent at play....   [tags: Virginia Woolf Orlando Essays]

Strong Essays
2738 words (7.8 pages)

The First Time I Read Orlando By Virginia Woolf Essay

- Orlando by Virginia Woolf The first time I read Orlando by Virginia Woolf, I was very confused. It seemed that the book was about time travel, as if Orlando was like Dr. Who or Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap. Then the lead character changes gender and decades so effortlessly without any explanation or alarm. Upon further investigation, I realized how interesting Orlando and Virginia Woolf really were, especially for the time period. The plot context doesn’t really necessarily matter. Like Roger Ebert writes in Chicago Sun-Times, "it is not about a story or a plot, but about a vision of human existence." Woolf wrote this faux-biography as playful fun and without too much seriousness....   [tags: Gender, Sex, Gender role, Virginia Woolf]

Strong Essays
1605 words (4.6 pages)

Humor and Tragedy in Virginia Woolf's Orlando Essay

- Virginia Woolfe's "Orlando" uses both humor and tragedy to observe humanity's often absurd and eccentric superficial constructions, both of class and gender. Woolfe creates the distinctions between male and female but continuously shatters them to reveal the illusions we create about gender. As George Meredith suggests, comedy is created when "The comic poet dares to show us men and women coming to this mutual likeness" (15). Woolfe, however, goes beyond simply bringing men and women together as equals; she blends them together as one androgynous individual, the effect of which causes us to laugh at the artificial way in which society attempts to define gender....   [tags: Virginia Woolf Orlando Essays]

Strong Essays
652 words (1.9 pages)

Clothing Influences The Appearance Of The Body Essay

- Clothing is directly in contact with the human body and seen as a fundamental element of the self, an "extension of the body" (charlotte Suthwell, 2004). Clothing influences the appearance of the body, with shape and form, which has an impact on the structure of 'social identity '. This could be a number of social identities that create the 'self ' such as occupation, nationality, class, and gender. Clothing and how one is dressed is the initial impression on a person, and garments can affect how we are perceived....   [tags: Gender, Gender role, Trousers, Clothing]

Strong Essays
1538 words (4.4 pages)

Styles Used in Orlando by Virginia Woolf and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

- Styles used in the Orlando and One Hundred Years of Solitude books Both Virginia Woolf and Garcia Marquez in their books Orlando and One Hundred Years of Solitude respectively used almost the same styles to enhance and bring out the significance of the story. Virginia Woolf writes of Orlando, the protagonist in her story, a young man of around thirty six years who metamorphosed over a couple of days from a man to a woman. Woolf’s writing depicted very important issues in life that included gender issues and self awareness and knowledge....   [tags: gender change, spanish society]

Strong Essays
771 words (2.2 pages)

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando Essay

- Virginia Woolf’s Orlando Born in the late nineteenth century, Virginia Woolf’s visionary mind emerged in a social climate that did not cultivate the intellectual development of women. In England’s waning Victorian era, the upper classes of women were encouraged to become nothing more than obedient wives, self-effacing mothers, servile hostesses, and cheerful, chattering tea-drinkers, expectations that Virginia Woolf shunned, renounced, and ultimately denounced in her writings. Beside being born into a patriarchal culture, Virginia Woolf was also born into a family headed by a man who made it clear that he "expected more from his sons than his daughters" (Bazin 4)....   [tags: Literary]

Strong Essays
1343 words (3.8 pages)

Gender, Age And Clothing Shopping Behaviors Essay

- For decades psychologists have been studying the relationship between gender, age and clothing shopping behaviors. Evolutionary psychologists, like Kenrick and Trost (1993), believe that men are more aggressive, inclined to promiscuity, and more concerned with the youth and physical attractiveness of their female partners, while females are more focused on a nice appearance because men are wired to be more attracted to that. Based off that theory, women are more likely to shop for new clothes to highlight their attractiveness to potential mates....   [tags: Gender, Male, Female, Sex]

Strong Essays
1135 words (3.2 pages)

Comparing Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov and Orlando by Sally

- Comparing Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov and Orlando by Sally Potter The novels, Orlando by Virginia Woolf and Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov, as well as the film, Orlando, written and directed by Sally Potter, are all self-reflexive, or metafictional, i.e., they draw our attention to the processes and techniques of writing and the production of cinema. All three share similarities and differences in setting, narrative technique, characterization and theme....   [tags: Movie Film Comparison Contrast Compare]

Strong Essays
3482 words (9.9 pages)