Virginia Woolf is a famous modernist English writer and the novel Mrs. Dalloway is one of her most popular works. The novel is based on a modernist writing technique which is known as stream of consciousness. There are throwbacks in the novel which are actually the thoughts of the characters. As we see, two stories are being discussed in the novel at the same time and the interesting aspect is that there is no relation between these two stories yet the characters of both the stories have some similarities. There is not central plot of the novel because the narrative of the novel shifts from one story to another repeatedly.
This novel is also about the psychology of human beings and Woolf is trying to portray the different human psyches through it. This novel is also a depiction of her own mental process and condition because for many of the critics Woolf’s experiences of life are just same as her characters have. The characters involved in both the stories are going through different psychological situations which are not usual. Some of them are feeling lonely and have depression some are captured by their past and are unable to get rid of it. They are unable to stay in present as every incident or event makes them to remember their past. The past memories and events of the characters, involved in both the stories, are also different from one another but whenever they recollect their past memories consciously or unconsciously, they get frustrations.
Psychoanalytic theory is given Sigmund Freud in late 19th century. It deals with the mental analysis and treatment of the patients who have any kind of psychological disorder. Its application to the arts is that it is used to analyze the texts as it can be set as standard to find the hidden meanings and intentions of the writer and of the characters as well. It also deals with the actions which are performed by the characters.
In this essay, I will try to find out the factors or the reasons which are affecting the characters’ mental health because all the characters have their own past memories and going through specific present situations which have bad effects on them. As the result of these mental disorders they begin to think about the solution of these problems but their thoughts go in the same direction and they think of a specific act through which they will become able to find peace. They see no hope in life and find the suicide as best therapy to get rid of these worldly pains and suffering. This result of the mental disorders is also the same like the result of Woolf’s life.
The novel is a masterpiece of Virginia Woolf as it gives a deep insight of mental process of human through the use of stream of consciousness which is a modernist technique. This technique is used by the modernist writers to show the complexities in the thoughts of a character. It portrays the cycle of thoughts which occupies human mind in any kind of environment and situation. It explains the reactions of human in happiness and grief but the most important aspect is overlapping of happiness and grief with each other.
The critical study of the novel explores another important aspect of it which is the presence of disillusionment in the characters and the sense of change. The disillusionment is related to the modernity which is divided into three phases by Marshell Berman in ‘All That is Solid Melts into Air (1982). He says that the urge to modernism starts, unknowingly, form 16th century to the 18th century and he calls it as the first phase of modernity. Second phase is the era of French Revolution and the third phase is 20th century when people started to compare conservative and a modern one. But the WWI brought the disillusionment to this modernity and this concept loses its value. So Virginia Woolf leaves the traditional style of writing and introduces such kind of writing in which reader can get the reality through his struggle.
The novel is usually taken as an autobiography because it has a great resemblance with life of Virginia Woolf. The life of Virginia Woolf is also full of sorrows and pains as she faced the first loss of her mother at the age of thirteen which remains fresh in all her life. Then her marriage life was disturbed to some extent which is also shown with the help of Lucrezia’s character. Like her, Woolf also had no children which aided to her distress. She faced depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts from her very early age. All these mental problems react in such a way that she attempts suicide for many times and finally she lost her life in 1941 by drowning herself.
The symbolic study of the novel shows that Virginia Woolf has used the symbols smartly. Different minor characters of the novel are playing a function as a symbol. For example the character of Prime Minister is showing the traditional values of England. When he joins the party and appears there he does not have any impressive look it is because the writer is trying to show that the traditions are losing their charm due to the war. Another example of symbolism is the character of the old woman in the window. It symbolizes the privacy of soul and loneliness. As the Mrs. Dalloway is growing old both these characteristic are increasing in her. With the passing time she is becoming more alone and her privacy is also increasing with time.
Factors Contributing to the Mental Disorders of main Characters.
Lack of communication and alienation
The first factor which is observed as the agent of causing mental disorder is lack of communication. This factor affects the psychological condition of Mrs. Dalloway and the best example of it is the scene when Mr. Dalloway buys some roses for his wife and thinks of confessing his love for her. But when he arrives at her with the flowers he finds himself unable to express his feelings for her wife and he just gives her flowers and there is an exchange of smile between both of them. After giving her flowers he assumes that she have got his feelings that he loves her. He thinks that his wife can understand the feelings and the intentions which he has for herself but Mrs. Dalloway is unable to know his concerns. It shows that love should not be taken as for granted rather there is need of confession also.
‘And there is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect, thought Clarissa, watching him open the door; for one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will, from one’s husband, without losing one’s independence, one’s self-respect – something, after all, priceless.’
She also feels a distance between the hearts of an intimate relationship of a husband and wife. She uses the word ‘gulf’ which represents a large distance. It represents the sense of alienation which is present even between the naturally closest relationship.
Mrs. Dalloway takes the suicide of Septimus as a way of communication.
‘Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.’
She feels that the Septimus lacks a person in his life to whom he can explain his problems. She thinks about the similarities which she and Septimus have common. She finds both of them in loneliness where they have no one to discuss the things they have in their hearts. So in her point of view it is a powerful voice which cannot be unheard by anyone.
The relationship between Lucrezia and Septimus also lacks the communication and understanding. We see that the Lucrezia is sewing the hats and Septimus is in his own thoughts. He just recalls his friend and sees him everywhere. When they visit doctor, the Lucrezia tells the doctor that the thoughts of Septimus always revolve around his own self. He does not come out of his imaginations and thoughts. She wants the doctor to treat Septimus in such a way that he could concentrate on surroundings especially he should pay attention to Lucrezia because their relation is damaging due to this behavior of him. The Lucrezia also feels loneliness in England as when she is setting in the park she cries that she is alone, she is alone. It shows intense isolation which she is facing there. She also has no one to whom she can explain her sorrows or who can give her hope. The only on is her husband who himself is the reason of all he happenings.
Unwished life and Fear
The lives which the characters are living in the novel are not the same which they wished for themselves. Everyone has some wishes and some aim in life which they want to fulfill. The fulfillment of wishes and needs brings charm to the life a person as he or she can find some reason to become happy. It make them to feel relax and satisfied in life but when a people fail to get their motives their life becomes frustrated and they loss their faith on life. Hopes starts shaking and the stress makes its way to capture the person. Same is the case with the characters of the novel.
First of all, Mrs. Dalloway considers herself as a puppet which is living her life according to the wishes of her husband. She has spent all her life in promotion of her husband’s political life in which she is succeeded and he becomes a successful politician. Even the prime minister of the country attends his parties and other successful businessmen and politicians feel pride to meet him but at the moments Mrs. Dalloway feels that this is not the life which she has wished for herself as she finds that her life is not according to her wish. To her there should be some romance and some energy in her marital relationship but there is nothing like that. We can get a clear observation of it when she goes to buy the flowers for the party and thinks of Peter whom she is refused to marry. She thinks that he is unbearable person but he cannot be a good choice for morning walk in that beautiful morning. It is the depiction of hollowness of her life and her relation with her husband which compels her to think of a rejected person.
The life which Lucrezia is spending with Septimus is also not praised by the Lucrezia.
‘Far was Italy and the white houses and the room where her sisters sat making hats, and the streets crowded every evening with people walking, laughing out loud, not half alive like people here, huddled up in Bath chairs, looking at a few ugly flowers stuck in pots’
Before marrying Septimus she was living a happy life with her sister in Italy. But after marriage she finds no charm in her life. She is taking care of her ill husband who does not even recognize her efforts for himself. For him, her intentions and concerns are nothing as he is always busy in his imaginations and is living in his past which had very bad memories for him. He has no concern with the present while Lucrezia wants him to consider her and the present conditions but she gets no response and success in making him like that.
‘At tea Rezia told him that Mrs. Filmer’s daughter was expecting a baby. She could not grow old and have no children! She was very lonely, she was very unhappy! She cried for the first time since they were married. Far away he heard her sobbing; he heard it accurately, he noticed it distinctly; he compared it to a piston thumping. But he (Septimus) felt nothing!’
She wants children in her life which can bring smile to her because she feels too lonely and depressed. There was no one who can make her laugh so she wants a healthy family which can bring everything to normal. But the Septimus does not feel like her. This thing also brings anxiety to the Lucrezia and she feels so depressed.
Septimus is going through multiple mental disorders but he does not want to visit doctors and dislikes the doctor’s visit to him as well.
‘Holmes was at the door. ‘I’ll give it you!’ he cried, and flung himself vigorously, violently down on to Mrs. Filmer’s area railings.’
He has fear of doctors in his mind which is growing strong with the passage of time. He just wants to live alone but frequent visits of different doctors give him mental torture which makes him to jump from the window to give away his life. When we examine his life we come to know that the life he spent was also not his choice as he got the problems during the war. He does not behave strangely by his own choice but all of his actions are unconsciously done which are not in his control.
Death and War
The novel shows a constant comparison of life and death and the ‘death’ is another factor which is causing mental disorders in the characters. The main characters switch between death and life constantly. We can consider the event of death with the mental disorder of Septimus as a major cause because he has seen his friend dying in front of his eyes in the battlefield. After this incident he finds his dead friend around him. He usually shouts his name with a shock. The battlefield has damaged his mental abilities and his mental disorder is known as shell-shock. This is a psychological problem which is related to the wars or battlefields and the fighting soldiers usually face this condition. In addition to this, he also has some other psychological problem likes depression and anxiety.
‘For the truth is (let her ignore it) that human beings have neither kindness, nor faith, nor charity beyond what serves to increase the pleasure of the moment. They hunt in packs. Their packs scour the desert and vanish screaming into the wilderness. They desert the fallen. They are plastered over with grimaces’
He is at that stage where he finds only bad in people and world. Despite the efforts of his wife and of doctors he is not able to observe anything good in people. This condition happens due to depression and the ability to observe something positive ends.
The WWI has caused a huge damage to the world economically, politically and culturally but its effects on human health were also not good because a lot of people suffered due to it. The war produced a traumatic effect on the minds in the people.
Mrs. Dalloway also has an effect of death on her mind.
‘That phase came directly after Sylvia’s death – that horrible affair. To see your own sister killed by a falling tree (all Justin Parry’s fault – all his carelessness) before your very eyes, a girl too on the verge of life, the most gifted of them, Clarissa always said, was enough to turn one bitter.’
Her beloved sister has died suddenly which caused a mental damage to the Mrs. Dalloway. She does not discuss her sister Sylvia too much but the feelings of sadness and hollowness are always present in her tone. She is also found preoccupied with the perceptions of death and mortality many times in the novel.
‘But that young man had killed himself. Somehow it was her disaster – her disgrace.’
The death of Septimus which has no relation with her makes her sad and tends her to think about death. She goes on the side from the party and begins to think about Septimus and feels as she can understand him. She questions the life of human takes it as a burden which scares her a lot.
Consequences of the mental disorders
Suicide is the ultimate consequence of all the mental disorders through which the characters go through. In general overview it is a reality which cannot be denied because the facts and figures which are provided by different organizations like WHO it is an obvious pathway which is followed by the people who have stress, depression or any other mental disorder. The reports of WHO show that about 800000 people commit suicide every year which means that in every 40 seconds a person commits suicide. From these stats how alarming the situation is.
In the novel there is the same situation as the characters are facing stress, depression and hallucination. Some have clear and deadly symptoms of depression and stress while some have symptoms which are not too obvious and cannot be understood easily but their thoughts are full of death’s perception. The character like Septimus has the fear of people especially of doctors as he becomes so perplexed on arrival of Dr. Holmes and wants him to go back. But when notice that he is going back and is coming to him, it leads him to jump from the window to give away his life.
When Mrs. Dalloway comes to know about the death of Septimus she begins to judge her own life. He goes long back in her life and remembers her relations with many of her old friends. She feels sympathy for Septimus and considers his act as a voice which should be understood before such happening. But in life if a person is not heard then it is the best way to show or tell the people which they were not ready to understand.
It means the characters or the people who are having the mental disorders find the act of suicide as a way of response of the people and to the society as well in which they were living. They answer the world and society in a questioning way which is to be answer by their surrounding according to their observations.
As the main objective of this essay was to identify the factors which are contributing in mental disorders of the main characters and the consequence of it, so from above discussion we come the point where we have sort out some such factors. The sense of being alone and communication gap are the factors which affect the mental health of the characters. We find that the characters of Mrs. Dalloway and Lucrezia are highly affected with these factors. They have their own families but their relationships with their husbands are not up to the mark and are causing stress to them. There is no confession for love from the male sides in both relationships. The unwanted life cycle and fear are also causing disorder in characters. The lives of Lucrezia and Mrs. Dalloway are not according to their wishes or demand. Lucrezia is trying to settle down the life but she is not getting success in her efforts. Her efforts to cure her husband are not showing any result while Mrs. Dalloway is just working for the career of her husband and her private is disturbed. She also needs love and appreciations like Lucrezia but she gets nothing in return as well. The character of Septimus is affected with fear doctors and people. His perception of people is totally negative and pessimistic. The war and death also aided to the psychological disorders of characters. It affects mainly the Septimus who is survivor of WWI and has a dangerous effect of that. Death affected the thoughts of Mrs. Dalloway whose sister has died suddenly. The characters of the novel usually discuss and think about death.
All these factors result in suicidal attempts of the characters. When they become unable to cope with all the worldly pains and sufferings they find suicide as the therapy of these hardships. So the character like Septimus commits suicide to get rid of these problems and tortures. The sympathy of Mrs. Dalloway towards the suicide to Septimus shows that she also finds this act as a final result and response to the problems and the stats of present times still support this act as a large number of people commit suicide in recent times and the numbers are increasing day by day.