Through Space and Time: Reality and Experience in the Modern Age
This late age of the world's experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears (Woolfe 9).
Modernism marked the collapse of structures that had defined the individual and the relationship of that individual to the world. Rapid changes in religion, science, and politics revealed the gaps in society's ideologies. The institutions that had once provided the foundation of English society were no longer absolute. The individual, whose very existence was constructed upon these frameworks, was suddenly empty; clinging to relics of a lost ideal and left with little more than questions. Without structures to order the fleeting experiences of the individual, how can one assert one's own existence? Woolf explores this question of self through the prose of Mrs. Dalloway. She leads the reader through the shifting scenery of London; from the certainty of Big Ben to the abstract, scattered emotions and memories of Woolf's characters, searching for that which remains outside of these structures, for that which is real.
[...] He must escape Big Ben, the aeroplane, the doctors, and step outside of convention. He must be free to feel without these constructs to order and define his experience of it. Society attempts to force Septimus back within its ordered structures. And Septimus, unlike Clarissa and Peter, pushes back, falling off of their plane, into a new unknown. His death then becomes an act of defiance. It was attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the center which, mystically evaded them There was an embrace in death” (Woolfe 184). [...]
[...] Away and away the aeroplane shot, till it was nothing but a bright spark; an aspiration; a concentration; a symbol of man's soul' of his determination, thought Mr. Bentley sweeping round the cedar tree, to get outside his body, beyond his house, by means of thought, Einstein, speculation, mathematics, the Mendelian theory away the aeroplane shot (Woolfe 28). The people on the streets weave through the ordered chaos of the crowd find security and comfort within the aeroplane and its message. [...]
[...] In Septimus, however, the reader witnesses the collapse of these symbols and falls with him into another realm of consciousness. Septimus' ‘madness' removes him from the institutions that define offering a new medium with which to express and experience reality. Septimus returns from the War, a hero, a survivor welcomed back into the Empire he had fought to sustain. But that world has changed. It “wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames” (Woolfe 151). There is no longer any meaning within the structures of society when compared to the tragic beauty of life. [...]
[...] They rise above the random, violent beauty of the present moment; and so, they become symbols of an everlasting, immortal truth. But it is not within these structures, but within the fleeting and uncertain moment that Woolf's prose unfolds. Reality finds its expression in the random chaos of Clarissa, Peter and Septimus as they piece together the scattered fragments of their lives; struggling to see beyond them and re-affirm their faith in their own existence. Big Ben stands over Mrs. [...]
[...] Peter struggles to see beyond the looming certainty of Big Ben, the aeroplane, and the rituals of English society to realize what exists outside of them. Instead of truth, however, he finds only emptiness. The human spirit is expressed only within the context of these structures dependent upon the daily habits of civilized life to assert its realness; its membership within society. For Clarissa as well, there is a desire to step outside of these structures and observe what remains. [...]
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