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.
[...] The overarching structures that support this society ground the random and unordered experiences of the modern individual. The objects that surround them, the causes they support, gradually become them. They endure and thus, seem more real that the emotions and experiences that haunt them. It is within this framework, within conventional roles, that each character can seemingly define their own self. But breaking through the ordered certainty of these monuments are questions. Faced with these doubts and uncertainties, Clarissa and Peter momentarily step outside of these structures and challenge their authority. [...]
[...] Septimus' suicide embodies the spirit of the modern era; the collapse of traditional structures of meaning, the emptiness of the old world and the search for a new medium with which to rebuild the Self. And meaning then lies beyond the conventions that order and define our reality; existing within the direct experience of our own nature. The monuments presented in Mrs. Dalloway define each individual; limiting who and what ‘I' am to fit within social constructs. And ‘I' then become a node within a network, supporting the systems that generate meaning. [...]
[...] The people on the streets weave through the ordered chaos of the crowd find security and comfort within the aeroplane and its message. It draws them outside of their individual doubts, reminding them that they are a part of something greater than their own personal experiences. Men and women come and go, time passes. But the aeroplane endures. The laws that allowed its construction, the minds that realized these laws and the power that enabled it to be built, is real; as real as the empire that created it. [...]
[...] 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. Dalloway as she walks down the crowded streets of London, searching for the flowers for her party. Then, Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. [...]
[...] 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. [...]
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