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Describe instances when the point of view in Mrs Dalloway changes, considering how...

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ninniclements | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted September 27, 2012 at 6:52 AM via web

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Describe instances when the point of view in Mrs Dalloway changes, considering how Woolf accomplishes the transitions.

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 28, 2012 at 12:22 AM (Answer #1)

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Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway has a unique narrative style, salient for its shifts in the streams of consciousness, from one character to another. The characters spend the majority of the novel in a state of self-contemplation. This manifests in the form of memories, what if's, and through the constant desire of being let "be". 

Often, Woolf allows the shifts in point of view to occur within one same paragraph, accentuating the psychological and analytical nature of the narrative. To achieve the quick transitions, Woolf uses a literary technique called free indirect speech. This is an effective technique in a narrative such as that of Mrs. Dalloway's because it has all the elements of a third person narrative while still allowing the use first person traits such as the use of "I" as part of the first person direct discourse. This is what allows the plot to come in and out of the main characters' innermost thoughts.

The first example of shift in the point of view comes in part one, which narrates a typical day in Mrs. Dalloway's life. Through her thoughts, we get to know that the simple dynamics of her day (shopping for flowers, looking at stores, taking a stroll in the city) contrast dramatically with the depth and complexity of her thoughts.

Regardless, the transition comes when "a motor car" with a conspicuously secretive look stops in the middle of the street and everyone looks at it in wonder. Mrs. Dalloway looks at it as well. Then, out of nowhere, the narrator tells us that Septimus is also looking at that same car. From that moment, the point of view switches entirely to Septimus, and his shell-shocked and traumatized consciousness.

Mrs. Dalloway, ... looked out..in enquiry. Every one looked at the motor car. Septimus looked... there the motor car stood, with drawn blinds, and upon them a curious pattern like a tree, Septimus thought, and this gradual drawing together of everything ...terrified him

Another shift occurs between Clarissa and Peter Walsh. A former love interest, Peter unexpectedly visits Clarissa that very morning. Naturally, the former lovers would have a lot to think about! Again, the shifts in point of view help the reader learn what each of the lovers thinks of the other. Since Clarissa and Peter are nevertheless "failed" lovers, their thoughts are not always going to be pleasant.

He’s very well dressed, thought Clarissa; yet he always criticises ME.

Here she is mending her dress; mending her dress as usual, he thought; here she’s been sitting all the time I’ve been in India...he thought, growing more and more irritated.

That incident was the conduit that brought in the shift in point of view, from Clarissa's, to Peter's.

One last instance that is not related necessarily to Clarissa occurs in section 8. An argument between Lucrezia and Septimus triggers a memory in Peter, who is watching them argue, of Peter's own experiences with women. Again, the point of view switches from Lucrezia and Septimus, to Peter.

Basically, the narrative in Mrs. Dalloway can be compared to a modern multi-plot movie, such as Love, Actually, or Crash in that the stories of more than one character are featured and shifted throughout the narrative.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted September 28, 2012 at 8:28 PM (Answer #2)

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There are a good number of instances where Woolf changes the focalizing character although it is not precisely correct to say she changes the point of view. The point of view all throughout is given by a third person narrator who focalizes the story through one then another then another character. Technically, this is an omniscient third person narrator who has access to the thoughts, feelings and motives of any or all characters. Experientially, though, it may feel to some more like limited third person because of the techniques Woolf uses including pervasive stream of consciousness. Here are a few random quotes to establish point of view is consistently a third person narrator.

Beginning: "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." [she, herself]
Middle: "For example, Lady Bradshaw. Fifteen years ago she had gone under. ... Sweet was her smile ...." [she, her]
End: "he sat on for a moment. ... what is this ecstasy? he thought to himself.
   "It is Clarissa, he said." [he, himself]

We've established that the point of view is consistently third-person from beginning to end. Now let's tackle who the story is focalized through. Woolf continually changes the focalizer in the story: the character through whom our attention is focused on various characters or events.

Focalization leads directly to Woolf's methods for transitioning. Woolf begins by focalizing the story through Mrs. Dalloway (Clarissa.). While she is walking out shopping, the focalizer shifts to Scrope Purvis who describes Mrs. Dalloway ("very white since her illness"). The focalizer shifts again to Lucrezia and Septimus who lead us deeper into one of the important themes of the story: illness and death. Jumping to the end of the story, the focalizer shifts to Peter Walsh who gives a deeper look into Clarissa's inner being.

There are myriad other shifts in the focalizer. Each shift in focalization has the feel of a shift from one limited third-person POV to another limited third-person POV. Woolf has two main techniques for accomplishing this. The first technique is stream of consciousness. At each shift, she provides an indirect look into the the character's thoughts. It is an indirect look because the narrator doesn't rally quote the person; the narrator merely reports the character's thoughts. Purvis serves as a good example.

"A charming woman, Scrope Purvis thought her ...." Here, the narrator is passing on his thought as he thinks it. Were "A charming woman" a direct quotation, it would have been in quotation marks and tagged simply with "Scrope Purvis thought." Woolf specifies "thought her" to deviate from the norm so as to alert us to the direct connection with Purvis's stream of consciousness.

The second technique is to use external events in the setting as a fluid connection between various characters in various parts of the city. The most obvious example is the "aeroplane" in the sky spelling out the letters "a T, an O, an F." It is easy to understand that many people in many locations can see the same event at the same time. What Woolf did was to look up in one location to the sky through the eyes of one character, follow the plane as it flew through the sky, then look down from the plane to another location and another character.

Woolf employs this fluid setting many times and with many means. Another is the car that backfires out in front of the flower shop, stopping all "Passers-by." It introduces Septimus then drives down Bond Street to Fleet Street, then to Buckingham Palace where other characters speak their minds. The aeroplane, of course, then joins them and leads us from the Palace back to Regent’s Park and Septimus again. So two of Woolf's key techniques are stream of consciousness and fluid settings with multiple-witness events.

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