It's one of the things Virginia Woolf does, she refocuses in on something in the story hence the snail.
This use of detail and colour in the text would indicate that Woolf was using the techniques of Impressionism. The snail is a symbol of lethargy and lackadaisical attitude of the characters. Things go on without any positive purpose. Aimlessness is stressed through the snail symbol. The four groups of people who come to the Kew Gardens are existing for the sake of existence. They do not live with a gusto of life. They gossip,chat, accompany each other without having the warmth of life. The snail like movement of life is reflected in the action of the characters. They are detached and very little involved in what they say and do.
The characters like The husband, Simon, privately reminisces about asking a former girlfriend to marry him. The wife of Simon tells her husband that when she was just six years old she received ‘‘‘the mother of all my kisses all my life.’’’ The snail image comes again when the second set of feet walking by the flower bed belong to an elder and younger man. The younger man, William, walks steadily with an ‘‘expression of perhaps unnatural calm’’ as his companion talks ‘‘incessantly’’ and walks erratically, smiling and murmuring as... The focus pulls back again. Two men stand at the flowerbed, a younger man called William and an older, somewhat unsteady man who is unnamed. Again the snail like image comes to our mind when the older man talks about heaven and makes oblique references to the war. The detachment is apparent when he appears to mistake a woman for someone in his thoughts, and prepares to run off to her. William distracts the older man by pointing out a flower. The old man leans in close to the flower as if he is listening to a voice inside it. The older man talks on, William's stoical patience grows deeper.Here again the lethargic and aimless snail comes to our mind.
The stouter of the two women in the third group becomes detached from the conversation, and drowsily stares at the flowerbed.This is also a snail like attitude. Finally, she suggests that they should find a seat and have their tea. The last group consists of a young woman and a man. The young couple approaches the flowerbed. The young man remarks that on Friday admission to the gardens is sixpence, to which she asks if it is not worth sixpence. He asks what "it" means. She replies "anything." As they stand at the end of the flowerbed, they both press the young woman's parasol into the soil. His hand rests on top of hers. This action expresses their feelings for each other, as do their insignificant words. Their tea drinking is suggestive of their passing time in aimless activity , something that we see in Osborne's 'Look Back in Anger'where tea drinking or ironing means purposless and aimless , mere Sunday activities.
Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee
Associate Professor and Chairperson , Post Graduate Dept of English
Dum Dum Motijheel College and
Guest faculty, Dept of English ,Rabindra Bharati University.