Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Mark on the Wall” is the gradually unfolding revelation—through concentrically associative rings of thought—of one female character, the nameless narrator. However, it is not merely the revelation of one person’s mind, as it also reveals the collective mentality and ethos of England at a crucial time in its history—that is, during World War I. Indeed, the time during which this story takes place is essential to understanding its central conflict, and this, again, concerns the narrator’s state of mind.
In 1917, Britain, like most of the other European countries, is fighting a war; also like the other countries, it is ruled by men, “men of action—men, we assume, who don’t think.” However, the narrator does think about and question “the mark” these men are leaving on the wall of the thinking person’s mind. Thus, Virginia Woolf bases her story on Plato’s allegory of the cave, which describes—in Socrates’ words—humans chained to one wall in such a way that they are prevented from looking in any direction other than straight ahead at the cave wall in front of them; on this wall are shadows of stick figures cast from behind the wall to which the humans are bound. Shadows, then, are all that these prototypical humans know as reality. Even so, Socrates says, if one of these people is set free, taken out of the cave and shown the world of light and three dimensional forms, and if—after discovering that what he thought was...
(The entire section is 461 words.)
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