Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Woolf believed that a seemingly constant, continuous identity is imposed upon individuals as they inhabit the finite world of physical and social existence; she also believed that during “moments of being” this identity is transcended and the individual consciousness becomes an undifferentiated part of a greater whole. Thus, just as the outer limits of personality are muted and unstable because of the responsiveness of the self to the forces of the present moment, so the boundaries of the inner self are vague and, at rare moments, nonexistent. According to Woolf, when the self merges with reality all limits associated with the physical world cease to exist. One of her major thematic concerns in The Voyage Out centers on “moments of being” and the extent to which these may enable an individual to transcend a finite existence and separateness from others. Two catalysts for such transcendence are Rachel and her piano music.

Early in the novel, when she is still on her father’s ship, Rachel reflects upon how it “appeared that nobody ever said a thing they meant, or even talked of a feeling they felt, but that was what music was for.” She believes that music is the expression of honest thoughts and feelings as it cuts through people’s reserved and dishonest faiades. The validation of her belief occurs later in the novel, during a party, when she plays her music for others to dance to: “Once their feet fell in with the rhythm they...

(The entire section is 525 words.)