Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
After the relaxation of a satiric romp through English literary history in the novel Orlando: A Biography (1928), Woolf began the composition of the most intricate and complex of all her fictional constructions, The Waves. It could be called an “abstract novel” for, like many modern paintings, it is virtually nonrepresentational. Its mirror does not reflect easily recognizable objects or provide familiar images. Dispensing with conventional story line and fully drawn characters, the novel distills human reality and experience. Its six characters are essences without form. The reader has no idea what they look like, how they dress or move or smile. All that is known are their consciousnesses as they contemplate their passage through various stages of life from youth to old age, experiencing various changes as they grow older.
The six characters, who are about the same age and are given no surnames, have grown up together and have continued to keep track of one another as their lives took them in very different directions. Jinny and Susan balance each other as opposites, for Jinny is an urban woman, proud of her body, sensual and passionate with men, while Susan is from the country, where she eventually returns to marry a farmer and rear a family. Neville and Louis also balance as opposites, for Neville is intellectual, homosexual, and assured in the academic world, while Louis, ashamed of his Australian origin, counteracts feelings of...
(The entire section is 729 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The waves roll shoreward, and at daybreak the children awake. Watching the sunrise, Bernard, maker of phrases and seeker of causes, sees a loop of light—he will always think of it as a ring, the circle of experience giving life pattern and meaning. Shy, passionate Neville imagines a globe dangling against the flank of day. Susan, who loves fields and seasons, sees a slab of yellow, the crusted loaf, the buttered slice, of teatime in the country. Rhoda, awkward and timid, hears wild cries of startled birds. Sensuous, pleasure-loving Jinny sees a tassel of gold and crimson. Louis, of a race that had seen women carry red pitchers to the Nile, hears a chained beast stamping on the sands.
While the others play, Louis hides among the currants. Jinny, finding him there and pitying his loneliness, kisses him. Suddenly jealous, Susan runs away, and Bernard follows to comfort her. They walk across fields to Elvedon, where they see a woman writing at a window. Later, in the schoolroom, Louis refuses to recite because he is ashamed of his Australian accent. Rhoda is unable to do her sums and has to stay in. Louis pities her, for she is the one he does not fear.
The day brightens. Bernard, older now, yawns through the headmaster’s speech in chapel. Neville leans sideways to watch Percival, who sits flicking the back of his neck. A glance, a gesture, Neville realizes, and one could fall in love forever. Louis, liking order, sits quietly. As long as the...
(The entire section is 1167 words.)