The novel begins with a description, set in italics, of the sea at morning. Then six children in a nursery school, three boys and three girls, present their individual personalities and relationships in a series of soliloquies. The author continues to alternate short italicized accounts of the sea from morning to night with sections devoted to the six at successive stages of their lives.
They are united by their common admiration for a friend named Percival, who emerges only indirectly through their words. In a later section, the friends, grown middle-aged, reunite in a restaurant; in the final section, one of them, Bernard, reflects in old age on the meaning of his own and their lives.
Though the characters differ considerably, from farmer’s wife to university don, they all speak in very much the same stylized way throughout. They reflect on youthful hopes, the competition among them, the forging of a personal identity, the death of a loved one (Percival), and fulfillment or the lack of it.
The six characters may also be understood as various aspects of one person contemplating life. Thus, Woolf suggests that each person contains the male and the female, the married and the unmarried, the fulfilled and the unfulfilled.
Woolf had intended to call this novel THE MOTHS but changed her mind, no doubt because she believed that the rhythm, regularity, and relentlessness of ocean waves were more appropriate symbolically to...
(The entire section is 524 words.)