Based on the movie The Hours, answer the following question:

  • Cunningham plays with the notions of sanity and insanity, recognizing that there might only be only a very fine line between the two states. What does the novel imply about the nature of insanity? Might it in fact be heightened sanity, or at least a heightened sense of awareness? Would you classify Richard as insane? How does his mental state compare with that of Virginia? Of Laura as a young wife? Does insanity (or the received idea of insanity) appear to be connected with creative gifts?

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In Michael Cunningham’s 1998 novel The Hours , insanity is implied to be the result of repression, oppression, or painful personal experiences. This is true in the case of Virginia Woolf and Laura, who were oppressed during their time. Because they were both women, they were expected to conform...

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In Michael Cunningham’s 1998 novel The Hours, insanity is implied to be the result of repression, oppression, or painful personal experiences. This is true in the case of Virginia Woolf and Laura, who were oppressed during their time. Because they were both women, they were expected to conform to a certain standard or perform a specific role. Laura explicitly points this out at some point in the novel. Richard, meanwhile, was traumatized at an early age by his mother Laura’s suicide attempt and eventual abandoning of their family. He even admits that he has never fully processed the painful relationship he has with his mother. This is one of the points the novel makes: that sometimes, insanity or depression is a burden that can be passed from one person to another.

Bearing all this in mind, insanity can also be seen as resulting from a heightened sanity or sense of awareness. Individuals who are acutely and painfully aware of their condition often cannot, at some point, process or make sense of it all. This is, tragically, what happens to Virginia, Laura, and Richard. Virginia and Richard eventually commit suicide while Laura attempts to. Having failed, Laura then decides to leave her family and move to Canada.

It is worth noting that the novel does not connect insanity with creative gifts. In fact, it seeks to disprove this notion. This is seen most prominently in Richard’s confession to Clarissa, where he realizes that his insanity or depression does not make him a genius: “I thought I was a genius. I actually used that word, privately, to myself.” It is also seen in Virginia’s final moments, when she thinks to herself: “She herself has failed. She is not a writer at all, really; she is merely a gifted eccentric.” All these prove that insanity or depression has always held these artists back. The two have achieved excellence despite their insanity, not because of it.

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