Using this quote, explore the meaning of the novel's title. "We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown...

Using this quote, explore the meaning of the novel's title. "We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so..."

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think what the title is getting at is the difference between time in qualitative and quantitative terms. Let's look more closely at this. Most of us are familiar with the expression "quality time." This means that it's the quality of our life experiences that ultimately matters rather than how much time those experiences occupy. Ten minutes spent with our loved ones has much more quality to it than an hour spent in a police cell.

A quantitative approach to time, on the other hand, looks at time as just a succession of seconds, minutes and hours. In other words, clock time. In and of itself such time has no meaning; it's simply a brute fact of life. It's the quality of the events that happen in that clock time that gives our lives meaning and significance.

And every so often in our lives, things happen to us which bring us a brief sensation of completeness—that first kiss, falling in love, scoring a winning touchdown for the high school football team, graduating at the head of the class—all these wonderful events make us believe, even for just a brief moment, that life is good, that it's worth living. We believe this even though we know, in a moment's reflection, that sadness, frustration, misery and sorrow will one day enter into our lives.

Sadly, for Virginia Woolf in The Hours the moments of completeness are vastly outnumbered by those in which her mind is tortured by depression. For her, life no longer has any quality to it; it has simply been reduced to the endless ticking of a clock, stretching indefinitely into a future without any hope, without any moments that "give us everything we've ever imagined." 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one of the basic elements of the novel is the idea that consciousness is fleeting.  "The hours" constantly move with striking regularity, defining our lives in a manner that demands we make the most of what is there and recognize that the time we live with is fleeting.  The idea of "living our lives up" is implied in this idea.  The things that we place value upon, that individuals might deem important, seem trivial, to an extent, when faced with the awesome statement of how the hours slip through our grasp with a regularity that cannot be denied.  Yet, while this might be emotionally deadening or result as a source of pain, it is this very idea that motivates our being in the world.  It seems that human beings actually revel in the idea that time is short and within it is the need to "do things."  Virginia recognizes that she must face life in the few "hours" she has or she will lose her sanity to an even greater degree.  She understands the need "to look life in the face" and "to see it for what it is."  Richard does lose his sanity in the face of AIDS, something that takes hours away from him, and in the fear that he was not able to "write about it all" with the time he has left.  For both of them, the "living life up to the hours" and yet finding some level of statement within it becomes critical and vital to the thematic growth of the novel.