How is the male point of view criticized in the short story "The Mark on the Wall"? by Virginia Woolf

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Michael Ugulini | (Level 3) Educator

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The male point of view is criticized in the short story "The Mark on the Wall" by British writer Virginia Woolf in that the woman in the story takes a slight, almost imperceptible, but nevertheless apparent dig at the man’s opinion. This is evident in this line:

“They wanted to leave this house because they wanted to change their style of furniture, so he said,” (emphasis mine)

It seems the woman is challenging his opinion and maybe in her heart does not even trust his opinion or views. Therefore, she is subtly criticizing the male point of view.

The woman then talks about life’s mysteries, and says something that could even be alluding to her previous thought on the man’s opinion, when she says:

“The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity!”

It is as if she is still sizzling beneath her skin at the man’s opinion. These words can be taken generally as meaning anyone, or more specifically as meaning the man mentioned in the story, or males in general.

In addition, in this story, Virginia Woolf, through the female character, takes a shot at the male English scribe William Shakespeare. She is pondering ideas and issues and a thought comes to her mind of Shakespeare and she says that, “Well, he will do as well as another.”

She further says that his fiction is not her cup of tea so-to-speak. This is not a ringing endorsement of Shakespeare or his work. In essence, she is criticizing the male point of view here as well.

The female protagonist of this story also says that the male view governs or oversees women’s lives. She is hoping that this norm will soon be abolished so that woman can be free to think and do as they wish without feeling suppressed and dominated by men. Further on in this story the woman even ponders that the activities of some retired gentlemen are trivial when you come right down to it. They are more concerned on their deathbeds, in her opinion, with last thoughts on their past times and hobbies than on their wives and children.

She also states that educated men are descended from witches and hermits. She is not positively acknowledging their contributions to society. Again, she does not have very kind words about men - their views and some of their accomplishments.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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E.M. Forster once wrote that Virginia Woolf strove to establish a sense of "aimlessness" in her work.  He suggested that this understanding lies at the heart of her view of the world:

Mrs. Woolf's art is of a very unusual type, and one realizes that quite good critics, especially of the academic kind, may think it insignificant.  It has no moral, no philosophy, nor has it what is usually understood by For.  It aims deliberately at aimlessness.

This sense of "aimlessness" is intrinsic to "The Mark on the Wall."  Woolf seeks to establish that there is a lack of solidity in the world.  I think that this becomes one of the critical points in which the male point of view is criticized. Woolf affirms the idea that part of the status quo is a sense of totality.   Woolf writes about how this prevailing view that there is order and structure to being in the world:

Why, if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour—landing at the other end without a single hairpin in one’s hair! Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked! Tumbling head over heels in the asphodel meadows like brown paper parcels pitched down a shoot in the post office! With one’s hair flying back like the tail of a race-horse. Yes, that seems to express the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard....

For Woolf, a criticism of the male point of view is one that affirms structure in a setting that is "haphazard."  Woolf argues that the male point of view has created an illusion of plan and design and actually fails to acknowledge the "casual" condition that governs all creatures.  

It is this condition that causes so much analysis over a mark on the wall, something that unleashes a torrent of thought and is far from simple.   Woolf feels that those in the position of power have advocated an agenda where such clarity is stated but is never actually evident:  "What has it all been about? A tree? A river? The Downs? Whitaker’s Almanack? The fields of asphodel? I can’t remember a thing. Everything’s moving, falling, slipping, vanishing.... There is a vast upheaval of matter. "  This structure is one created by men, “men of action—men, we assume, who don’t think.”  Woolf critiques the structure that men have advocated, one that does not account for the real nature of consciousness.  Woolf suggests that the "aimlessness" of being in the world is not something that men have acknowledged:

 Oh! dear me, the mystery of life; The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity! To show how very little control of our possessions we have—what an accidental affair this living is after all our civilization—let me just count over a few of the things lost in one lifetime, beginning, for that seems always the most mysterious of losses—what cat would gnaw, what rat would nibble—three pale blue canisters of book-binding tools? Then there were the bird cages, the iron hoops, the steel skates, the Queen Anne coal-scuttle, the bagatelle board, the hand organ—all gone, and jewels, too. Opals and emeralds, they lie about the roots of turnips. 

Concealing this "mystery of life" is where Woolf offers her greatest critique of the male point of view. In doing so, she illuminates a sense of "aimlessness" that lies not only central to her work, but also to how she critiques the male point of view in "The Mark on the Wall."

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