How are the themes of repression and oppression are presented in Mrs. Dalloway?

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In the novel, Clarissa Dalloway represses her talents and desires to conform to her socially prescribed role as a woman. She becomes the perfect society hostess and the active, vigilant supporter of her husband's career. She treats her own desires as secondary. She may have once been in love, when...

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In the novel, Clarissa Dalloway represses her talents and desires to conform to her socially prescribed role as a woman. She becomes the perfect society hostess and the active, vigilant supporter of her husband's career. She treats her own desires as secondary. She may have once been in love, when she was young, with another woman, Sally Seton, but she represses that desire as socially unacceptable. Mrs. Dalloway spends the day of her party doing things like buying flowers—activities that some might be considered frivolous. She is, however, an exemplary hostess and throws a successful party, but the novel conveys a strong sense that had her society not repressed women, she could have been and done more with her life.

Septimus Smith is oppressed by the trauma he suffers from the death and destruction he witnessed in World War I. He can't get beyond it, and it leads him to contemplating suicide. He is also oppressed by a medical system that, as represented by people like Sir William Bradshaw, is insensitive to the real needs of people in his situation. He jumps out of a window, killing himself, rather than allow himself to be subjected to medical treatment.

The themes repression and oppression are presented through the stream of consciousness thoughts of the novel's characters and the actions they take. In the novel, Woolf moves quickly in and out of the heads of her characters, reproducing their thoughts as they think them as they all go about a single day, through this weaving together the story of an entire damaged society.

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In Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway, the themes of repression and oppression can be analyzed through the perspective and experiences of Doris Kilman. Miss Kilman, Elizabeth Dalloway's teacher, is repression personified. For example, she harbors deep and passionate feelings towards the beautiful young Elizabeth, but she does nothing about them; rather, Miss Kilman seethes with unexpressed emotion and looks for solace in prayer. She also feels she is a victim of oppression. Miss Kilman, who is of German descent, was treated badly by her previous employers, because she refused to say that all Germans were villains. Not only does she feel like she is a victim of the school's intolerance, evidenced by their decision to fire her, but she also feels scorned and mistreated by her current employer, Clarissa Dalloway, who is a member of a social class Miss Kilman will never be a part of.

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In this novel everybody is shown to be oppressed by the inherent loneliness that is an essential part of living. This is shown most clearly during Clarissa's shopping expedition to Picadilly, when, even though she is surrounded by the heaving tumult of so many people rushing around, she is struck by how lonely she feels:

She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.

The image of the sea is an important symbol of the way in which this loneliness can threaten to drown those who are not strong enough to withstand it, such as Septimus and Lady Bradshaw. One of the essential truths of the human condition therefore in this novel is the oppression of loneliness and how it acts upon humans and threatens us.

Repression is shown through the way in which many, if not all of the characters are struggling with a sense of sadness that they battle against expressing. Clarissa, in the following quote, links this sadness to the aftermath of the Great War that has just been endured:

This late age of the world’s experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears. Tears and sorrows; courage and endurance; a perfectly upright and stoical bearing.

The reference to "Tears and sorrows" is particularly important in this text, for many characters are shown to cry as a result of unsuccessfully repressing their sorrow. Male and female characters alike, such as Septimus, Clarissa, Rezia and Peter Walsh, all break into tears during the course of the novel because of the great sorrow that lies within them that they have only tried to repress.

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