In Michael Cunningham's The Hours, what is the significance of Richard's death?

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The Hours is a novel written by American novelist and screenwriter Michael Cunningham, first published in November of 1998 by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. It centers on the lives of three generations of women: Virginia Woolf herself (in Richmond, during the production of her novel Mrs. Dalloway ), Mrs....

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The Hours is a novel written by American novelist and screenwriter Michael Cunningham, first published in November of 1998 by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. It centers on the lives of three generations of women: Virginia Woolf herself (in Richmond, during the production of her novel Mrs. Dalloway), Mrs. Brown (the wife of a war veteran, living in 1940s Los Angeles), and Clarissa Vaughan (a romantic 52-year-old living in 1990s New York). The novel establishes parallels between these three women, utilizing the novel Mrs. Dalloway as a common point that unites them.

The character Richard “Richie” Worthington is a dear friend and ex-lover of Vaughan whom she plans to throw a party for in honor of the esteemed literary prize recently awarded to him. Richard, however, is unenthusiastic about the coming party, as he has been struggling with depression for years. At the near end of the novel, Richard commits suicide in front of Vaughan—by jumping off from his apartment window.

Richard’s death is significant in that it reveals how trauma and melancholia can be passed down; in the case of Richard, it was passed down from parent to child, as we find out in the end that his mother is actually Mrs. Brown, who was herself struggling with depression and had “abandoned” her family at some point. Richard, described as “comic and tragic in his hopeless love,” never fully processed his issues with his mother.

Another way in which Richard’s death is significant is how it parallels the death of Septimus Warren Smith, one of the major characters of the novel Mrs. Dalloway. Septimus committed suicide as well, as he was a war veteran suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. As Richard is suffering from an AIDS-related illness, he is similar to Septimus in that both suffer from illnesses dismissed or unrecognized by society during their respective times.

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