What do the flowers in Mrs Dalloway  represent?

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For Clarissa Dalloway, flowers primarily represent the joy and beauty of life. They also have a more conventional meaning, as they are associated with love and femininity. In relation to the latter, it's notable that Sally's rough handling of flowers isn't just an attack on a thing of beauty, it's...

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decidedly unfeminine:

Sally went out, picked hollyhocks, dahlias – all sorts of flowers that had never been seen together – cut their heads off, and made them swim on the top of water in bowls. The effect was extraordinary – coming in to dinner in the sunset. (Of course Aunt Helena thought it wicked to treat flowers like that.)

There is clearly a generational gap in Aunt Helena's and Sally's respective attitudes towards femininity. But Sally isn't really unfeminine at all; she simply expresses her femininity more unconventionally than other women. An example of this comes when she plants a kiss on Clarissa, a kiss that lingers long in her memory. This is Sally's unique way of choosing a pretty flower.

The conventional use of flowers to express affection and regard—indeed, as a substitute for their expression—is subjected to mild satirization. Richard is so hide-bound by the stiff, formal conventions of middle-class courtship that he's unable to say those three little words to Clarissa. The presentation of a bunch of roses will suffice instead. Woolf appears to be suggesting here that flowers have become a way for people to hide their true feelings for each other, to (ab)use something so natural in order to conform to the artificial mores of society.

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There is no doubt that flowers, nature, and plants are recurring motifs in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

Flowers are mentioned from the very start of the narrative and it is suggested that flowers are basically ever-present in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. The beauty and exclusivity or flowers is quite cherished to those who can afford to buy them in Clarissa's society, and use them to decorate opulent and fancy entertainment. Yet, Clarissa is not just a lover of flowers, she is very specific in her tastes and in her knowledge of "irises, delphiniums, and violets". Her tastes are not just ornamental; like those flowers, Mrs. Dalloway is a much more complex and in-depth character.

As gifts of nature, flowers are meant to beautify and provide a language of its own. In a traditional drama, flowers would be mere decorative tokens. However, Mrs. Dalloway detours completely from the typical dramas of upper class vanity and focuses on a society which is slowly fading. Even something as simple and tender as a flower has a different meaning in a world that is changing so fast.

She belonged to a different age, but being so entire, so complete, would always stand up on the horizon, stone-white, eminent, like a lighthouse marking some past stage on this adventurous, long, long voyage, this interminable --- this interminable life

The world that Mrs. Dalloway comes to know at her current age of 52 is very different than what it used to be when she was first married, and enjoying the pleasures of a good match. The War has questioned every established rule that she has come to hold as her canon. The actual British establishment, its rank system, the people, what is considered grandiose and what is considered opulent, all of those things have come to be questioned in Clarissa's current world. As a result, she questions herself, and her own life. In questioning her life, she analyzes the lives of others, of Peter, and even Richard's. Her captivation with the specificity of flowers is another extension of that analytical mind that she has come to develop while her society shifts forward.

Although the flowers may be a mirror image of Mrs. Dalloway's own complexity of character, they also represent her natural traits; she is, indeed a woman of a beautiful character, with flaws here and there, but with an overall want for the basics of love and beauty. The flowers are definitely intrinsic symbols that are quite connected with Clarissa. She is a flower, on her own, who makes things beautiful. Like a flower, she does not know what her next fate will be. This is all symbolic of her own questions of life.

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