What do the flowers in Mrs Dalloway  represent?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.