What narrative techniques are significant in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway?

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anstyron eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrative technique Virginia Woolf employs in Mrs. Dalloway is extremely significant for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most significant and most commonly discussed technique is Woolf's use of free indirect discourse, which allows her to represent the inner thought processes of multiple characters throughout the text. A form of third-person narration wherein a character's thoughts and feelings are filtered through the voice of the narrator, free indirect discourse allows Woolf to explore the nature of human consciousness by tracing the mental processes involved in sensation and perception. This is one of the primary focal points of the text. Free indirect discourse was a relatively new and experimental narrative technique at the time Woolf was writing Mrs. Dalloway, which lends it another level of significance in that it establishes the novel's modernist roots. While more traditional novels focus on the outer world of action, Woolf's simultaneous focus on the complex inner worlds of multiple characters represents a departure from novelistic conventions of the time, making Mrs. Dalloway a groundbreaking piece of modern literature. 

Although sometimes mistakenly referred to as "stream of consciousness," the narration in Mrs. Dalloway is very structured and serves the rhetorical function of revealing the many different ways a single stimulus or piece of information can be processed or interpreted by different people over time. Woolf is also very interested in the nature of time and how humans perceive time both consciously and unconsciously. By employing free indirect discourse, Woolf is able to move swiftly between the inner worlds of various characters across time and space, in effect expanding and contracting moments in time to reveal the intricate mental processes involved in even the simplest actions or sense perceptions.