What is the significance of Clarissa's party in Mrs. Dalloway?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mrs. Dalloway involves the actions of Clarissa Dalloway and other characters preparing for her party later that night. The action starts as Clarissa Dalloway is getting ready to go out to buy flowers in London on a beautiful day after World War I. She thinks about her old beau, Peter Walsh, who she declined to marry. Though they've been apart for a while, they are still clearly connected. She often thinks, "If he were with me now, what would he say?" (page 7). Much of the rest of the action involves her stream-of-consciousness reminiscences about the past and the actions of Peter; of her daughter, Elizabeth; and of husband, Richard, on the day of the party. Another character, Septimus, is a war veteran whose horrid war experiences have left him numb. After spending the day with his wife, Lucrezia, Septimus kills himself rather than submit to institutionalization. Later, Peter hears the ambulance as Septimus is taken to the hospital, and Sir William Bradshaw, Septimus's doctor, arrives late to the party after hearing about Septimus.

At the beginning of the book, Clarissa thinks of the air in the morning "like the flap of a wave" (page 3). The wave image implies that all the characters are connected in some way. Although the characters start out disconnected, they all unite, physically and emotionally, at Clarissa's party later that night. Even Septimus, the character who seems most disconnected from Clarissa, is present at the party because his doctor arrives late and speaks about him. The uniting of all the characters at the party implies that humanity is connected through this wave.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is the assembly of the party where much of Clarissa's energies are focused.  On many levels this holds significance.  The focus of Clarissa's drive on the party helps to dislodge other, more substantive questions about the nature of her being.  Her choices in life, the selection of Richard over Peter, as well as the basis of her identity and how mortality plays a role in this can all be put to the side if there is a party that needs to be assembled.  In this light, one can see Clarissa's desire to put together the party as an attempt to stave off these more fundamental and painful questions of consciousness in place of something more trivial and more light in nature.