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Part of modernism, as a general movement, can be described as "a response to rapid change." Mrs. Dalloway explores many characters that go through internal changes as a result of age, changing marital situations, and through emotional/psychological development.
In a world where a person can watch the life on his or her street change drastically from decade to decade, modernism presented an intellectual description and response to this sense that the world one was born into has vanished. For this there is a desperation in some of the characters in Mrs. Dalloway and in others a conscious attempt to grapple with the forces of change - an attempt to allow it to happen.
In "Mrs. Dalloway", the author accurately reflects the disbelief and sense of loss that existed in this period, just after World War I. The conflict that many believed would never come and should have been avoided was long and protracted. It took the lives of literally an entire generation of European men. Along with the Flu epidemic that raged, millions died, leaving almost no family untouched by tragedy.
There is a sadness, a pervasive gloom that hangs over life in Mrs. Dalloway and it is accurately reflected in her struggle to remain connected to a party lifestyle, carefree and casual, while she observes her world, newly defined by death and disease.
"Mrs. Dalloway registers this sense of the end of an era. Clarissa's Aunt Parry, the aged relic who makes an appearance at Clarissa's party, represents this decline and this ending of an old way of life."
What I find so fascinating about Clarissa Dalloway is that she chose to marry a man, Richard Dalloway, so that she would have a comfortable, formal lifestyle, love was not part of the decision. She wants to remain an arms length away from life, yet, her interior life is brimming with emotion, while she remains outwardly aloof and distant from her family and friends.
Virginia Wolf accurately captures the sense of confusion and bewilderment that existed in society in this period. As a result of the death and war, mixed in with confusion and a sense of relief. She and other characters in the story, particularly Septimus Warren Smith, a Veteran of WWI, seems on the brink of nervous collapse, constantly thinking, trying to find a way to cope with normal life after the chaos, destruction and suffering stole everything they held dear.
Septimus Warren Smith, especially depicts the suffering of a returning Veteran trying to adjust to "normal" life after war, he is haunted by his experience and finds no justification for his survival in the face of so many deaths. He cannot make sense of his life, finds no relief from his trauma and ends up killing himself. Mrs. Dalloway lauds him as a true hero for his suicide, someone who truly embraced truth.
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