In A Room of One's Own, what techniques does Virginia Woolf employ in posing her arguments?

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In A Room of One's Own, Woolf is refuting the claim of a male writer that women's biological inferiority explains why they have not produced a body of great literature to rival men's.

Woolf is in a difficult position refuting this argument in the late 1920s. At this point, women had achieved the vote, could attend college, could inherit property, and were entering the job market at unprecedented levels. Therefore, to establish a convincing argument that it was economic inequality rather than innate biological differences that led to women's difficulties producing great literature, she knew she had to establish that the devil was in the details.

Thus, the main technique Woolf uses to build her argument is to accumulate a series of details contrasting men's versus women's situation and to show the obstacles these "details" create in women's lives. She focuses on the lives of privileged women, because she knows that it is privileged men producing most of the "great" literature in her English society.

Students often complain that Woolf's essays seem wandering and longwinded: what is her point, and why doesn't she simply get to it sooner, they ask? There is, however, no shortcut to "getting to" it. As said above, the devil is the details. Woolf therefore describes, for example, the luxurious meal with a fine roast and good wine that the male students at the men's college eat amid comfortable surroundings. She then contrasts it to the austere meal of mutton and water the women eat amid the threadbare surrounding of their women's college. Why is it, she asks, that women's college are so much less endowed than the men's colleges? What difference does it make to a woman's prospects to live in an environment that has to pinch every penny? It is only by showing us in detail the differences with vivid images that Woolf can make her case that women have a rougher time.

Why too, she asks, do all the resources in most families go the men's educations while the women are expected to stay at home and economize so that the men can live well? How can women compete under such circumstances? When do women, Woolf, asks, get their pay-day for all the sacrifices they have made for their brothers?

Having shown all the small ways in which women have to make do with less, she then argues forcefully that women need money and a room of their own to achieve what men have achieved. A room is an image—a thing we can visualize in our minds—and therefore it becomes a powerful emblem of the kind of resources women need.

Through details and images, Woolf slowly but surely builds a persuasive case that women's lack is economical and not biological.

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One of the key strategies that Woolf uses to help her arguments in this text is the habit she has of addressing her readers as "you" and anticipating their thoughts and reactions to what she says. This is evident from the very beginning of Chapter One in this text, as she says:

But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction—what has that got to do with a room of one's own?


Woolf deliberately strikes up a style that is conversational and at the same time crucial to her argument and way of trying to persuade her audience of the truth of what she says. Woolf, by involving her audience with her argument and anticipating their thoughts shows that she is not presenting herself as some erudite individual and that she is addressing people who have their own thoughts and opinions. For a book that carries a message of equality, the addressing of the audience clearly demonstrates the way that she is not trying to create any distance between herself and her readership. The use of the pronoun "you" to present her arguments greatly helps in this respect.

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