Why did Septimus Warren Smith commit suicide?

Expert Answers info

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write8,864 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Septimus Smith is a sensitive young man who fought in World War I. As a result of that experience, he has PTSD, or, as it was then called, shell shock. He experiences delusional and suicidal thoughts that frighten his wife. He can't shake his memories of Evans, his friend who died in the war.

As Mrs. Dalloway is preparing for her grand party, Lucrezia, Smith's wife, is trying to arrange for doctors to help Septimus. Both Dr. Holmes and the important mental health specialist, Sir William Bradshaw, are insensitive to Smith's real needs. Bradshaw wants to shut him away in an asylum. Bradshaw cares more about his career ambitions than his patients.

To avoid his doctors and because he can't bear life any longer, Smith jumps out a window and dies. This makes Bradshaw late for Mrs. Dalloway's party. When Mrs. Dalloway hears the news of the suicide, she feels a shock.

Some critics have contended that Bradshaw is a portrait and indictment of insensitive society doctors who treated Virginia Woolf for mental illness. Woolf seems to be communicating in the novel that death is preferable to their "cures."

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
alexb2 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseEditor

bookB.A. from Georgetown University


calendarEducator since 2004

write726 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

Septimus returned from the war with shell-shock and had delusional thoughts and hallucinations. His mental disorder was not well diagnosed, and ultimately he killed himself rather then bear the pain of his mental disease.

Further Reading:
check Approved by eNotes Editorial

ingrid-elena | Student

septimus killed himself because this was the only way in which he could preserve his soul from being succumbed by society. he knew he couldn't find his place in the world anymore, so he commited suicide.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
rosei | Student

After war, Septimus thought he didn't fit the world anymore; that society so changed, where people were so cold towards the other's feelings, or were focused on trivialities. He had done and lost so much in war, but the world didn't seem to notice or care. 

Besides that, his mental problems and the painful or totally static (resting cure) treatments disturbed him even more than madness. Suicide was a way he found to stop the pain and tell the world a truth: life means more than just living; it means adaptation to reality.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Unlock This Answer Now