Part 17 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519

The Dalloways’ home is full of commotion. The staff (both the regular servants and those hired for the party) does not want to disappoint their hostess. Mrs. Walker, the cook, feels the most pressure; the Prime Minister is expected.

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Mr. Wilkins announces people as they come in. Important figures of London society begin to arrive, yet Clarissa feels sure that the party will be a failure. Seized with worry, she asks herself why she does it. Her answer: better to live and risk than to fade away.

Clarissa sees Peter but does not greet him. His ability to make her judge herself makes her uneasy, especially now. Ellie Henderson, alone and wondering about what she sees, appears pleasant yet hopeless. Richard takes pity on her, and she is grateful. When Peter greets Richard the two start to talk.

An insignificant gesture reassures Clarissa about the party. More people are announced. Sensing that the party has a life of its own, she sees that giving parties makes her step outside herself. She watches people and mingles with them in a new way.

Lady Rosseter is announced, and Clarissa does not recognize the name. It is Sally Seton, and Clarissa is overjoyed. Sally has lost that specialness about her, and is not the same as she was.

But Clarissa is pulled away, for the Prime Minister has arrived. The party is slightly hushed with respect for the honor he bestows upon them all. Clarissa personally introduces him to the guests.
The man looks quite ordinary, yet he has a profound effect on the guests.

Peter Walsh watches with contempt. Seeing Hugh confirms his feelings that society life is hypocritical. He sees Lady Bruton thank Hugh for something. The Prime Minister leaves soon, and Clarissa goes back to her guests. She asks Peter to talk with her aunt, Helen Parry. Sally greets Peter, and they begin to talk. Clarissa cannot reminisce with them, for she has hostess duties. The narrator hearkens back to Bourton, the past that hovers in their minds.

This section shows the complexity of relationships, through Clarissa’s hospitality and the impressions of the myriad guests. We have heard many of the names before, but many are new. The entire spectrum of emotions is revealed by the characters and the narrator. The party is like a picture of the world full of people who love, hate, laugh, and work. It is possible to reconstruct a great deal about human loyalty and hatred through the narrator’s comments.

Beyond the present confusion, the section lets the reader benefit from learning about the past. Having read about what Clarissa, Sally, and Peter once shared at Bourton, we know them better. Now, having thought of each other many times, they are reunited. Behind their laughter are strong feelings about the past, and judgments about their own and each other’s present lives. Woolf evokes the tension in them all, as well as the happiness.

The curtains are yellow with a bird of paradise pattern. This bird pattern follows the symbolism of comparing women to birds, which runs throughout the novel.

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Part 16 Summary and Analysis


Part 18 Summary and Analysis

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