Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 579
Peter Walsh: an old friend of Clarissa’s, recently returned from India; He was a suitor of Clarissa’s, back in the Bourton days; 53-years-old
Elizabeth: Clarissa and Richard Dalloway’s 17-year-old daughter
Clarissa is mending her dress when she hears voices downstairs. It is Peter, returned from India and dropping in unexpectedly. They are pleased to see each other, yet while the conversation begins comfortably, their eyes, voices, and gestures convey the strong emotions that the reunion sparks.
Peter asks about Richard, and Clarissa mentions her party. Clarissa notices that Peter has kept his old habit of playing with his pocketknife. Part of her feels uneasy with Peter’s manner of conversation, for she gets the impression that he is bored.
The conversation turns to Bourton, and they become aware of the past impinging on the present moment. The memories they raise are like ghosts. Clarissa inadvertently alludes to Peter having once proposed to her. She deeply regrets referring to that unhappy moment, which Peter automatically remembers as well. He seems to relive the torment that it caused him. When Clarissa mentions the lake at Bourton, the images it calls up threaten to overwhelm her. Clarissa asks Peter about his life. He tells her he is in love. Peter watches the effects of his news on Clarissa, and she sees him observing her. True, the woman Peter loves, Daisy, is married, but even so, both Clarissa and Peter feel that this news represents a kind of victory for him.
Both Peter and Clarissa are increasingly aware of how they must appear to the other, and this robs them of their personal balance. Each thinks of him or herself as a failure compared to the other. Peter abruptly bursts into tears. Clarissa comforts him, reflecting that in not choosing him, she has foregone such displays of emotion.
When Peter regains his composure, Clarissa marvels at the change, and sees that he still has a strange kind of power. Curiously enough, Peter, in that same moment, recognizes that Clarissa has a power over him. He seizes her by her shoulders, to forcefully ask her if she has been happy with Richard.
Elizabeth enters at this moment, and Clarissa seizes the interruption to avoid the conversation Peter was starting. Peter, exhausted, greets Elizabeth vaguely and leaves, brushing past mother and daughter. As he leaves, Peter hears Clarissa’s reminder about the party echoing in his ears.
One of Woolf’s themes in this novel is the power of the past in the human mind. Clarissa and Peter might not love each other, yet each feels that the other has power over them. Neither of them seems able to release the past, and each, having made his or her decisions, has doubts and regrets.
The world of Bourton and that particular summer (referred to as “that awful summer” by several of the characters) is resurrected for the reader, and relived by both Clarissa and Peter in this section. Their strongest emotions come not from their present lives, but from the past.
Peter’s display of his pocketknife is clearly a phallic image. This is an example of the influence of Freud’s theories on Woolf’s writing. Freud first described the behavior of displacement, in which personal anxiety manifests itself symbolically. The action of Peter taking out his knife the moment he begins talking with a woman for whom he has strong sexual feelings, emphasizes his unarticulated desires.
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