What is Virginia Woolf's narrative technique in Mrs. Dalloway?

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Woolf's narrative technique in Mrs. Dalloway is stream of consciousness. She tells the story of one day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway through the thoughts, perceptions, and experiences of Mrs. Dalloway and those she encounters. She dispenses with the omniscient narrator who tells readers what it all means.

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In her novel Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf uses a blended narration. She employs a third-person narrator, but through that narrator, she also offers a stream of consciousness that relates Clarissa Dalloway's thoughts, feelings, and reactions in a running flow. The narrator both looks at Clarissa from the outside and has access to the depths of her psyche. Let's look at some examples of how this works.

The very first sentence of the novel announces, "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." This statement by the third-person narrator looks at Clarissa from the outside and describes something that she said that everyone could hear.

The very next paragraph, however, plunges readers directly into Clarissa's own thoughts about Lucy having "her work cut out for her," the doors and their hinges, Rumpelmayer's men coming, and the freshness of the morning. It is a jumble of reflections very much like what all of us would find if we stopped for a moment to pay attention to exactly what we are thinking.

Yet this stream of consciousness is not completely in Clarissa's own voice. Consider the novel's third paragraph. It begins with Clarissa's thoughts, "What a lark! What a plunge!" But then the narrator inserts a comment that it has always seemed such to Clarissa and a description of her bursting open the windows. The stream of consciousness then resumes with next sentence as Clarissa muses on the freshness of the air, the waves, the flowers and trees, Peter Walsh, and an odd quotation about preferring men to cauliflower. Again, this is a classic stream of consciousness with its random, free-flowing narration, yet is not relayed in the first person.

The very next paragraph, then, moves firmly back to the third-person narrator, who describes Clarissa as sitting on the curb and notes that Scrope Purvis considers her to be a charming woman.

Note that the stream-of-consciousness sections of the narrative tend to be long and winding with extra long, rather rambling sentences, digressions, questions, and even some unusual syntax. Again, this mirrors (or at least attempts to mirror) a person's actual sequence of thoughts.

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Woolf struggled with how to convey the truth she felt was missing in Victorian and Edwardian novels. Her breakthrough came when she was institutionalized for a mental breakdown after writing Night and Day, her last conventional novel. Her breakthrough was that omniscient narration is a lie: nobody really knows what is the true reality of another person's life or consciousness. She expressed this in her short story "An Unwritten Novel," in which a narrator on a train creates a stream-of-consciousness story in her mind about a woman near her being a lonely spinster, only to have this fiction proven wrong when the woman's husband greets her at the station. The point of the story is this: what a narrator thinks is not necessarily real.

Woolf uses this same stream-of-consciousness technique in Mrs. Dalloway. People see and greet and talk to each other, but ninety percent of what happens is what goes on in their minds, in their thoughts, as they go through their day. Mrs. Dalloway follows Clarissa Dalloway through one day, recording her thoughts as she travels around London preparing for a party she is throwing that night and then follows her and others through the party itself. She tells us not what Mrs. Dalloway is like from on high as an omniscient, all-knowing narrator might, but what Mrs. Dalloway herself thinks, see, and perceives. She doesn't pass judgment on this, but lets it be.

She also reveals what Mrs. Dalloway is like by putting us in the heads of multiple characters who know her, such as Peter Walsh, and letting their thoughts about her flow out. Juxtaposed against this is the story of Septimus Smith, suffering from war trauma, whose story is also told through his own consciousness and that of his wife. Through doing this, Woolf is trying to get closer to the subjective way life is lived and experienced: we don't know most of other people's thoughts, don't reveal most of what passes through our minds to others, and have nobody to tell us what is all means.

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In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf employs a third-person omniscient narrator. The narrator is privy to Mrs. Dalloway's private thoughts, such as in the following opening scene. Mrs. Dalloway is on her way to buy flowers in London for a party she is holding later that night:

For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can't be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life.

The narration presents her stream-of-consciousness thoughts that are provoked by what Mrs. Dalloway sees or hears around her. In the passage above, she has just heard the bells of Westminster and is moved to think about how everyone loves life and how she is connected to other people through hearing the bells.

The narration also presents the innermost thoughts of other characters in the novel. For example, when Peter Walsh, Mrs. Dalloway's former boyfriend, meets her years later, he thinks: 

She's grown older, he thought, sitting down. I shan't tell her anything about it, he thought, for she's grown older. She's looking at me, he thought, a sudden embarrassment coming over him, though he had kissed her hands.

The narration presents the thoughts of different characters, even the smallest thought, as they go through one day in London. The result is a novel that presents everyday experiences as people truly live them; people in the novel are provoked to think thoughts both important and inconsequential by experiencing the world around them each day. 

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Woolf's narrative technique in Mrs. Dalloway is stream-of-consciousness but a different form than, say, James Joyce. In Mrs. Dalloway, she is thinking a lot and the reader is privy to her constant stream of thoughts. (But it's not written in the first person narrative.)  It feels very self-conscious when you read it; because the things written down on the page are what most people think--inside their heads--however they would never say out loud. This is her narrative style and it shows in Mrs. Dalloway how aware she was of her limited role in society and in her way of seeing herself in an almost objective way. Mrs. Dalloway was a character unto herself. She was herself and , at the same time, she was a character that she could observe.

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How does Virginia Woolf uses the narrative technique “stream of consciousness" in her novel Mrs. Dalloway?

This pathbreaking novel is told entirely through stream of consciousness. In other words, there is no outside narrator setting up and describing the scene or telling us, as readers, what to think. As Woolf outlines in her essay "Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown" she rejects the Edwardian—and Victorian—narrator who provides a "normative" frame for a work and lots of descriptive embellishment that is supposed to stand in for "objectivity." Woolf, instead, wanted to capture the pure subjectivity of real, lived experience. As we go through our days, we don't have a "narrator" telling us what to think: we simply react to the raw experience of what we encounter as we process it inside our heads.

In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf moves in and out of the heads of various characters. We see everything through the subjective eyes of whatever character whose thoughts and perceptions Woolf happens to be "downloading" at that moment. The experiences that molded these characters—and their memories as well—determine how they react to what is going on around them in the single day of Mrs. Dalloway's party. So as a character walks down a London street, what he or she encounters experientially will trigger a line of thoughts and memories that Woolf will record.

Woolf goes in and out of so many heads without any contextualizing structure that it can become confusing, and one has to work hard to keep track of what is going on. This is a hallmark of modernism: writers like Woolf, Joyce, and Stein wanted readers to be alert and actively engaged in the reading process was slightly disoriented and didn't become mechanical and predictable.

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How does Virginia Woolf uses the narrative technique “stream of consciousness" in her novel Mrs. Dalloway?

Virginia Woolf is often recognized as a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness, but to simply make that observation is not quite enough. Indeed, Woolf's writing style differs quite remarkably from other writers who use the technique, especially James Joyce, whose landmark novel Ulysses uses the stream of consciousness masterfully and is often presented as the quintessential modernist novel. Joyce's technique, however, is quite different from Woolf's. Joyce, for instance, directly reports what his characters think in the way that they would think it, especially in the final chapter, in which he realistically represents the messy pattern of human thought by giving us Molly Bloom's interior monologue with very little punctuation. Woolf's style throughout Mrs. Dalloway is still stream of consciousness, but it is also very different from Joyce's standard. For example, though Woolf spends most of the novel occupying her protagonists' thoughts, and though she mimics the flux of the interior monologue, she does not try to mimic the messy progress of human thought like Joyce. Instead, she uses a style that is very similar to free indirect discourse, in which a narrator's style adopts the persona of certain character's (Jane Austen was a master of this narrative technique as well), giving the reader a narrative colored by the personality of the protagonist. Take, for example, the second paragraph of the book:

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumplemayer's men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning--fresh as if issued to children on a beach. (3)

In this paragraph, we actually indirectly occupy Clarissa's consciousness, seeing the world through her eyes and experiencing a narrative firmly under the control of her interior processes. The morning is not fresh because it is objectively fresh, but rather because Clarissa thinks it's fresh, and so our experience of the world is also an experience of Clarissa's interior life. Thus, Woolf's style is unique in that, though it doesn't attempt to depict the exact way that thoughts happen as Joyce does, she still presents a continuous stream of personalized thoughts. Later, this technique becomes even more unique as Woolf jumps from consciousness to consciousness, exploring the interior lives of characters like Peter Walsh and Septimus Smith. In this way, though Woolf is certainly not the only writer to use stream of consciousness, she certainly made the technique her own by blending it with free indirect discourse.  

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What narrative techniques are significant in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway?

Mrs Dalloway utlizes a third person narrator who is “omniscient” in the sense that the narrator has access, to some degree, to the thoughts of all the characters. The novel also employs what is known as “free indirect style,” where the third person narrator speaks from the point of view of a particular character while maintaining the use of third-person pronouns. Woolf is not alone in using these methods—we can see much the same technique at work in Jane Austen’s novels, for example. Woolf’s innovation was in the rapid (and fairly explicit) shifting of point of view between characters, often without reference to conventional narrative markers (like time and place). Woolf also used what was known as “stream of consciousness,” or the attempt to present as accurately as possible the actual thought processes of a character. The “story” of Mrs Dalloway consists of the mundane events of a single day—Mrs Dalloway’s trip to buy flowers—but the real subject matter is the interior lives of the characters, a kind of psychological reality that required new narrative approaches to capture.

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What narrative techniques are significant in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway?

In Mrs. Dalloway, the narrative shifts subtly to present the innermost thoughts of many characters, including not only Clarissa Dalloway but other characters such as Peter, Richard, Septimus Smith (the shell-shocked veteran), and Doris Kilman, among others. In this technique, the subjective thoughts and feelings of different characters are presented as if the reader has access their minds. However, the narrative does not use "I," or the first person, but instead stays within the frame of an omniscient, or all-knowing, narrator—the third person. The shift from one character's thoughts to another can be very hard to detect at first, as the narration shifts subtly from presenting the thoughts and experiences of one character to another. 

In addition, the narrative uses a stream of consciousness technique, a hallmark of modernist literature, to present characters' thoughts as they go about their day. The characters' thoughts appear as the thoughts pop into their minds in a jumbled, haphazard fashion. More momentous thoughts come in between fleeting impressions of the world around them. The narrative in the novel happens in one day, so Woolf captures the thoughts of her characters as they go through a single day.

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What narrative techniques are significant in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway?

The narrative technique Virginia Woolf employs in Mrs. Dalloway is extremely significant for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most significant and most commonly discussed technique is Woolf's use of free indirect discourse, which allows her to represent the inner thought processes of multiple characters throughout the text. A form of third-person narration wherein a character's thoughts and feelings are filtered through the voice of the narrator, free indirect discourse allows Woolf to explore the nature of human consciousness by tracing the mental processes involved in sensation and perception. This is one of the primary focal points of the text. Free indirect discourse was a relatively new and experimental narrative technique at the time Woolf was writing Mrs. Dalloway, which lends it another level of significance in that it establishes the novel's modernist roots. While more traditional novels focus on the outer world of action, Woolf's simultaneous focus on the complex inner worlds of multiple characters represents a departure from novelistic conventions of the time, making Mrs. Dalloway a groundbreaking piece of modern literature. 

Although sometimes mistakenly referred to as "stream of consciousness," the narration in Mrs. Dalloway is very structured and serves the rhetorical function of revealing the many different ways a single stimulus or piece of information can be processed or interpreted by different people over time. Woolf is also very interested in the nature of time and how humans perceive time both consciously and unconsciously. By employing free indirect discourse, Woolf is able to move swiftly between the inner worlds of various characters across time and space, in effect expanding and contracting moments in time to reveal the intricate mental processes involved in even the simplest actions or sense perceptions.

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