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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 696

This novel by Virginia Woolf uses stream of consciousness to reveal the thoughts of a group of friends who look back onto their childhoods and significant aspects of their lives, including their changing relationships with each other. Sea and waves are repeated metaphors for diverse aspects of their moods and the overall atmosphere that the author evokes.

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Woolf begins the book with a description of the waves crashing onto the beach and the shifting colors in the sky as the sun begins to rise. To describe the changing light, she uses an extended metaphor of a woman holding a lamp. This luxurious descriptive passage sets the tone for the abundant descriptions that the third-person omniscient narrator and many of the characters make throughout the novel.

[T]he sky cleared as if the white sediment there had sunk, or as if the arm of a woman couched beneath the horizon had raised a lamp and flat bars of white, green and yellow spread across the sky like the blades of a fan. Then she raised her lamp higher and the air seemed to become fibrous and to tear away from the green surface flickering and flaming in red and yellow fibres like the smoky fire that roars from a bonfire.

The first scene with the characters has them describing events from the past, apparently holding a complex dialogue among five or six people who share extensive memories, for they had been children together. At the end of this scene, Rhoda describes her feelings upon going to bed one night; she uses an oceangoing metaphor.

Now I spread my body on this frail mattress and hang suspended. I am above the earth now. I am no longer upright, to be knocked against and damaged. All is soft, and bending. Walls and cupboards whiten and bend their yellow squares on top of which a pale glass gleams. Out of me now my mind can pour. I can think of my Armadas sailing on the high waves. I am relieved of hard contacts and collisions. I sail on alone under the white cliffs.

Woolf allows ambivalence about whether the characters are actually carrying on a conversation or whether their thoughts are unspoken private reflections. Bernard’s reminiscences, many concerning an occasion when the group came together to bid farewell to Percival, who was leaving for India, summarize his capsule characterization of his friends as they relate to his sense of identity.

We shall dine together. We shall say good-bye to Percival, who goes to India. The hour is still distant, but I feel already those harbingers, those outriders, figures of one’s friends in absence. I see Louis, stone-carved, sculpturesque; Neville, scissor-cutting,...

(The entire section contains 696 words.)

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