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Specific Reponse Questions

Specific Questions for Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway::

  1. Mrs. Dalloway is narrated from many different points of view in a stream of consciousness manner.  These points of view are sometimes linked by an emotional recollection such as a sound, a visual image, or a memory. Describe a few of these and explain when a new point of view emerges.  Explain how the transitions in narrative focus correspond to the points of view being connected.  Focusing a specific character in Mrs. Dalloway, show how these interior monologues functions as a narrative and expository device.  Why does Woolf switch back and forth between the interior (thoughts) and exterior (the outer world)?
  2. Some important motifs in this novel are flowers, gardens, and nature.  Describe a character's relationship to the natural world. What do these relationships reveal about the characters or their functions in the novel?
  3. Characters in the novel come from a range of social classes. Explain the significance of the social classes and how the old social order affects the women particularly. What aspects of the English social structure does Woolf criticize?
  4. Discuss how World War I affected some of the characters in the book to some degree. 
  5. As Virginia Woolf wrote this novel, she called it The Hours. Discuss the concern with time in the novel.  
  6. Compare and contrast Septimus Smith and Clarissa Dalloway.  What imagery is associated with each?
  7. Why does Clarissa criticize Doris Kilman's religious tenets?  What are Kilman's religious beliefs?
  8. Discuss the theme of possessiveness, especially regarding love, in the novel.
  9. Describe an instance when a 'sane' character echoes Septimus Smith's thoughts.  What does this say about Septimus Smith?  What does it say about the sane character?
  10. How are women treated in this novel (both by the characters and by the author—in other words, what function do the women serve and is this a fair representation)?  How about men?
  11. As the day and the novel proceed, the hours and half hours are sounded by a variety of clocks (for instance, Big Ben strikes noon at the novel's exact midpoint). What is the effect of the time being constantly announced on the novel's structure and on our sense of the pace of the characters' lives? What hours in association with which events are explicitly sounded? Why? Is there significance in Big Ben being the chief announcer of time?
  12. Woolf shifts scenes between past and present, primarily through Clarissa's, Septimus's, and others' memories. Does this device successfully establish the importance of the past as a shaping influence on and an informing component of the present? Which characters promote this idea? Does Woolf seem to believe this holds true for individuals as it does for society as a whole?
  13.  Summarize what Clarissa does and thinks about. What thoughts and actions in this reading section cause her to feel the happiest? To which thoughts does she have the strongest reactions?
  14. Summarize London as it is described in this reading. What information and inferences can be drawn about the city?
  15. Clarissa and others have a heightened sense of the "splendid achievement" and continuity of English history, culture, and tradition. How do Clarissa and others respond to that history and culture? What specific elements of English history and culture are viewed as primary?   How does Clarissa's attitude, specifically, compare with Septimus's attitude on these points?