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By taking one or two characters from either novel, consider the ways in which Woolf and Cunningham explore the conflict between the inner self and social role.

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Introduction

English Literature By taking one or two characters from either novel, consider the ways in which Woolf and Cunningham explore the conflict between the inner self and social role. Virginia Woolf once said that since 1910 "all human relations have shifted those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change, there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics and literature". With these changes arises a conflict or indeed a friction within us, within people. Since we human beings are so versatile we adapt naturally to our environments, we change. Unfortunately it is not always a comfortable change. In 1923 Virginia Woolf had just experienced a substantial and radical change in society after the First World War and an alteration in people's social roles towards the conformist world we know today. She realised that our personalities or selves consist of our inner self and social persona. It also became apparent that it is in our character to stubbornly persist in trying to achieve a harmony between these two faces. And thus she wrote an original - Mrs Dalloway. In doing so she laid out a path that allowed for a revolutionary and indeed Freudian approach to interpreting humans. Michael Cunningham paved this path. Once again times changed over 76 years. Cunningham took his inspiration and developed it in his novel "The Hours". Both novels explore how we strive to know ourselves, how inside we are a tangle of thoughts pushing to surface, yet numbed and imprisoned by our surroundings. ...read more.

Middle

Too much neglect of one's surroundings results in madness, as is the case with Septimus. Cunningham has taken this notion into his account of Laura Brown and her expedition to the hotel. In the chapter entitled Mrs Brown on page 142 Laura describes her attempts to lie down whilst her son is napping. In effect she is retreating from 'the world' to her room to in order to be left with her inner thoughts. Then "She lay on the double bed...she wondered, Is this what it's like to go crazy?...she'd imagined shrieks and wails". She has left her house now enacting her inner thoughts and is overwhelmed with desire to rent a hotel room. It should be noted how bland the room is when she arrives. It is a neutral environment secluded from foreign surroundings. This is a return to Woolf's suggestion that a harmony between the two "worlds" cannot exist (which led to Septimus's suicide) and we see Laura's thoughts progress towards death. The inner mind depends on a conscious social temperament or it looses control and conversely the social persona relies on a controlled internal character or else one flounders in the social role and becomes confused because one cannot possibly take in all of one's surroundings. This is exactly what has happened to Clarissa Dalloway, hence her paranoia of her poor social performance (referring to the party), "Oh dear, It was going to be a failure; a complete failure" Laura Brown is also much like Clarissa Dalloway in as much as she too acts her own social role. ...read more.

Conclusion

This is because inside each one of us there is an unceasing stream of consciousness. However it is far from visible to anyone looking at another person. We hide it using body language and words that could be the exact opposite of what we are thinking. Laura Brown goes to great lengths to hide her true inner motives to a hotel clerk on page147 concerning her true reason for checking in to a hotel room. Why? Would the clerk have thought differently of her if she had said she wanted a room to read in for a couple of hours. Would he have cared? And yet her social role doesn't fit this behaviour since she is a wife and has a son waiting. Therefore she has to lie to suppress her true reason suggested originally by her inner self. This is because on the inside we do not at all conform to the social institute. Our thoughts cannot be censored and are thus safeguarded. This is why both Woolf and Cunningham extensively use characters' interactions to help define each other. This can be said of Clarissa Dalloway. She has many thoughts of self-awareness, but continues to retreat inside the role of "hostess" so that she can mask her real feelings. If not for Woolf's detailed descriptions of other characters, how they react to Clarissa and how she reacts to them, the character of Mrs. Dalloway would not be nearly as interesting or complex. Even the title is representative of how her character is defined by others in that "Mrs." is used instead of "Clarissa." . ...read more.

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