Diagnosing Septimus Smith

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Diagnosing Septimus Smith

Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway, features a severely mentally ill man named Septimus Smith. Throughout the novel the reader glimpses moments of Septimus’s dementia and how his poor frazzled wife, Rezia, deals with him. Septimus, who has returned from the war and met Rezia in Italy on his discharge, has a seriously skewed version of reality. He has been through traumatic events during the war, including the death of his commanding officer and friend, Evans. Upon his return to England he suffers from hallucinations, he hears voices (especially Evans’), and he believes that the trees have a special message to convey to him. Rezia attempts to get Septimus help by taking him to several doctors. Ultimately Septimus commits suicide rather than let the doctors get to him.

Based on the textual evidence it seems that Septimus Smith is afflicted with schizophrenia. According to the American Medical Association schizophrenia is characterized by apparently disconnected remarks; blank looks; sudden statements that seem to spring to the speaker’s mind; hearing voices (often hostile); having hallucinations; having odd physical sensations; creating fantasy worlds; and exaggerated feelings of happiness, bewilderment, or despair. Another symptom of schizophrenia can be becoming devoid of emotion to the point that it is impossible to connect emotionally with the individual. Some schizophrenics also develop what is called paranoid schizophrenia. Symptoms of this type of schizophrenia include constant suspicion and resentment, accompanied by fear that people are hostile or even plotting to destroy him or her. (Kunz 295-296)

Virginia Woolf’s first description of Septimus Smith immediately gives the reader the sense that Septimus is not mentally well. “Septimus Warren Smith, aged about thirty, pale-faced, beak-nosed, wearing brown shoes and a shabby overcoat, with hazel eyes which had that look of apprehension in them which...
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