How to Achieve the Goal

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THE CONTEXT
In Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, Woolf discovered a new literary form capable of expressing the new realities of postwar England. The novel depicts the subjective experiences and memories of its central characters over a single day in post–World War I London. Divided into parts, rather than chapters, the novel's structure highlights the finely interwoven texture of the characters' thoughts. Critics tend to agree that Woolf found her writer’s voice with this novel. At forty-three, she knew her experimental style was unlikely to be a popular success but no longer felt compelled to seek critical praise. The novel did, however, gain a measure of commercial and critical success. This book, which focuses on commonplace tasks, such as shopping, throwing a party, and eating dinner, showed that no act was too small or too ordinary for a writer’s attention. Ultimately, Mrs. Dalloway transformed the novel as an art form.

Woolf develops the book’s protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, and myriad other characters by chronicling their interior thoughts with little pause or explanation, a style referred to as stream of consciousness. Several central characters and more than one hundred minor characters appear in the text, and their thoughts spin out like spider webs. Sometimes the threads of thought cross—and people succeed in communicating. More often, however, the threads do not cross, leaving the characters isolated and alone. Woolf believed that behind the “cotton wool” of life, as she terms it in her autobiographical collection of essays Moments of Being (1941), and under the downpour of impressions saturating a mind during each moment, a pattern exists.

THE CHARECTERS
Characters in Mrs. Dalloway occasionally perceive life’s pattern through a sudden shock, or what Woolf called a “moment of being.”
She wanted to show characters in flux, rather than static, characters who think and emote as they move through space, who react to their...
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