Finding one’s place and purpose draws upon numerous factors within and throughout society’s restrictions and norms. Every individual pursues a constant struggle to discover who she/he is. The struggle continues when determining who she/he is in regards to society. Finding oneself is perhaps the most difficult task that many face and therefore, this search becomes the centre point for various British novels. Women face this task when deciding who they will become in society and what their purpose will be. Will they follow the family style life that is laid out for them, or will they pursue another route entirely? Female British novelists attack this question using strong female characters that portray determination and courage to reach specific goals. Mrs. Dalloway, written by Virginia Woolf, and Oranges are not the Only Fruit, written by Jeanette Winterson, are two novels with strong female characters searching for a place within society. The two main characters, Mrs. Dalloway and Jeanette, are constantly looking for comfort – a place that guarantees safety and security. Mrs. Dalloway tries to find comfort by becoming what society expects her to be; while Jeanette tries to create her own place among her peers. Two different women aim at finding themselves in regards to society’s expectations in two very different ways. The different paths they choose show the range between possible paths for women to travel while reaching self-comfort and self-security.
Mrs. Dalloway realizes her place within society and tries to embrace what she has. She opts to focus on things that make her happy, things that give her control without giving her independence. The novel follows Mrs. Dalloway on a trail of errands and a walk about London. She is gathering things and planning for her party that is being held later that evening. At this stage in her life, Mrs. Dalloway is aware of her place among the London elite as a woman. She understands that she is her husband’s wife and labeled as such, “this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway” (Woolf, 10). This statement is taken out of the first few pages of the novel; Woolf makes it clear from the start that people are concerned with identifying her in terms of her husband rather than identifying her as an individual. This statement also suggests that Clarissa is not whole without her husband and that Richard is what fully completes her. It shows that she is dependent, whether emotionally, financially and/or in other ways, on Richard and therefore unable to undergo the life she is accustomed to on her own. Clarissa is aware of this and furthermore realizes her own insignificance throughout the novel, “she had the oddest sense of being her self invisible, unseen; unknown” (Woolf 10). This statement, taken from the same section as the previous, obviously shows the triviality of one woman in London society. Clarissa is without substantial responsibility and without means to support herself independently. She is aware of her unimportant place among society, but has accepted this place and has chosen to proceed through life the same way. As Clarissa reminisces about her past relationship with Peter Walsh, she recalls his expectations for her. Peter always urged Clarissa to be more and to do more, but Clarissa felt compelled to follow the expected lifestyle of a woman of her status and heritage. She explained to Peter that he wanted too much of her, more than she was willing to give; she was not prepared to venture outside of society’s
walls and did not want to push herself further than society expected. It was perhaps this solitary reason that Clarissa chose Richard over Peter. Richard gave her security and assurance that she would be cared for, something that Mrs. Dalloway felt entitled to. The transition from Peter to Richard advocated the idea that woman have a limited place in society: as a wife, as a mother, as a housekeeper. Mrs. Dalloway did not...
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