I Am Wo-Man: The Mimicry of Womankind in Mrs. Dalloway
If there is one thing the social commentary surrounding Virginia Woolf’s novel agrees upon, it is the undeniable multiplicity of interpretations and meanings filled within the pages of Mrs. Dalloway. While most criticisms focuses on analyzing Woolf’s critique of a woman’s social status in early British 20th century society, most critics fail to question what causes womankind to act as they do. Of course, it is easy to conclude social boundaries force women to cohere to certain traditional standards, but this assertion disregards the most important characteristic that influences women in society: The perceptions of men. Although Woolf does not give one direct or pointed stance of her personal critique of the female role, one natural conclusion can be made: Women want to become the embodiment of men. In Alex Zwerdling’s book Virginia Woolf and the Real World, this idea can be further explained by exploring his proposal about Mrs. Dalloway: “The novel in large [is] an examination of a single class [the governing class] and its control over English society” (120). The ruling class of Virginia Woolf’s world is one that relies on the traditions of the past. One holding patriarchy as the central pillar for ideology (one’s ethos of worldview), and where domestic, institutional, and state politics coverage to uphold and maintain male domination. It is a world in which society values men for possessing the traits equating them to being perceived as possessing manliness—having masculinity, power, independence, and dominance over others. Therefore, the social pressures resulting from this system, honoring and facilitating to the worship of virility, mandated certain behaviors determining the classification of individuals in Mrs. Dalloway. In consequence, a system obsessed with manliness was constructed, confining its inhabitants to rules dictating how one should live and act in life. The novel, Mrs. Dalloway, captures, through her female characters, the resulting influence of living in a world where representing maleness is desired. As a result, the disposition of the female cast—Clarissa, Ms. Kilman, and Elizabeth—are altered (their behaviors, thoughts, and outlook on the world), so that they try to mimic the behaviors of men. The orthodoxy of desiring manliness transcends not only into societal bounds, but also into how women perceive the world. Womankind has a clear place in society with rules imposed on them that they must follow, because they develop a different kind of relationship with society. Unlike men, who are afforded more liberties and freedoms (they shape how society is built), women are given a sense of false consciousness to accept a repressive role in society. Clarissa Dalloway explains how women acknowledge the inequalities by asserting that she, and other women, cannot escape from the forceful voice of men: “[I would] disappear, but London would have none of it...[London] constrained her to [a] partnership...”(Dalloway 35). Society restricts the advancement of anything outside the parameters set forth by ruling men in accordance to the “masculine ideal.” The values of society rely on maintaining the image of “man is god.” Septimus Smith’s following thoughts reiterates upon how society works: Once you fall, Septimus repeated to himself, human nature is on you. Holmes and Bradshaw are on you. They scour the desert. They fly screaming into the wilderness. The rack and the thumbscrew are applied. (Dalloway 140)
If there is one thing Septimus’s assertion suggests it is that men are the caretakers of ensuring the order of masculine domination. Society exploits women so men can achieve their vision of masculinity. The “Holmes’s and Bradshaw’s” in the world are the men who hamper down any desires questioning the system to protect the system of patriarchy. Therefore, it is within the power of the system, based on male envy, to label women as objects—peripheral...
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