Traditional and Modern Values in Dalloway

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How far would you agree that the central concern of the novel is the conflict between traditional and modern values?

Virginia Woolf uses her novel Mrs. Dalloway to express the idea of the conflict between traditional and modern values of the time. Throughout the novel we see the almost tug-of-war between the two different values with one side trying to cling to the old ways and customs and the other side, the newer generation, pushing the limits and breaking free of these traditions.

This idea of Modernism and its values taking the place of the traditional values is shown through the two symbols of the car and the airplane. The car represents the traditional values of the time of conformity and all people acting and thinking as one, enforcing the idea of controlling the populace and forcing everyone into the same image of what it means to be an Englishman/woman. This is shown in the image of authority, used to describe the reaction of the people towards the car, with “her eyes bandaged tight and her lips gaping wide” emphasizing the idea of the people’s bind patriotism and close-mindedness. Also the fact that all the people who view this car think that “greatness was seated within” shows the lack of variation in thinking. They are uniform in their belief that a figure of Royalty who resides in the car, emphasizing the conformity of thought of the time. However, this idea is then contrasted with the symbol of the airplane which represents Modernism and modernist ideals. The plane is not bound to the set roads on the ground (like the rigid traditional rules of society) but is free in the sky as it “soared straight up, curved in a loop, raced, sank, rose” with nothing tying it down or trying to control it. This emphasizes the modern values of liberation. Also, in contrast with the unity of thought shown towards the car, we see a variety of different ideas as to the meaning of the plane’s smoke-trail message. Mrs. Coates thinks it spells “Glaxo” whereas Mrs. Bletchley believes it to be “Kreemo” two very different words sprung from the same image. This emphasises a freedom of thought and the idea of individuality as opposed to grouping people into a generalisation.

We can see the presentation of these two symbols one after the other as they attract the attention of the populace as a suggestion of the traditional and modern values both being set in front of the people and left for them to decide on which will dominate the other. The car appears first, emphasising the people’s continued faith in their country but when the plane is introduced, the car is quickly forgotten, shown in the parentheses “(and the car went in at the gates and nobody looked at it)” which suggests an afterthought, emphasising its diminished importance in the face of the ‘new’ and highlighting the prevailing Modernism idea and how it is taking over the traditional values as the times change.

Woolf shows the conflict between the two sets of values through the women in the novel. The character Lady Bruton represents the traditional England. She is a “pedigree” woman whose patriotism seems to exceed the abilities of her gender (where the women of the time were not educated beyond a governess’ teachings) so that she cannot even write a letter to the Times to express her political ideas. She stands for the British Empire and how the traditional ways seek to control and compel the people into the ideal; this is shown in her obsession, the “ramrod of her soul”, of her immigration “project” which highlights the idea of organising the grand populace into manageable generalisations and ignoring the individual. Lady Bruton can be contrasted with Sally Seaton, who represents modern values. Sally represents rebellion and defiance of the social norms. We see her “smoking”, “sitting on the floor” and “running down the passage naked” all acts that were considered unladylike and unconventional at the time. Sally is literate (unlike Lady Bruton who had to rely on...
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