top-rated free essay

life as a form of repetitive cycle in "The Hours"

By nayyer786 Jun 09, 2014 2601 Words
Life is represented as a repetitive cyclic process in The Hours. Discuss. The Hour is Michael Cunningham’s fourth novel, acquired a great literary acclaim which surprised him who perceived this book as a literary piece that would find minor but heartwarming audience. Cunningham received both Pulitzer Prize and a Pen/Faulkner award on this novel. The source of inspiration for writing this novel is Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. The interlinked stories of the three women in The Hours are closely following the narrative thread of Mrs. Dalloway. Not only Virginia Woolf serves as an inspiration for The Hours, but she also appears as a major character in the novel. Cunningham compares the plight of the artistically repressed woman of the 19th century to the repressed homosexual of the late twentieth century. The Hours tells us about the story of three women. One of the narrative strands explores the day in 1923 when Virginia Woolf, instigating to write Mrs. Dalloway as she tries to build up her strength in a London suburb with her husband in 1923. Another centers around in the late twentieth century where Clarissa Vaughan, who is the beloved friend of an acclaimed poet dying from AIDS, in modern-day New York is planning a party in his honor, and the third narrative takes place in 1949 Los Angeles suburb, Laura Brown, an American housewife, who slowly begins to feel the constraints of a perfect family and home. By the end of the novel, these three stories interlink in remarkable ways, and finally come together in an act of subtle and evocative grace. Michael Cunningham is one of the acclaimed and talented writers of his generation who bring in to limelight the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair through this novel. Passionate, deep, profound, thoughtful and deeply moving, this is Cunningham's most remarkable achievement to date. This research paper will specifically focus upon this novel and show that how life is represented as a series of repetition and cycles. The prologue starts with the suicidal note from Virginia Woolf. But this is not a fictionalization of her life and death; it is an imitation – a reworking – of her novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The novel The Hours, directly or indirectly, is influenced by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in the course of its creation and distribution after Woolf’s suicide. The Hours focuses on the repetitive cycle of major characters, and their viewpoints intertwine together in order to furnish cohesion to the text. This disruption of linearity not only adds to the challenge of reading the book, but it also adds an element of surprise and discovery that is more than welcome in the literary world. The novel is told through an omniscient third-person narrative, so the reader is aware of the thoughts of major, secondary, and minor characters. The novel focuses on the whole day of the life of each woman. All of the three know and feel about her life is evidently made in to focus again. It is made clear to each that to escape the snare she is in, she has to be able to conform or die in the trap. The ending of the book brings all three time periods to their unavoidable conclusions, with startling overlaps. As the title suggests, time is the central issue of the novel within the narrative structure. It is the key idea of the novel that not only modifies the content, but also its structure. All three female protagonists go through the same dilemma but with the different time period. They all share a similar story and bear similar struggles, but the nature of their struggles change according to the social conventions of the time in which they manifest. Virginia Woolf, who is trying to cope with mental illness, despair, depression, and suicidal tendencies in the 1920′s, echoes the character of Laura Brown, who feels imprisoned by the pressures and expectations of most fifties housewives. Woolf’s mental disturbance reverberate Laura Brown’s inability to cope with her surroundings. As it is said when Woolf is dreaming of a park: “She is beginning to understand that another park lies beneath this one, a park of the underworld, more marvelous and terrible than this; it is the root from which these lawns and arbors grow”. (The Hours p. 30) She is not satisfied with the life in which she is living and in everything she tries to seek her true self. The dream of a park is actually refers to another world which she has always dreamt of. Similarly, Laura brown feels trapped by the constraints of her role as a suburban housewife and views suicide as a possible escape. Both characters express a desire to escape from their world, but are unable to do so because of the people who surround them. Cunningham’s depiction of Laura Brown was particularly captivating, mostly because he effectively illustrates her failure to achieve the perfection that others expect from her, and that she expects for herself. “She is herself and she is the perfect picture of herself”. (The Hours p.76) For instance, she says to Richie:

“We’re going to make him the best cake he’s ever seen. The very best”. (The Hours p.48) Her inability to bake and decorate a flawless and pristine cake for her husband’s birthday simply denotes her failure to conform to the idealistic expectations that she sets for herself as a wife and a mother. Time also plays a very important role in terms of how the characters deal with their sexual urges and romantic desires. Both Virginia Woolf and Laura Brown express some degree of desire for the same sex through a kiss. Woolf through a kiss she gave to her sister and Laura through a kiss to her neighbor who supposedly is showing signs of impending illness. These kisses haunt the characters, mostly because they represent a desire that could not possibly be expressed without the expected social consequences. Whereas Woolf has written as an outlet for this desire, Laura Brown has little to no way of expressing it, thus empowering her desire to escape from her current condition. The third main character, Clarissa, has created a home with her partner, Sally. She is represented as a character living in the late twentieth century so in this era people can easily disclose their lesbian relationships. There is not a feeling of awkwardness by the sound homosexuality. She has shown to blow hot and cold between happiness towards her current condition and the suffering caused by the certainties and uncertainties of life. What makes Clarissa as appealing as a character is her paradoxical and indecisive nature. She has created her own world, the false perceptions to avoid the harsh realities of life. This peculiar nature of hers is somehow vibrates with that of Laura and Virginia. At one point Clarissa says: “Superstitions are a comfort sometimes, I don’t know why you so adamantly refuse all comforts”. (The Hours p. 61) One moment, she seems to lament the follies of materiality, the fabricated nature of her home, the investment of money in superficial and useless items. On the other hand, she invests a lot of time and money in a party to show how much she cares about her friend Richard, who is dying of AIDS. She embraces and rejects the comforts of materiality. She struggles with her need to please others while sacrificing her own pleasures and needs. She worries about the extent to which others enjoy the gifts she gives without thinking about her own appreciation to the gifts she is given. This sense of hesitation, which involves the struggle of the self with the demands of the outside world, is something that Clarissa shares with both Woolf and Laura. This, in due course, is the most fascinating part of the novel and it can preferably be said that knowledge exists beyond the self. In order to demonstrate this topic, the term paper will focuses on Bakhtin’s theory of chronotopes. It can also be called “extreme” because as Bakhtin says with respect to chronotope of the threshold, they stand outside of biographical time. “In this chronotope, time is essentially instantaneous; it is as if it has no duration and falls out of the normal course of biographical time”. (Formy vremeni i khronotopa v romane p. 248) It can be viewed in terms of life as an endless journey. It has no boundaries. Similarly, the novel ends in a continuation. Nothing actually ends in the novel. Time moves on. It does not stop. In other words, it can also be related in terms of death as nobody’s death can bring life into halt. It can’t fix the hours at a particular instant. The hours are incessant. The hours remain the part of our life as life and time are interlinked in a cyclic process. According to Bakhtin, time and space are two different entities but they are interdependent because as time changes it alters the certain space and its meaning in various ways. Similarly, The Hours shows different time periods. If characters are to be taken as space, so the space changes in different times. As in the case of Clarissa, she abandons her previous life and tries to move on with the progress of time. Richard dies and she gets involved in her daily life. The novel approaches life as ever-shifting and ever-changing and any intent to make the self - stable through the passage of time is indeed a futile effort. Life is presented as a series of cycles and repetitions. The cyclic nature of time and history is best represented with the suicides that occur within the novel in that both Woolf and Richard depart the world by affirming virtually the exact same statement to their loved-ones before killing themselves: “I dont’ think two people could have been happier than we’ve been” (Cunningham 200). Whether or not Richard was familiar with this exact statement made by Woolf in her suicide note is unclear, but the repetition of this phrase by two different people in two different time periods is indeed a strange thought. Virginia Woolf once said:

“Life is a series of gig lamps: symmetrically arranged: life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope that surrounds us from the beginning of consciousness to the end”. (Common Reader 212) Michael Cunningham, inspired by Mrs. Dalloway, takes up the common themes in The Hours, including the eminent interconnectedness between people, the life of one human spirit brings in to life that of another, the negotiable boundaries between life and death and the burst bonds of time, and allows them to weave about in a wider and wider circles. The struggle of the inner self of the main women falls under the category of solipsism. Solipsism is the philosophical idea which means that only one’s own mind is sure to exist and is defined as: “A theory in philosophy that your own existence is the only thing that is real or that can be known”. (Merriam Webster Dictionary) All the three female characters in the novel try to conform the conventions of the society but without changing their identities. They only think about their own selves. The Hours begins with the death of Virginia Woolf, yet it demonstrates in the very lives of its characters the life of her spirit, what Woolf as a character in The Hours refers to as her ‘second self’: “If she were religious, she would call it the soul. It is more than the sum of her intellect and her emotions, more than the sum of her experiences, though it runs like veins of brilliant metal through all three. It is an inner faculty that recognizes the animating mysteries of the world because it is made of the same substance, and when she is very fortunate she is able to write directly through that faculty”. Virginia finds herself beyond the boundaries of the real world. She feels suffocated in her surroundings and seeks for an escape. It is Woolf’s plunge into her second self, into the heart of this mystery, which spreads wide the circles in the water. She cannot be able to express her feelings freely, this cycle remains the same in Laura Brown’s time period. The theme of death can also be connected with all the three women in one or another form. It was made by three women’s completely separate stories taking place in different time periods but very skillfully shows the experiences of an individual repeats itself in different time periods. The story is not told one at a time, but rather flashes back and forth between the three women and shows you exactly how they are linked. Each of the three principal women is acutely conscious of her inner self or soul, slightly separate from the "self" seen by the world. For examples, contemplating suicide, unhappiness in a marriage, living with mental illness, and feelings of failure and so on. The most evocative paragraph in this novel, which provides the soothing yet weirdly bleak idea of enjoying the hours that provide us with comfort, happiness, and glory, simply because these hours are always followed by darker ones:

We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so. (The Hours p. 225-226) In order to simply illustrate this process of re-creation and recycle, The Hours must light up its in-between stages. Cunningham achieves this effect by echoing back and forth between the story of Woolf’s life, the story of the life of Laura Brown, and the story of Clarissa and Richard Brown, three generations of splashes in the water. Cunningham leaves out this observation because the point is implicit. This self-renewing cycle associated with the plunge is always already present in the past.

Work Cited
Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. New York: Farrar, 1998. Print. Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcoun, 1925. Print. Bakhtin, Mikhail M. Formy vremeni i khronotopa v romane. Voprosy literatury I estetiki. Issledovaniia raznykh let. The editor of this volume is listed as S. Leibovich, but it was actually put together by S. G. Bocharov. Moskva: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1975. 234-407. Print.

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel: Notes toward a Historical Poetics”. Mikhail M. Bakhtin. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. 1981. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990d. 84-258. Print. Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” The Common Reader. Vol. 1. London and New york: Harcourt, 1925. Print. The Politics of Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1989. Print.

Cite This Document

Related Documents

  • Life Cycle

    .... Many products and services often pass a life cycle while there are many shapes depending on their industries. They newly emerge in the society, start to sell to be widespread, become saturated in the market and then gradually get out of date. This sequence of product and service is called the product life cycle. Smartphone also passes such na...

    Read More
  • the hours

    ... In Michael Cunningham’s novel “The Hours”, all three of the main female characters- Clarissa, Virginia and Laura- feels caught in familial, social and public roles. Using examples from the book, discuss what these ‘performances’ suggest about how normalcy and sanity are aligned with the ability to act out social roles. Which of th...

    Read More
  • Malaria Life Cycle

    ...Page 1 of 6 Life Cycle of Malaria Page 2 of 6 Malaria is an ancient disease transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito that predates recorded history. Historically it was common in the swampy areas around Rome, and was believed that the tainted air in those locations made people very sick, the disease was therefore named malaria for the Latin ...

    Read More
  • Life Cycle Management Analysis

    ...The marketing objective for the iPod MP3 player is to be the leading supplier of MP3 players in all markets in which the company operates and to increase brand awareness to 60 percent of its customers. iPod’s marketing strategies is differentiated the market for their products are characterized in gender, age, and the desire for image. The Ap...

    Read More
  • Life Cycle of Sperm and Egg

    ...| | | | | The Life Cycle of the Sperm and Egg From Beginning to End | Adianez LabrielPSY 265 Phoenix University December 14, 2012 | Table of Contents The Life Cycle of the Egg 1 The female sex organ 1-2 The Male Sex Organ. 3 The female and male sex organs and their functions………....……..4 The Life Cycle o...

    Read More
  • Brand Life Cycle

    ...Brand Life Cycle The three phases through which brands pass as they are introduced, grow, and then decline. The three stages of the brand life cycle are the introductory period, during which the brand is developed and is introduced to the market; the growth period, when the brand faces competition from other products of a similar nature; and, f...

    Read More
  • Organizational Life Cycle

    ...Running head: ORGANIZATIONAL LIFE CYCLE Organizational Life Cycle Organizational Life Cycle Organizations go through different life cycles similar to those of people. For example, people go through infancy, child-hood and early-teenage phases, which are characterized by rapid growth over a short period of time. Similarly, Organization...

    Read More
  • The Frog Life Cycle Process

    ...The Frog Life Cycle In Biology, we know the term metamorphosis which is the transformation process of animal’s body structure from the immature one to the adult form. This transformation process is done through cell growth and differentiation. This process usually happens in some insect’s life, such as butterfly. But there’s also amphibi...

    Read More

Discover the Best Free Essays on StudyMode

Conquer writer's block once and for all.

High Quality Essays

Our library contains thousands of carefully selected free research papers and essays.

Popular Topics

No matter the topic you're researching, chances are we have it covered.