As a person looks around at themselves and their surroundings they can pick up small details about themselves as well as their society. Our society has a large influence on the things that are bought, taken home, and displayed. Society also depicts what things are fashionable and what is not. This leads me to the fact that one acquires the ideals of the society that they live in. Through conforming we seem to make ourselves respectable, but does it mean that one must lose him/herself in order to gain the respect of society? I believe that this is the very struggle that presents itself in Virginia Woolf's Orlando.
Orlando is a story about a young man who transcends into adulthood, finding his own path, by becoming a woman who lives through various periods of English history. In the beginning of the novel, which takes place near the end of the sixteenth century, we are introduced to this young boy (not quite a young man as yet) playing with the head of a Moor, pretending to actually slay it, much like his father and grandfather had done. As soon as the story opens Orlando is described as a boy at the age of sixteen that would "steal away from his mother and the peacocks in the garden and go to his attic room and there lunge and plunge and slice the air with his blade" (Woolf, 13). When a boy usually hit the age of sixteen he would have already been called a man for some time, however Orlando seems to be shielded from the average duties of a young man. As he is left behind with his mother, while his father goes off on "massacres", he struggles with himself to become the dominant, head slashing male, like his father. He tries to conform himself to the ideal male figure that hunts and kills, but instead finds himself taking a liking to writing poetry. This was highly unusual for a son of an aristocratic family. The nobility paid for writers not became them, (Doran). The idea of him being a writer brings into question masculinity and femininity related to literature and history. History tells that men were warriors and killed the Saracens, whereas literature is seen as a feminine past time. This was because of the tasks of literature; emotional response, escapism and questions and curiosity, (Doran). He was more involved with love and poetry and not so much concerned with the duties of a man. Orlando masculine but also had an inner self that yearned for love and had a burning desire for poetry. It is during this century that Orlando became a courtier for the Queen as well as one of the well dressed noblemen of the time. Even though Orlando seems to fit into this world there is still the feeling that he doesn't belong. "The Abbey appeared like the grey skeleton of a leaf," (Woolf, 55) this leads me to the feeling of a frozen world that is separate from him. Orlando does not seem to feel like he belongs right from the start.
At some point in the Queens service, Orlando meets a Russian princess and falls madly in love with her. However his love is short-lived when she does not show up to one of their secret meetings and he discovers that the Russian ship she came on was nowhere to be found (Woolf, 59-60). Having lost his first true love devastated Orlando, and having Mr. Nick Greene put down his beloved poetry (Woolf, 94), but the last issue Orlando could handle in the current society he was in, were the advances of the Archduchess Harriet (Woolf, 114). It is then that Orlando decided to pick himself up and transfer himself into another society. He moved to the land of the Turks in the seventeenth century.
Once Orlando reached the Turk's he once again conformed himself. At "about seven, he would rise, wrap himself in a Turkish cloak, light a cheroot, and lean his elbows on the parapet" (Woolf, 120). Orlando learned the Turkish language and adapted himself to exotic customs. While trying to escape the "prison" that he created for himself in England he once again traps himself a second time trying to conform to the ways of...
Cited: Doran, Christine. Class discussion. February 28, 2006.
Woolf, Virginia. Orlando. New York: Harcourt, 1956
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