Mrs. Dalloway

Art as Indictment: Social Criticism in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

In any story, conflict is vital. It drives forth plot and reveals truths about the characters involved, keeping readers engaged. It also reflects the world of its writer, who often uses conflict as a tool to illustrate personal ideas. This is particularly true in the case of early twentieth-century writer Virginia Woolf. Throughout her most famous novel, Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf draws readers into several different interpersonal conflicts, each of which involves a clash between English conventions and undeniable human conditions. Portraying these conflicts with keen sensitivity to injustice, folly, and ignorance, Woolf criticizes England's traditional social system as a world in which people cannot acknowledge, confront, or understand what may disturb their comfort.

Through the conflict between half-crazed World War I veteran Septimus Warren Smith and his prominent doctor, Sir William Bradshaw, Woolf highlights one of the English system's most tragic failures: its tendency to isolate "undesirables" at any cost to human dignity. Septimus finds himself desensitized after fighting in the Great War and utterly unable to return to daily life, where empathy is a vital quality rather than a hindrance. Incapable of...

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