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Written by Shirley Marina
The predominant theme of the novel is suicide and each of the characters has some feelings about it or is affected by it. Virginia Woolf is both suicidal and in denial about this. She commits suicide by drowning herself and also gives great consideration to the emotional characteristics that would prompt one of her fictional characters to kill themselves. The other suicide that affects many of the characters is Richard's and his suicide is not so much emotional trauma but pragmatism; he knows he is dying and is hastening the process. This affects his mother, Laura, and his best friend Clarissa. Laura also considers suicide but discounts it because she too equates it with unhappiness at the core of a person rather than unhappiness with the state of being alive. Suicide is the theme that joins all of the characters together.
Society's Oppression of Women
The women in the book are all oppressed by society's expectations of them and requirements from them. Laura is the one suffering the most from this as her life is largely boring and unfulfilling; women were expected to make their husbands happy and their happiness was presumed to come from this. It was rarely considered that a woman would need anything more to make her happy and there was no outlet for her to develop her own life or independence. Clarissa is also confined by society's expectations although this has surprised her. She has flown in the face of expectation by having a same sex relationship but within that relationship conforms to the domestic existence that women are still told they are suited to.
Defying Societal Expectations
Despite being constrained by society, all of the women also find a way to defy it. By writing for a living and self-publishing her books Virginia forges a career for herself and uses her writing as a method of getting some control of her life that her husband would prefer to retain. Whilst being expected to be the devoted wife and mother Laura manages to claim some time for herself to read and immerse herself in novels that allow her to stretch her mind and possibilities in a way that society would not think was necessary for her to do. Clarissa finds a way to defy expectation in that she leaves a heterosexual marriage to her best friend and lives with her female lover. Despite the constraints placed on them by society each of the women managed to find a way to defy them.
Same Sex Relationships
One of the sub-themes is same sex relationships. Within a seemingly standard heterosexual marriage, both Clarissa and Richard are having extra marital affairs with same sex partners and both ultimately end up in same sex relationships. Virginia also spends a great deal of time thinking about experiencing a same sex relationship after a deep and unusual kiss with her sister and plans on having a character in her novel experience a passionate kiss with another woman after this.
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