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Written by Timothy Sexton
The narrator of “The Mark on the Wall” bears many of the distinctive hallmarks of being a thinly veiled semi-fictional self-portrait of the author, although Woolf never explicitly asks the reader to make this connection. Not much is really known about the narrator except that she is a woman, probably rather young, married and well-educated. More than a few hints lead toward a strong suspicion that she is a writer, although no concrete evidence exists to make this assumption foolproof. The fact that she is sitting in a chair staring at a hole on the wall while her mind contemplates a thousand different things without engaging in conversation or referencing the fact that another person is there in the room with her—a person whom it can be assumed is her husband—strongly suggests a strained relationship marked by emotional distance and a lack of awkwardness during periods of sustained silence.
The other person in the room is not explicitly identified as the narrator’s husband, but all contextual clues point to this being the case. Not a whole lot is known about the husband other than the fact that he is perfectly comfortable sitting in the same room as his wife and having no words at all pass between them for extended periods of time. It can also be extrapolated contextually that he is not particularly aware of what might be going through his wife’s head due to his very casual and dismissive identification of the mark on the wall. What is known for sure is that the husband is angered by the continuing war in Europe and what is most definitely to be assumed is that his outrage is based on the selfish concerns about that distant war is affecting his domestic enjoyment. The snail that the mark on the wall turns out to be is transformed into just another imperfection to complain about upsetting his expectations of perfection.
The snail is the third major player in this odd little drama. While it does not speak and is not directly involved in the action—it is not even identified as such until the very end of the story—the snail is not only the title character, but the catalyst for the flood of stream-of-consciousness meandering through the vividly engaged mind of the ironically reposed narrator. The snail’s lack of easy identification and potential for actually being a variety of other things stimulates the narrator to move broadly about through both space and time, thus making her physical immobility practically pointless in giving an accurate and full summary of the story. Had the snail been slightly bigger or the woman slightly closer and its provenance less mysterious, perhaps the narrator’s whirlwind tour of the mind not have stopped for visits with such other “characters” in the story as William Shakespeare, the previous residents of the house and the author of Whitaker’s Almanac.
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