Mrs. Dalloway

Twentieth Century Novels and the Reconstruction of British Identity 11th Grade

During the twentieth century, particularly from 1920 to 2000, the British national identity underwent a dramatic transformation in response to the major historical events of the century: the conclusion of World War I, the decline of imperialism, and the immigration from former colonies to England after World War II. Three prominent twentieth-century novels reflect the changes in British identity. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway demonstrates how, in the aftermath of World War I, the traditional British identity suffered a devastating blow as the heavy causalities of the war shattered the country’s nationalism. In 1923, when the novel takes place, the Age of Imperialism was dwindling and the British Empire’s colonial influence began deteriorating. Set in the mid 1920s, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India illustrates the fractured, racially-stratified British identity that existed after the destruction of Britain’s traditional national identity. Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth takes place during the mid to late twentieth century and details the formation of a contemporary, diverse British identity in response to increasing immigration from former colonies. The three novels use fiction to demonstrate how Britain’s national identity...

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