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Written by Timothy Sexton
Simile upon Simile
Woolf seems to have fallen in love with the power of the simile in this book. While light on direct metaphor, she engages the metaphorical power of comparison on nearly every page. On more than one occasion, in fact, she follows a sentence constructed around a simile with another sentence constructed around a different simile:
“She waited, as one waits for the strain of an organ to die out before leaving church. In the car going home to the red villa in the cornfields, she would destroy it, as a thrush pecks the wings off a butterfly.”
One of the most prevalent types of comparison made in the plethora of similes populating the text are those utilizing animals. Humans are consistently being compared in some way to all different manner of creatures:
“She perched on the edge of a chair like a bird on a telegraph wire before starting for Africa.”
“He'll stand like a pig in a poke.”
“The old hag stinks like a red herring that's been stood over head in a tar barrel!”
“She touched her bony forehead upon which a blue vein wriggled like a blue worm.”
In addition to laying similes upon each other in successive lines, Woolf also take advantage of opportunity wave sophisticated similes of complex construction within single sentences. One of the most audacious examples proceeds from a point of marking time to present imagery of unexpected intricacy:
“You could trust her to crow when the hour struck like an alarm clock; to stop like an old bus horse when the bell rang.”
One Last Point of Comparison
As if she were hoarding them for a final flourish, Woolf suddenly drops her dependence on simile to make the final paragraph a feast of metaphors. But not before ending the immediately preceding paragraph with final fantastic display of her seemingly bottomless endless capacity in this work to imprint upon every page a memorably figurative point of comparison, engaging one final animal association before handing things over to direct metaphor:
“But first they must fight, as the dog fox fights with the vixen, in the heart of darkness, in the fields of night.”
The novel’s final line is a metaphor that encapsulates its theme of relationships as the illusion of role-playing and performance:
“Then the curtain rose. They spoke.”
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