Sunday, February 22, 2009

Who's That Girl?

This got an A! (Which is, you know, only the highest grade they can give you.)

Peter Walsh glimpses an anonymous girl walking across Trafalgar Square at a moment when he was “escaping (only of course for an hour or so) from being precisely what he was” (51). Virginia Woolf uses the character of the anonymous girl as a mirror through which the reader gains greater insight into the character of Peter Walsh. The girl represents the “endless avenues” (51) of options that Peter feels he has as well as a human connection that he so desperately desires. One of the defining characteristics of Peter’s brief encounter with the nameless young girl is that she seems “to shed on him a light which [connects] them, which single[s] him out.” (52) Peter ignores the reality of the girl’s life, and the reality of their non-connection, in the same way that Clarissa Dalloway and Ms. Kilman ignore the realities of the relationships in which they are the more involved parties. In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf uses the character of the anonymous girl to illustrate the theme that the majority of human relationships turn out to be largely imaginary.

Woolf introduces the girl directly after Peter leaves Clarissa’s house. He walks toward Trafalgar Square and thinks, “Only one person in the world could be as he was, in love.”(47) Peter’s feelings for Daisy are transferred to the girl abnormally quickly, “susceptible as he was,” (51) and as she walks toward him she becomes “the very woman he had always had in mind; young, but stately; merry, but discreet; black, but charming.” (51) For Peter, this young girl provides an antidote to Clarissa. He imagines that she knows “his private name” (52), that she is “not worldly, like Clarissa; not rich, like Clarissa.” (52) Peter lets this anonymous young woman that he encounters, entirely by chance, and then follows, become his perfect woman. By introducing the girl immediately following Peter’s visit with Clarissa, Woolf shows how lonely and desperate Peter really is, after a divorce and failing to connect romantically with Clarissa, how much he wants to find love, and a thread of recognition, in even the smallest, imagined encounters.

The reader’s entire picture of this anonymous girl comes from Peter’s perspective. Unlike Ellie Henderson, Maisie Johnson, and the other minor characters in Mrs. Dalloway, the girl isn’t using her own thoughts to make a commentary on Peter. As a result of this, the “mockery in her eyes,” and the impression that she is “witty, with a lizard’s flickering tongue” (52) are entirely imagined and allow the reader to examine the character of Peter Walsh from a distance. Peter’s view of himself in relation to the girl, as “an adventurer, reckless […] swift, daring, […] a romantic buccaneer…” (52) provides some insight into Peter’s view of “all these damned proprieties” (52). Peter wants to live in a society where he can ask a girl to “‘Come and have an ice,’” (52) and she will answer “perfectly simply, “Oh yes.” (52) While all the major characters in Mrs. Dalloway desire, and have, connections with one another and everyone else in London, Peter wants a different sort of connection, one that is honest, risky and exciting, transparent like ice, rather than timid and restrained.
At the end of Peter’s path, when the girl finally reaches her door and goes inside, Peter comes to a realization:

'And it was smashed to atoms—his fun, for it was half made up, as he knew very well; invented, this escapade with the girl; made up, as one makes up the better part of life, he thought—making oneself up; making her up; creating an exquisite amusement, and something more.' (53)

Although the girl hasn’t had any motivation or thoughts, from Peter’s point-of-view, by closing the door she is effectively making a choice to end Peter’s “exquisite amusement” and reminding him of the reality of his life. What started out as something fun, and then turned into “something more”, shows how desperate for a simple connection Peter really is, and that there are no such things as simple connections and that relationships will always be “half made up” (53). The girl represents the human need to find a kindred spirit, for some real relationship to cling to in a time when, for Clarissa and Peter, the past is coming back. The girl also illustrates the painful truth of the situation: “all this one could never share—it smashed to atoms.” (53)

Work Cited
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Ed. Bonnie Kime Scott. New York. Harcourt, 2005. pp. 47-53.

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