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Humor and Tragedy in Virginia Woolf's Orlando Essay

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Virginia Woolfe's "Orlando" uses both humor and tragedy to observe humanity's often absurd and eccentric superficial constructions, both of class and gender. Woolfe creates the distinctions between male and female but continuously shatters them to reveal the illusions we create about gender.

As George Meredith suggests, comedy is created when "The comic poet dares to show us men and women coming to this mutual likeness" (15). Woolfe, however, goes beyond simply bringing men and women together as equals; she blends them together as one androgynous individual, the effect of which causes us to laugh at the artificial way in which society attempts to define gender. After Orlando's matter-of-fact reaction to discovering he is a woman, the narrator with tongue-in-cheek explains how reasonable such a transformation is despite people's desire to define it as abnormal: "Many people, taking this into account, and holding that such a change of sex is against nature, have been at great pains to prove (1) that Orlando has always been a woman, (2) that Orlando is at this moment a man. Let b...


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