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Society, Class, and Conflict the Social Criticism of Virginia Woolf Essay

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Virginia Woolf offers interesting analysis of social pressure and social class in Mrs. Dalloway and The Years. Understanding Woolf’s message about society demands a certain amount of sensitivity and decoding on behalf of her reader. Her social criticism in both texts can be easily overlooked because she keeps it subtle and implicit, hidden in the patterns and courses of her characters’ trains of thoughts. Yet upon such close reading, the essential importance of conflict between the individual and society in Woolf’s work becomes clear. While Mrs. Dalloway critiques the mental consequences of socialization, self-restraint, and the subsequent regret, The Years examines the relationship between the upper classes and the lower classes and the physical consequences of their respective places in society.
Virginia Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness style of narration is essential to her method of providing social criticism. Instead of forcing extreme physical situations or conflicts into her text, Woolf instead offers nuanced observations through her characters’ patterns and trains of thought. Virginia Woolf said of Mrs. Dalloway, “I want to criticise the social system, and to show it at work, at its most intense” (Zwerdling), a statement that may surprise some readers. However, allowing the reader to witness each individual thought of the characters as they are linked together helps provide insight into how the social system influences their thoughts, memories, and ultimately their identities. The strength of Woolf’s social criticism comes from her ability to infer judgment in this fashion and presents interesting perspectives on class conflict, socialization self-restraint, regret, and coming to terms (or rejecting) with the conditions ...


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...s assuming particular identities and suppressing their desires. Through Rose, Woolf shows us that rebellion against this social order comes at a cost. Meanwhile, through Clarissa the reader learns of the the regret that must accompany assuming a social role for the sake of material success. Instead of focusing on the technological and economic progress of her time, Woolf highlights the psychological consequences of social change. As societies grow more complicated and intense with their development, her stream-of-consciousness style provides her readers with insight into the individual costs that we all must pay.





Works Cited

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando: Harcourt, 1981. Print.
Woolf, Virginia. The Years. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1937. Print.
Zwerdling, Alex. "Mrs. Dalloway and the Social System." PMLA 92.1 (1977): 69-82. Print.


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