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World War I Veterans and Shell Shock in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway Essay

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Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway, addresses life during the interwar years and more specifically the impact of shell shock on World War I veterans. Septimus Warren Smith, a survivor of the war, suffers daily through the trauma he endured in the war. Woolf highlights societies lack of understanding when it comes to the condition plaguing so many soldier after the war through characters like Dr. Holmes and Sir William Bradshaw. This along with propaganda glorifying the war and instilling the notion of manliness and strength in those that fought led to great misconceptions on the societies ignorance on soldiers suffering from shell shock. Septimus, who is constantly tortured by flashbacks of his officer Evans being killed, has become an outsider to the rest of the world who have shut out the somber images of the past (56). Woolf utilizes his character to express her dissatisfaction with society during the interwar years and also to show the divide between those who fought and the upper class who saw little of the true nature of the war.
Septimus struggles through his day to day life after the war because of his shell shock. He is physically and psychologically afflicted by nightmares, fatigue, and illusions of his friend Evans who died before the end of the war (22). His wife, Lucrezia, attempts to reestablish his connection by making him more aware of his surroundings but he shows little to no reception to this. The impact of living through shell shock has caused him to sever most of his ties to the outside world because he is constantly in a struggle to differentiate reality from his hallucinations. George L. Mosse in “Shell-Shock as a Social Disease,” states that “ shattered nerves and lack of will-power were the enemies of...


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...n their own worlds where they try to establish some sense of normal. Woolf uses Septimus’s shell shock and his relationship with his doctors and wife to bring to light societies lack of understanding on many of the conditions faced by soldiers during this time. Her critical overview of society correlates to the impact of the war on Septimus’s life and how he is treated.




















Works Cited


Mosse, George L. . “Shell-Shock as a Social Disease.” Journal of Contemporary History , Vol.
35, No. 1, Special Issue: Shell-shock (Jan., 2000), pp. 101-108
Wert, Kathryn Van. “The Early Life of Septimus Smith.” Journal of Modern Literature , Vol.

36, No. 1 (Fall 2012), pp. 71-89
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Martino Fine Books, 2012. Print.
Wyatt, Jean M. “Mrs. Dalloway: Literary Allusion as Structural Metaphor.”
PMLA , Vol. 88, No. 3 (May, 1973), pp. 440-451



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