The Theme of Isolation in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

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The novel Mrs Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf delivers the themes of disconnection and alienation via the performances of characters such as Clarissa and Septimus. Mrs Dalloway encounters a breakup between her current daily life and eventful past in which she is unable to discover the meaning of her public responsibility and private self, and between conventionality and passion. The author attempts to express the struggle in the society that hinders people from interacting effectively, an attribute that isolates them from the rest of the world. Additionally, Woolf provides a preview into the characters’ minds while demonstrating their outward interaction with other persons. The context leads to a sophisticated array of relations while the character grapples with lack of communication, loneliness, and isolation in various ways. For instance, Septimus is a personality who is obsessed with inherent privacy while Peter can be categorized as an introvert.[1] On the other hand, Clarissa was a social person who enjoyed parties but later, her behaviour shifted from a fun-loving person to a lonely and desolated being. Unfortunately, she could not share her disgruntlement with anyone. By examining the behaviour of Septimus, Mrs Dalloway, Peter Walsh, Clarissa and Richard Dalloway, the essay examines the concept of Isolation in Mrs Dalloway

and how it negatively/sportively impacted their lives.  

An apparent case of solitariness in Septimus’ life is the complete scene that precedes Septimus terminating his own life. It commenced with fear emerging in Holmes as shown in the scene whereby he went upstairs and burst open the door. Although Septimus is living with people who are keen to help him such as Bradshaw and Rezia, the feeling of seclusion forces him to permanently, withdraw himself from them.[2]

Notwithstanding the relationships that are established with the characters, they tend to feel lonely hence unable to connect in a normal way.

The feeling of disconnect is evident from the following statement about Septimus: “He is the only individual who understands the truth concerning what life is”. This statement originates from his disturbing engagement in the First World War, which has intensely restructured the manner in which he thinks about life.[3] He no longer pays attention to the ordinary phases of living since they do not make sense because he understands that the world features widespread terror. Subsequently, he only meditates about horrible things, which makes him detach from normal life activities. As opposed to other people, he does not attempt to minimize his pain into acceptable levels.[4]

The subsequent challenges force him to think that he knows things that many people do not. He attempts suicide to demonstrate the type of isolation he experiences in the world but this fails to work, as expected.

In Woolf’s book, it is quite evident from the introduction that Septimus is preoccupied with the feeling of disconnectedness from the world surrounding him. Therefore, he is alienated from his own sentiments or emotions. For instance, he did not express any feeling after he received the news of the demise of his good friend.[5]

Additionally, he encounters challenges to comprehend and establish a relation with Rezia as he assumes that he has been restricted by humanity. In the advertising airplane, which serves as a unifying factor, Septimus is affected by a completely different feeling.[6]

In this regard, the advertisement stirs the feelings of enlightenment. The words work as if they are attempting to pass some information to him. Moreover, he is not connected to the persons next to him particularly Rezia, who, after observing the statements made by the plane he is stressed up by the condition of Septimus. Unfortunately, it works towards totally isolating Septimus from Rezia, the only person who would understand what he had been going through.[7]

 The parties organized by Clarissa are intended to allow people to bond. However, the invitees suffer from a feeling of loneliness. Equally, Clarissa is not having a good time at her own party. The same case applies to Peter. Clarissa takes the time to move to all the fragmented couples and all the attendees who had participated, except for one who actually appeared to be enjoying the party.[8] The feeling of loneliness is evident from the following statement by Clarissa, “Since I was young, I loved parties and attending to social activities”. However, “when I arrange one for myself I have a mood of being disconnected and not being myself”. Essentially, the event is not in her heart as this scene is characterized by hollowness. The partying does not satisfy her expectations of deep understanding and substantial communication as it does not enable her to be conscious of others or herself.[9]

Although Clarissa has a robust social network, the understanding that she is exempted from a dinner invitation increases her feeling of loneliness. It also prompts her to think that her social sway is diminishing.[10]

Meanwhile, her anxiety is partially due to the insecurity due to the loss of social space, difficulties in friends trusting her and thus, the feeling of disconnect overwhelms her. In addition, anxiety is more profound because in her fifties, she still desires to have lived a life in a different way. The main source of alienation is between the Clarissa of the previous life and Mrs Richard Dalloway of the current life.[11]

The social-self had occurred in the personal-self in a manner that she is unable to understand. Furthermore, the deep inner discussion illustrates failed communication between Richard and Clarissa. For instance, Richard attempts to tell her partner “I love you,” but he is incapable of doing so and thus, he decides to give her flowers instead.[12]

Clarissa’s is also characterized by social isolation as she lacks the strong association with Richard, her husband or anybody else at all. Importantly, her previous life is disturbing not due to her dramatic happenings but due to the mismatch with the current life.[13]

Besides, her youth signifies a passionate, highly convicted individual while loneliness began after her matrimony with Richard. For instance, in her fifties, she still encounters challenges when making decisions between her social personality and her individuality. Therefore, she views her individuality as a virginity safeguarded and it somehow hinders the social personality, obstructing from properly mingling with other people.[14] Likewise, she yearns for a real connection and desires for something that is significantly less isolating and more fun. The distinctness between her outer and inner life emerges partially from her struggle to formulate deep intimacy with persons. Although Clarissa likes intermingling with other persons and is being valued, she is unwilling to share a lot of her own self.[15]

Furthermore, as a thoughtful person, Clarissa knows the gap her seclusion can generate between other persons and her. The conflict between what she desires for and what she actually feels aggravates her loneliness even further.

As opposed to Clarissa, Peter responds to his own loneliness from other persons by acting as if the isolation is constructive, that it enables him to really encounter life[16]. Indeed, Clarissa reminds him by stating, “Even emotions that an individual assumes or have been expelled can re-emerge with similar influence that they used to possess”. The isolation between the couple distresses Peter such that he wishes he could minimize his active life so that he could focus on their suffering.[17]

After the demise of Septimus, Peter wondered, “Why the people are always living in isolation”. He also argued that the civilisation must have been keeping them apart

Clarissa encounters challenges in her bid to offset her own life between social interaction, individuality, conventionality, passion, present and past. Consequently, it generates disconnect that excludes her from living entirely in the present.[18]

However, her closest friends cannot understand what she feels. Additionally, separation helps her to pursue the meaning in life instead of submitting to the safety of the ideals in the society.[19]

As a result, the loneliness forces her to stick to herself as a person rather than one of the populations that can be entirely prescribed or judged. She discovers that the life of an individual can be realized via relations with others.[20]

Seclusion works when people try to adapt and make sense of their own self. It detaches an individual from the society and their actions can affect the people surrounding them. The life of Clarissa is characterized by desperate sorrow such that she refuses to share with other persons. In the end, unlike Septimus, the seclusion impacts her life in a positive manner.


The novel illustrates isolation in various characters. Septimus commit suicide because he feels the world is not functioning, as it ought to be. Therefore, he expresses a feeling of disconnect from the people around him. He does not have any social interaction with close friends such as Rezia. Disconnect is also evident when Clarissa struggles between the present, and past, society and individuality. In her middle age, she aspires to have a different life. Again, there is no social connection with his husband, Richard.  Her past is disturbing because it is irreconcilable with the kind of life she is living now. Therefore, she longs for her past when she had a vibrant social life.

Work Cited

DeMeester, Karen. "Trauma and Recovery in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway."MFS Modern Fiction Studies 44.3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998): 649-673

Fulton, Lorie Watkins. "A Direction of One's Own": Alienation in"Mrs. Dalloway"and"Sula."African American Review 40.1 (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2006): 67-77

 Woolf, Virginia. "Mrs. Dalloway."Collected Novels of Virginia Woolf. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1992). 33-176

[1] Virginia Woolf. "Mrs. Dalloway."Collected Novels of Virginia Woolf. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1992). p.35

[2]Woolf,  p.40

[3] Woolf, p.46

[4] Karen DeMeester. "Trauma and Recovery in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway."MFS Modern Fiction Studies 44.3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p.663

[5] Woolf, p.35

[6] DeMeester, p.649

[7] Lorie Watkins Fulton. "A Direction of One's Own": Alienation in"Mrs. Dalloway"and"

Sula."African American Review 40.1 (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2006), p.61

[8] DeMeester, p.653

[9] Woolf, p.50

[10] Fulton, p.67

[11] Woolf, p.52

[12] Woolf, p.47

[13] DeMeester, p.657

[14] Fulton, p.63

[15] Woolf, p.47

[16] Fulton, p.67.

[17] DeMeester, p.655

[18] Fulton, p.76.

[19] DeMeester, p.663.

[20] Woolf, p.117

November 24, 2023


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