“Worshipping proportion, Sir William not only prospered himself but made England prosper, secluded her lunatics, forbade childbirth, penalised despair, made it impossible for the unfit to propagate their views until they, too, shared his sense of proportion” (Woolf 99).
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Benediction Classics, Oxford, 2017, pp. 99.
Sir William’s intense need for proportion and his abusive treatment methods serves as a comment for English society’s conformist nature and for society as a whole. In treating his patients, Sir William is oppressing them and worsening their conditions, as he alienates them from others, punishes their emotions and regards them as lesser beings. This is a comment for how English society forces conformity amongst its citizens, to display only the best of themselves and to deny any negative or unpleasant feelings they may have, especially those who had returned from WWI. But, it also shows how societies in general expect its peoples to maintain certain ideas and behaviors, and anything less will have them deemed at sick, undesirable, and unfit to participate with others.
“He felt his cheeks aflame and his throat throbbing with song. There was a lust of wandering in his feet that burned to set out for the ends of the earth. On! On! his heart seemed to cry. Evening would deepen above the sea, night fall upon the plains, dawn glimmer before the wanderer and show him strange fields and hills and faces” (Joyce 122).
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dover Publications, 1994
Stephen’s urge to sing emphasizes how much more he wants from his life. He is trying to force himself to live a life of intense piety, relying on religion as a sole means of fulfilling his needs. However, it is only causing him to feel deep resentment for religion itself and those around him. Art is a motivator for him; a way to explain and understand life, and to feel he has a purpose within it. When he can begin to accept the fact that he does not need to be solely defined by God or by restrictive and oppressive behaviors, he can begin to heal and grow as a person, and truly contribute his talent to the world.
‘His book was a novel; it had the catchpenny cover, and while the
romance of life stood neglected at his side he lost himself in that of the circulating library’ (James 336).
James, Henry. ‘The Middle Years’. Terminations, Scribner’s Magazine, 1893, pp. 335–55.
Dencombe’s observation of the three beach goers represents the idea of mortality. The young man reading the book is unable to realize that something just as exciting as his story is happening right next to him because he is so enraptured by wild ideas and fantasies found within stories. ‘His book was a novel’ is not only talking about the young man’s book, but his own life. It means his life is also a story, a story that he has to shape and write himself for it to be just as enjoyable and fulfilling as the books he losses himself in, reminding Dencombe and readers that life is fleeting and we do not get 2nd chances to properly enjoy it.