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The Manifestation of Heroism in Protagonist Clarissa Dalloway

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The Manifestation of Heroism in Protagonist Clarissa Dalloway

Virginia Woolf examines the ordinary experience of protagonist Clarissa Dalloway, exploiting the day's activities and creating a complex character. Throughout the novel, Clarissa struggles between her independence and her need for approval and acceptance in the context of a patriarchal society. Woolf portrays Clarissa as superficial despite her capability of deeper, philosophical thinking, placing emphasis on the recurring element of contrast and complexity displayed throughout the novel.  Woolf illustrates Clarissa's complexity by portraying her as independent, intelligent, and philosophical throughout the prose of Mrs. Dalloway.  Woolf creates a protagonist who faces existential adversity, an issue Clarissa overcomes through self-reflection and introspection defining her as a modernist heroine.

Woolf displays Clarissa as independent as demonstrated when the author states that "she had the oddest sense of being herself invisible, unseen; unknown …being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.” (2342) The author illustrates Clarissa’s fear of being viewed as merely an extension of her husband, a commonality for women of that era, rather than her own separate identity.  Despite her demand for independence, Clarissa has a tendency to do things “not simply, not for themselves; but to make people think this or that; perfect idiocy she knew.” (2342) The author portrays Clarissa as being hypocritical and superficial by conforming to societal norms and contributing to the society which is oppressing her. Clarissa’s acknowledgement of the absurdity indicates to the reader that she is consciously making the decision to act in accordance to society’s expectations.  Clarissa is aware of what is and what is not socially acceptable behaviour; thus, in order to maintain her independent lifestyle, acting in accordance with social protocol is a necessity. Clarissa’s actions are often incongruent, contributing to the complexity of her character that Woolf has developed.  Although Clarissa displays independence, she is also very much affected by the opinion of others, letting them dictate her behaviour, which can partially be attributed to the society she lived in. Clarissa makes evident that all her actions and decisions are of her own, making the conscious choice to let others influence her behaviour. Clarissa lives in an era where being an independent woman is extremely difficult, if not impossible, making her heroic in terms of defining her own path.

Clarissa’s character is further enhanced by Woolf’s utilization of a simile, illustrating her intelligence. Clarissa is insistent on her lack of intelligence because she does not excel academically; however, “if you put her in a room with someone, up went her back like a cat’s; or she purred.” (2341) Woolf manifests Clarissa’s intelligence through her intuition and profound emotional capacity, implying that intelligence comes in a plethora of forms.  Woolf compares Clarissa's intuition as to that of a cat to emphasize her innate ability to read people and instinctively knowing if she likes someone.  Woolf reinforces Clarissa's intelligence metaphorically, when subsequent to his conversation with Clarissa, Peter comes to the conclusion that "she trusts her charm… she overdoses it." (2367) Clarissa is reliant on her charisma to get her way in life. Women in the twenties had little means of obtaining a job and living independently; therefore, dependent on other means to fulfill their needs, she demonstrated her intelligence by doing so. Her intelligence is exhibited through her understanding of society, knowing which actions will elicit the response she desires. Woolf utilizes the word 'overdose', implicitly comparing Clarissa's charisma to that of a drug, indicating that she has the power to persuade people, just as a drug has the power to compel people to do things they typically wouldn't.  Clarissa's complexity is reinforced as comparing her to a drug implies that being with her is accompanied by extreme feelings of euphoria and withdrawal.

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