Character Analysis Clarissa Dalloway


Clarissa has just recovered from an illness and is still frail. Her husband tries to protect her, urging her to follow doctors' orders, but then Richard has always tried to protect his wife. Despite the fact that she enjoys giving parties, Clarissa is basically shy, and Richard is also shy; therefore each is considerate and thoughtfully protective of the other. There are verbal and emotional boundaries Clarissa does not cross and there are just such boundaries that Richard does not cross. He thinks that Clarissa's preoccupation with her parties is foolish but he never tells her outright; she is aware of his attitude because of what he doesn't say. Likewise, Clarissa is unconcerned about Richard's interests in governmental affairs; he knows about her feelings but neither one of them verbalizes what they know about each other. They do their best not to hurt one another.

There is strength in the love between Richard and Clarissa, but the strength is not made up of years of toughened scar tissue. The love between Richard and Clarissa has no scars. It is strong because both have tended it and have not torn it with slashes of anger, then repaired it with re-doubled affection. The love between Clarissa and Richard is literally that: between them. It binds them, loosely, but it is also a barrier- self-imposed and, for each of their sakes, protective.

Richard would like a life in the country, with dogs, but he is not able to demand it for himself. A country life is a lost dream; he is happier and more secure in his governmental post, living with his gentle, well-bred wife. Like her husband, Clarissa also has a lost dream: she would like to be able to live as fully as she realizes Peter Walsh does. But long ago Clarissa, according to what she knew about herself, realized that she would never be able to join Peter in his adventure in living. Their values were too different. Peter wanted to share himself and all that he experienced. Clarissa believed that she would never be able to — nor would Peter be able to — break away all of the fears she had about men and women and life, set herself free, and be happy. Clarissa valued her "soul" too much to give it to Peter. She was afraid of surrendering to Peter, or to life, and accepting "the heat of the sun" and "winter's furious rages." She shied away from the way Peter loved life. She married Richard Dalloway so that she could love life in her own intense, but inward, fashion.

In her own way, Clarissa does respond to living. Mrs. Dalloway contains many examples of Clarissa's response to life. She enjoys flowers deeply, inhaling their delicate sweetness and their rich earthy odors; the air rushes over her skin and she thrills to its wave-like sensations; the jangling noise of cars and street vendors stir within her. She is sensitive to the "moment," to the "poetry of existence" in all its sensual dimensions — but the excitement goes only to Clarissa's own boundaries. Unlike Peter, she is not driven to share experiences; unless Peter can "share" a moment, its value is not wholly consummated. In this sense, Clarissa is still virginal.

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