A Room of One

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feminist criticism
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  A Room of One's Own   VIRGINIA WOOLF   Analysis of Major Character    The Narrator   The unnamed female narrator is the only major character in  A Room of One's Own . She refers to herself only as “I”; in chapter one of the text, she tells the reader to call her “Mary Beton, Mary Seton, MaryCarmichael or any other name you please . . . ” The narrator assumes each of these names at variouspoints throughout the text. The constantly shifting nature of her identity complicates her narrative even more,since we must consider carefully who she is at any given moment. However, her shifting identity also givesher a more universal voice: by taking on different names and identities, the narrator emphasizes that her words apply to all women, not just herself. The dramatic setting for   A Room of One's Own is Woolf's thought process in preparation for giving a lectureon the topic “women and fiction.” But the fictionalized narrator is distinct from the author Woolf. The narrator lends a storylike quality to the text, and she often blends fact and fiction to prove her points. Her liberty withfactuality suggests that no irrefutable truth exists in the world—all truth is relative and subjective.The narrator is an erudite and engaging storyteller, and she uses the book to explore the multifaceted andrather complicated history of literary achievement. Her provocative inquiries into the status quo of literatureforce readers to question the widely held assumption that women are inferior writers, compared to men, andthis is why there is a dearth of memorable literary works by women. This literary journey is highlighted bynumerous actual journeys, such as the journey around Oxbridge College and her tour of the British library.She interweaves her journeys with her own theories about the world—including the principle of “incandescence.” Woolf defines incandescence as the state in which everything is personal burns away andwhat is left is the “nugget of pure truth” in the art. This is the ideal state in which everything is consumed inthe intensity and truth of one's art. The narrator skillfully leads the reader through one of the most importantworks of feminist literary history to date.  Character List   I - The fictionalized author-surrogate ( call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by anyname you please—it is not a matter of any importance ) whose process of reflection on the topic womenand fiction forms the substance of the essay The Beadle - An Oxbridge security official who reminds the narrator that only Fellows and Scholars arepermitted on the grass; women must remain on the gravel path.   Mary Seton - Student at Fernham College and friend of the narrator.   Mary Beton - The narrator's aunt, whose legacy of five hundred pounds a year secures her niece's financialindependence. (Mary Beton is also one of the names Woolf assigns to her narrator, whose identity, shesays, is irrelevant.)    Judith Shakespeare - The imagined sister of William Shakespeare, who suffers greatly and eventuallycommits suicide because she can find no socially acceptable outlets for her genius.   Mary Carmichael - A fictitious novelist, contemporary with the narrator of Woolf's essay. In her first novel,she has broken the sentence, broken the sequence and forever changed the course of women's writing.   Mr. A - An imagined male author, whose work is overshadowed by a looming self-consciousness and petulant self-assertiveness.Analysis of Major Character    The Narrator   The unnamed female narrator is the only major character in  A Room of One's Own . She refers to herself only as “I”; in chapter one of the text, she tells the reader to call her “Mary Beton, Mary Seton, MaryCarmichael or any other name you please . . . ” The narrator assumes each of these names at variouspoints throughout the text. The constantly shifting nature of her identity complicates her narrative even more,since we must consider carefully who she is at any given moment. However, her shifting identity also givesher a more universal voice: by taking on different namesThe dramatic setting for   A Room of One's Own is Woolf's thought process in preparation for giving a lectureon the topic “women and fiction.” But the fictionalized narrator is distinct from the author Woolf. The narrator lends a storylike quality to the text, and she often blends fact and fiction to prove her points. Her liberty withfactuality suggests that no irrefutable truth exists in the world—all truth is relative and subjective.The narrator is an erudite and engaging storyteller, and she uses the book to explore the multifaceted andrather complicated history of literary achievement. Her provocative inquiries into the status quo of literatureforce readers to question the widely held assumption that women are inferior writers, compared to men, andthis is why there is a dearth of memorable literary works by women. This literary journey is highlighted bynumerous actual journeys, such as the journey around Oxbridge College and her tour of the British library.She interweaves her journeys with her own theories about the world—including the principle of “incandescence.” Woolf defines incandescence as the state in which everything is personal burns away andwhat is left is the “nugget of pure truth” in the art. This is the ideal state in which everything is consumed inthe intensity and truth of one's art. The narrator skillfully leads the reader through one of the most importantworks of feminist literary history to date.  Themes, Motifs & Symbols   Themes   The Importance of Money    For the narrator of   A Room of One's Own , money is the primary element that prevents women from having aroom of their own, and thus, having money is of the utmost importance. Because women do not have power,their creativity has been systematically stifled throughout the ages. The narrator writes, “Intellectual freedomdepends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always beenpoor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time . . .” She uses this quotation toexplain why so few women have written successful poetry. She believes that the writing of novels lends itself more easily to frequent starts and stops, so women are more likely to write novels than poetry: women mustcontend with frequent interruptions because they are so often deprived of a room of their own in which towrite. Without money, the narrator implies, women will remain in second place to their creative malecounterparts. The financial discrepancy between men and women at the time of Woolf's writing perpetuatedthe myth that women were less successful writers.   The Subjectivity of Truth In  A Room of One's Own , the narrator argues that even history is subjective. What she seeks is nothing lessthan “the essential oil of truth,” but this eludes her, and she eventually concludes that no such thing exists.The narrator later writes, “When a subject is highly controversial, one cannot hope to tell the truth. One canonly show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold.” To demonstrate the idea that opinion isthe only thing that a person can actually “prove,” she fictionalizes her lecture, claiming, “Fiction is likely tocontain more truth than fact.” Reality is not objective: rather, it is contingent upon the circumstances of one'sworld. This argument complicates her narrative: Woolf forces her reader to question the veracity of everything she has presented as truth so far, and yet she also tells them that the fictional parts of any storycontain more essential truth than the factual parts. With this observation she recasts the accepted truths andopinions of countless literary works.   Motifs   Interruptions    When the narrator is interrupted in  A Room of One's Own , she generally fails to regain her srcinalconcentration, suggesting that women without private spaces of their own, free of interruptions, are doomedto difficulty and even failure in their work.   While the narrator is describing Oxbridge University in chapter one, her attention is drawn to a cat without a tail. The narrator finds this cat to be out of place, and she usesthe sight of this cat to take her text in a different direction. The oddly jarring and incongruous sight of a catwithout a tail—which causes the narrator to completely lose her train of thought—is an exercise in allowingthe reader to experience what it might feel like to be a woman writer. Although the narrator goes on to makean interesting and valuable point about the atmosphere at her luncheon, she has lost her srcinal point. Thisshift underscores her claim that women, who so often lack a room of their own and the time to write, cannotcompete against the men who are not forced to struggle for such basic necessities.   Gender Inequality   Throughout  A Room of One's Own , the narrator emphasizes the fact that women are treated unequally inher society and that this is why they have produced less impressive works of writing than men. To illustrateher point, the narrator creates a woman named Judith Shakespeare, the imaginary twin sister of WilliamShakespeare. The narrator uses Judith to show how society systematically discriminates against women.Judith is just as talented as her brother William, but while his talents are recognized and encouraged by their family and the rest of their society, Judith's are underestimated and explicitly deemphasized. Judith writes,but she is secretive and ashamed of it. She is engaged at a fairly young age; when she begs not to have tomarry, her beloved father beats her. She eventually commits suicide. The narrator invents the tragic figure of Judith to prove that a woman as talented as Shakespeare could never have achieved such success. Talentis an essential component of Shakespeare's success, but because women are treated so differently, afemale Shakespeare would have fared quite differently even if she'd had as much talent as Shakespearedid.   Symbols   A Room of One's Own   The central point of   A Room of One's Own is that every woman needs a room of her own—something menare able to enjoy without question. A room of her own would provide a woman with the time and the space toengage in uninterrupted writing time. During Woolf's time, women rarely enjoyed these luxuries. Theyremained elusive to women, and, as a result, their art suffered. But Woolf is concerned with more than justthe room itself. She uses the room as a symbol for many larger issues, such as privacy, leisure time, andfinancial independence, each of which is an essential component of the countless inequalities between menand women. Woolf predicts that until these inequalities are rectified, women will remain second-classcitizens and their literary achievements will also be branded as such. Themes, Motifs & Symbols   Themes
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