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The Hours

Michael Cunningham

Mrs. Dalloway/Mrs. Brown/Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway/Mrs. Woolf

Mrs. Brown/Mrs. Woolf/Mrs. Brown/Mrs. Dalloway

Summary: Mrs. Dalloway

Sally sits at lunch with her friends Oliver St. Ives and Walter Hardy in Oliver’s apartment. Oliver discusses a film project he plans to pitch, a thriller in which the hero is gay, and explains that he wants Walter to write the script. He asks for Sally’s advice—and though she thinks the film could never work, she keeps her thoughts to herself. The magnitude of Oliver’s charisma and star power makes her feel that any contrary opinion would be out of place. Instead of talking, she looks around her apartment and thinks about the macho flamboyance of the decor.

After they finish lunch, Walter and Sally chat outside. Walter asks how Richard is feeling, and Sally suddenly resents Walter for being so healthy when Richard is so sick. As they walk to the subway, they pass a clothing boutique with beautiful shirts in the window. Walter stops in to buy a gift for his lover, Evan, and Sally thinks about how she has never had an easy time buying presents for Clarissa. A sudden wave of deep affection for Clarissa grips her, and she thinks about how sad she would be to lose her. She stops by a corner deli and picks up a bouquet of yellow roses for Clarissa.

Summary: Mrs. Brown

Laura drives back to pick up Richie after she finishes half of the book and checks out of the hotel. She seesaws back and forth between her world and the world of Mrs. Dalloway. When she reaches Mrs. Hatch’s house, she stands outside for a moment before going in. She thinks that she is nothing, that she is hovering in a sense of nothingness and craves death. She contemplates driving away but forces herself to go in. Richie runs toward Laura and starts crying. After comforting Richie, Laura puts him in the car and they drive home. In the car, Richie tells Laura in a strange, self-conscious tone of voice that he loves her. She tells him that she loves him too and asks what’s wrong. She realizes that he senses that something is wrong and that she’s been acting strangely. Since Richie watches her so observantly, Laura knows that he will be aware of everything she does.

Summary: Mrs. Dalloway

Clarissa goes to Richard’s apartment to help him get ready for the party. He doesn’t answer when she knocks, so she goes right in. All of the windows are open and Clarissa is shocked at how bright the apartment looks. When she finds Richard, he sits straddling the windowsill. She asks him to come down, and he tells her he cannot go to the party. He feels choked by his disease and asks Clarissa to call his mother. As he rants, he asks her to tell him a story about her day and she recounts her trip to buy flowers. He reminds her about the time in Wellfleet when she walked sleepily out of a glass door in the early morning and how he thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He says that he thinks he’s failed in his work by never creating anything that beautiful.

After he tells Clarissa he loves her, Richard falls backward out of the window. Clarissa tears down the stairs after him and approaches Richard’s still body on the ground. As she kneels by his body, she puts his hand on his shoulder and pulls his robe from his face to reveal his head injury. Unsure of what to do, she waits with Richard for a while. If he were alive, she thinks about how she would tell him how courageous he’s been to love for so long, to try to create so long. She would apologize to him for wanting such an ordinary life and for wanting him to come to her party and talk to her guests.

Analysis

Though Sally loves Clarissa, she has trouble understanding her. This chapter is the first time we see inside the head of one of the partners of the main characters. Although Leonard, Dan, and Sally care for Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa, respectively, they seem unable to truly understand the three women. Her interactions with Oliver and Walter show that Sally often keeps her thoughts to herself and avoids confrontation. She realizes that she doesn’t fully understand Clarissa’s needs and always seems to buy her the wrong kind of gift. While Walter has no trouble selecting a shirt for Evan, no matter how ridiculous the shirt is, Sally feels frustrated by the fact that she cannot figure out what Clarissa truly wants. At the end of the chapter, her spontaneous selection of yellow roses from the corner deli shows that she does love Clarissa and wants to show the depth of her devotion.

Laura realizes that Richie watches her constantly and she is not as alone as she thought she was. She has felt detached and alienated from her husband and son. Dan doesn’t understand who she is, and Richie seems too young to have any insight into her thoughts and feelings. Richie has always been a blank slate, just a child who is present all the time but can’t offer a peer’s understanding or insight. When she comes to the realization that he can always see her and understand her, she feels shocked and surprised. She cannot come to terms with her interconnectedness with her family and her debt to Richie. She feels overwhelmed by the idea that her family could sense her reticence and confusion about her role as a mother and wife.

After all of Clarissa’s reflections about the importance of hanging onto life, her best friend commits suicide before her eyes. Richard’s desire to leave the simple joys of life behind challenges Clarissa’s ideas about the sanctity of life and love. Perhaps Clarissa celebrates life because she has not had to face Richard’s illness and the demons that come with it. When she stays with Richard’s body for a time, she feels guilty for trying to force Richard to fit into her happy life. She cannot tell if she only wanted him to be happy so that she could be happy and questions whether she was a selfish friend.

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