At Dan’s birthday, Laura becomes irritated when he spits on the cake while blowing out the candles. She feels a spasm of rage and feels trapped in her role as a domestic. The anger passes and she thinks about how Dan is steady and reliable. She asks Richie if he made a wish and if he wants to help cut the cake. Laura thinks of how the room is full of happiness and goodness, but the moment will pass and eventually disappear from memory.
After dinner, Virginia tries to read but keeps thinking about the fact that Leonard has agreed to move back to London. She thinks of the kiss she gave Vanessa and how it was full of the complexity and mystery that she associates with London. She realizes that Clarissa Dalloway must have loved a woman and have kissed her once and carried the memory of the kiss her whole life. Leonard interrupts Virginia’s thoughts to tell her to go to bed by eleven. As she stands in the living room watching the light play off the tabletop, she has a revelation about Clarissa’s suicide. She decides that someone other than Clarissa will commit suicide, someone who is sick in the mind and sees the whole world as meaningful.
Laura stands in the bathroom and brushes her teeth. She knows that Dan will want to have sex with her when she gets into bed and realizes that she won’t be able to have any time to read. A shadow crosses behind her in the mirror and she opens the medicine cabinet. She looks at a full bottle of sleeping pills and thinks about how easy it would be to use them to commit suicide.
Laura enters the bedroom and stands by the side of the bed while Dan asks her to get in. Her mind seems to detach from her body, and she feels as though she is floating above the scene. She feels as if she is reading the scene in the way a person would read a book. Even though she knows so much about the situation, she does not feel as if she is participates in it.
Laura Brown, now an old woman, comes into Clarissa’s apartment with Clarissa and Sally. Julia has put away all of the food purchased for the party, but the flowers are still there. Julia has fallen asleep on the couch, and they wake her up. Julia tells them that a few guests didn’t receive the message and showed up to the party. One of the guests was Louis, who broke down when he received the news that Richard had killed himself. Julia stayed and talked with him until he calmed down and left. Julia and Sally go to the kitchen to get food for Laura, while Laura and Clarissa sit in the living room.
Laura and Clarissa sit in awkward silence, and Clarissa asks her if she would like to go to bed. Laura says that she’ll be ready for bed in a little while. In Richard’s poems, Laura is portrayed as a failed suicide and a mother who walks out on her family. Clarissa considers this portrayal and how strange it is that Laura has outlived her whole family.
Clarissa goes to the kitchen to see if Julia has made Laura’s tea. In the kitchen, all of the food for the party sits beautifully presented. Sally says that they should all eat and go to bed, and Clarissa suddenly realizes that Richard is really dead. She wonders how life can have meaning when everybody inevitably dies. Clarissa decides that the meaning can be found in those hours when you feel satisfied—and you feel as though all has been delivered.
Laura becomes irrationally angry with Dan for spoiling the perfection of her cake. Her feelings seem disproportionate to the slight that he has committed by spitting on the cake while blowing out the candles. The anger emerges from her feeling that the cake is a work of art, a small yet nonetheless important creative outlet for her frustrated energies. Her feelings pass when she thinks for a moment about Dan’s good intentions and the feelings of happiness in the room. However, her feelings about the goodness in the room indicate that she has an outsider’s view: she has stepped out of her perspective about her life and behaves as an outside observer, commenting on rather than fully participating in the scene. These feelings of detachment from her family life indicate that she may be ready to leave it.
Virginia decides to separate herself completely from her character Clarissa Dalloway. Clarissa will be a happy, life-affirming character—not the doomed woman that Virginia initially imagined. Instead, Virginia will create a character that provides contrast to Clarissa. In Mrs. Dalloway, that character is Septimus Smith, a tormented soldier who commits suicide soon after returning to London from the war. Virginia has decided to separate her Clarissa side from her dark, less pragmatic alter ego. The separation of the two aspects of her character into the wide-eyed woman and the tormented madman shows how Virginia perceives her nature as split or dual: Her internal conflicts throughout the day reveal both sides, and it is perhaps the inability to reconcile the two that drive her to commit suicide.
Laura draws an explicit comparison between the way she feels about life and the way she feels about the books that she reads. The pieces come together, in that she is detached from her life and feels like a loner. She starts to think that perhaps her attempts at feeling satisfied with her family are not enough. Laura’s realization comes as she prepares for bed, an important moment that allows her to evaluate a single day as if it were representative of her whole life. In the same way that Virginia Woolf wants to tell the story of a woman’s life in a single day, Laura looks back at her day as representative of her attitudes and feelings about her life. She feels frustrated by her life and detaches from her day-to-day existence as a coping mechanism.
In the last chapter, Clarissa forgives Laura for what she has done to Richard, and she also forgives herself for living the life she has chosen. Although we know that Laura is Richard’s mother, the meeting between the two characters in the last chapter feels jarring. It is strange to see Laura in the end, without knowing all that has happened in the intervening years. The only clues come from Clarissa’s evaluation of Laura. She has never been the type to judge others too harshly, as evidenced in her interactions with Walter. Even when she feels attacked, as by Mary Krull, she keeps her thoughts to herself and tries to understand the other person. She doesn’t judge Laura either, even though Richard portrayed Laura as a monster sometimes. Now Laura is just an old woman, and Clarissa understands that Laura has had a complicated life and has reasons behind all of her decisions. Clarissa also forgives herself, and she comes to the realization that life must be taken as it comes and that individual hours can provide moments of joy and profound pleasure.