Peter Walsh’s most consistent character trait is ambivalence: he is middle-aged and fears he has wasted his life, but sometimes he also feels he is not yet old. He cannot commit to an identity, or even to a romantic partner. He cannot decide what he feels and tries often to talk himself into feeling or not feeling certain things. For example, he spends the day telling himself that he no longer loves Clarissa, but his grief at losing her rises painfully to the surface when he is in her presence, and his obsession with her suggests that he is still attracted to her and may even long for renewed romance. Even when he gathers his anger toward Clarissa and tells her about his new love, he cannot sustain the anger and ends up weeping. Peter acts as a foil to Richard, who is stable, generous, and rather simple. Unlike calm Richard, Peter is like a storm, thundering and crashing, unpredictable even to himself.
Peter’s unhealed hurt and persistent insecurity make him severely critical of other characters, especially the Dalloways. He detests Clarissa’s bourgeois lifestyle, though he blames Richard for making her into the kind of woman she is. Clarissa intuits even his most veiled criticisms, such as when he remarks on her green dress, and his judgments strongly affect her own assessments of her life and choices. Despite his sharp critiques of others, Peter cannot clearly see his own shortcomings. His self-obsession and neediness would have suffocated Clarissa, which is partly why she refused his marriage proposal as a young woman. Peter acquiesces to the very English society he criticizes, enjoying the false sense of order it offers, which he lacks in his life. Despite Peter’s ambivalence and tendency toward analysis, he still feels life deeply. While Clarissa comes to terms with her own mortality, Peter becomes frantic at the thought of death. He follows a young woman through the London streets to smother his thoughts of death with a fantasy of life and adventure. His critical nature may distance him from others, but he values his life nonetheless.