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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Water poses a threat to the characters in The
Hours, beginning with Virginia Woolf’s drowning in the
prologue, but it also creates a boundary space in which the characters
can observe their lives from a distance and understand their situations
with greater clarity. The Hours starts with Virginia
Woolf’s suicide in a river, as she is simultaneously pulled away
by the current with a rock in her pocket but still somehow able
to perceive the world above the water. Though Virginia ends her
life in the river, at the moment of drowning she transcends her
body and sees the world with profound lucidity. Soon after this
scene, Clarissa Dalloway steps out of her house into the New York
morning, echoing the first scene of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.
She compares going out into the day to entering a swimming pool.
Her everyday life comforts and preserves her as if she were underwater,
but the darker ramifications of the prologue imply that Clarissa
is drowning in her own existence. Though buoyed by the events of
normal life, she runs the risk of being sucked down and consumed
Domestic objects in The Hours ground
each scene in tangible, imaginable reality. Each object’s precise,
simple description vividly depicts the various locations of the
novel, conveying a sense of place vital to our imaginings of the
three characters’ worlds The domestic life of each character carries
significance: Virginia feels frustrated by her life in the suburbs
and wants to return to the city, and she has trouble with the tasks
of managing a household. Clarissa loves her apartment and her life,
but she feels ambivalent about the choices she has made and sometimes
feels alienated from the domestic trappings of her home. Laura feels
confined by her role as a housewife, and though she has a cookie-cutter
life, she questions the value of the simple pleasures of domesticity.
In the novel, domestic objects are often introduced as
being of one principal color. Examples include Clarissa’s white
plates, Laura’s blue bowl, the turquoise bedspread in the hotel
Laura visits, Richie’s blue pajamas, Laura’s yellow kitchen, the
white night-table in the attic bedroom at Wellfleet where Clarissa
places her book, and the blue shirt that Walter Hardy buys for Evan.
These colors correspond to the moods and tones of the scenes, and
they emphasize the specificity of the objects.
Flowers are the subject of the famous opening line of Mrs.
Dalloway and appear throughout the The Hours as
tools to brighten moments of charged emotional intensity. In Mrs.
Dalloway, the story begins with the eponymous character
leaving her house to buy flowers for the party that evening. Clarissa
Vaughn leaves her apartment with the same intention. Flowers, particularly
roses, have different connotations for each of the major characters:
for Virginia, the roses around the bed of the dead bird signify
rest and funereal blankness. Clarissa takes great pleasure in the
flowers she buys. She brings Richard flowers to brighten his dark
apartment, and she brings some home to spruce up her own apartment.
When Mary Krull notices the flowers, Clarissa feels defensive, because
they signify a conventional domesticity that Mary wouldn’t approve
of. For Sally, a perfect cluster of roses is a present that she
can knows Clarissa will appreciate. Laura sees the roses that she
puts on the birthday table for Dan as a way to make up for the mental
distance she puts between herself and her family.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Hours!