Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

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 men are able to enjoy without question. A room of her own would provide a woman with the time and the space to engage in uninterrupted writing time. During Woolf’s time, women rarely enjoyed these luxuries. They remained elusive to women, and, as a result, their art suffered. But Woolf is concerned with more than just the room itself. She uses the room as a symbol for many larger issues, such as privacy, leisure time, and financial independence, each of which is an essential component of the countless inequalities between men and women. Woolf predicts that until these inequalities are rectified, women will remain second-class citizens and their literary achievements will also be branded as such.


The two dinners the narrator describes in great detail in Chapter 1 represent the disparity of resources given to men and women intellectuals. The delicious and pleasurable food at Oxbridge is evidence of the success of Oxbridge’s scholarships and of the money invested into men’s education. It also can be read as representative of the vast and rich canon of male writers that contemporary writers have to inspire them, as in the narrator’s view of the canon, all books respond to and draw from the work that came before. Thus, the meager and miserly dinner the women eat at Fernham emphasizes what little women intellectuals and writers have to work with. Not only is little invested into them, but they must work and think despite their discomfort. In addition, because there is a smaller canon of women writers, they still must invent their own style without sufficient models to work from. Thus, when the narrator says, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” she is metaphorically stating that without a writer being full of resources, comfort, and knowledge, they cannot hope to pursue their craft.

The Bookshelf

The narrator’s bookshelf symbolizes the canon of English literature. Full of seemingly every book she needs, the narrator turns to the bookshelf in order to explore the books that survive from every era of British literature starting with the Elizabethan period. Thus, when Woolf notes the blank spaces on the bookshelf from women writers, she is referring to the lack of writers of those time periods. However, the gender disparity on the bookshelf decreases as she considers her present day, when women writing was more common, though not uncontroversial. Imagining the canon of literature as a seemingly infinitely stocked bookshelf helps the narrator illuminate how books throughout history have influenced each other. Thus, as she looks at the work of the fictional Mary Carmichael, a brand new novel just published, she mentions Jane Austen, whose work she pulled from the shelf in the previous chapter.