Characters

Rhoda

Characters Rhoda

Rhoda is an eternal outsider, even more so than Louis, to whom she is drawn for a time. Our first glimpse of Rhoda is as a child, staring into a basin of water that she imagines is her own private ocean. For Rhoda, the world inside her head is a refuge from the external world of other people. She is terrified of human contact, terrified of being criticized and judged. Her deep sense of alienation from others eventually turns into a desire to abandon consciousness altogether, rather than risk losing her perfect solitude through intimacy with others. Her most characteristic gesture, even among friends, is to stare out the window, lost in imagination. Nothing comes easily to Rhoda, and everything seems foreign—she has to carefully copy the way Jinny and Susan dress to avoid making mistakes. She comes to see herself as a ghostlike, faceless figure, drifting through life without affecting others. She ultimately commits suicide, though it is unclear exactly what occurs. Some of Bernard’s comments in the concluding section seem to imply that she leaps from a cliff, perhaps the same one she looks down from earlier in the novel.

Before her tragic end, Rhoda finds some measure of consolation from two sources, the first of which is music. In the wake of Percival’s death, Rhoda enters an opera house and is moved by what she hears. Death is both the ultimate disruption of solitude and its ultimate expression, and the music seems, to Rhoda, like a kind of structure in which she can find temporary shelter. Rhoda is briefly able to find similar solace in her relationship with Louis, but she is unable to maintain the state of intimacy and breaks it off. In the end, Rhoda’s greatest desire is simply to cease desiring and existing. She is drawn away from the basin-ocean, in which she has imaginative control, and into the ocean she sees from the cliffs in Spain, which she thinks of in symbolic terms as death itself—a vast ocean of emptiness and stillness that swallows her up.