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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
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Waves!