The Waves is a stream-of-consciousness narrative and experimental novel.


The novel is narrated by the six main characters, switching between their separate yet interrelated internal monologues.

Point of View

The point of view of The Waves is complex. Each individual narrator speaks in the first person, reporting his or her thoughts and impressions, as they occur, in a highly subjective way. However, the narrative is broken up and framed by a description of a passing day that is told in the voice of none of the characters, which introduces an objective element into the novel. Further, the shift in narration from character to character is signaled by a formulation such as “said Bernard,” or “said Rhoda,” indicating the presence of a bare-bones version of a third-person narrator, though this narrator is silent, allowing the characters to speak and think for themselves.


The tone of the novel is dreamy, lyrical, and sad.


The narrative frame—the description of a passing day—is told in the past tense. The internal monologues of the characters are given as the thoughts occur: mostly in the present tense, with shifts into the past for memories.

Setting (Time & Place)

The Waves is set the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its setting is England, in several locales, from the countryside, to a university, to London.


The six major characters are all in some sense protagonists, but Bernard becomes the most prominent by the end of the novel.

Major Conflict

The six characters’ struggle to understand themselves and to come to terms with the death of their friend Percival.

Rising Action

Everything in The Waves up until Percival’s death is its rising action.


The dinner party before Percival’s departure is the climax of the novel.

Falling Action

Everything following Percival’s death is the falling action of The Waves.


Examples of foreshadowing in The Waves include: 1) Rhoda is attracted to water from the beginning and is haunted by death throughout, as in the scene at the cliff, foreshadowing her eventual suicide; 2) Louis imagines Percival’s death before it happens; 3) Bernard sees the porpoise fin before he learns what it means; 4) as a child, Susan runs into the woods, away from Jinny’s world and toward nature, where she eventually chooses to spend her life.