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The Mark on the Wall Questions and Answers

The Mark on the Wall Questions and Answers 10

A CRITICAL EVALUATION [BROAD TYPE QUESTIONS: 10/15 MARKS]

1. Theme

[Q. What is the personal experience in the text “The Mark on the Wall”?

Or, Q. What change in the depiction of reality does the author foresee for future novelists?

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Or, Q. Describe some of the ideas expressed by the narrator throughout the story.]

“The Mark on the Wall” is the gradually unfolding revelation-through concentrically associative rings of thought-of one female character, the nameless narrator. However, it is not merely the revelation of one person’s mind, as it also reveals the collective mentality and ethos of England at a crucial time in its history-that is, during World War I. Indeed, the time during which this story takes place is essential to understanding its central conflict, and this, again, concerns the narrator’s state of mind.

In 1917, Britain, like most of the other European countries, is fighting a war; also like the other countries, it is ruled by men, “men of action-men, we assume, who don’t think.” However, the narrator does think about and question “the mark” these men are leaving on the wall of the thinking person’s mind. Thus, Virginia Woolf bases her story on Plato’s allegory of the cave, which describes-in Socrates’ wordshumans chained to one wall in such a way that they are prevented from looking in any direction other than straight ahead at the cave wall in front of them; on this wall are shadows of stick figures cast from behind the wall to which the humans are bound. Shadows, then, are all that these prototypical humans know as reality. Even so, Socrates says, if one of these people is set free, taken out of the cave and shown the world of light and three dimensional forms, and if-after discovering that what he thought was real in the cave was only shadows-he returns to tell the other people that what they think is reality is insubstantial, then the others would kill him if they could.

Like Plato’s allegory, Woolf’s story concerns the nature of truth, justice, and wisdom. In like manner, as Plato believed that truth consists of ideas that can be discovered and understood only through systematic thinking, Woolf’s narrator thinks about the mark on the wall-thinks, that is, about the nature of reality and self. What she discovers is threatening to her existence because it goes against the grain of a table of precedency and what it (“the masculine point of view”) points to as the “real standard things.” This is why Woolf introduces the second character into the story at the end, as this is a person who believes in action and who is-unlike the narratorbored because “nothing ever happens.” Such a person serves as a foil, illustrating the profound difference between those people who live by the dictates of external facts (a snail on our wall”) and precedents, and those individuals who save themselves and their visions of a better, healthier life than a table of precedency offers a society.

Just as the artists whose work was shown in the Post-Impressionist Exhibition were interested in seeing the world in new ways, Woolf at least since that show in 1910 was thinking about the limits and restrictions of familiar forms of literary expression. At the time that she was writing the short pieces that appeared in Monday or Tuesday (1921), she was also writing and continually revising her ideas about “Modern Fiction” in the essay of that name that eventually was published in 1925 in The Common Reader. A theme that runs through that work, restated on several occasions, is that: The writer seems constrained not by his own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love, interest, and an air of probability embalming the whole . . .

Woolf felt it was essential to escape from this confinement. The woman’s thoughts circle round and round the mark on the wall, repeatedly going off on tangents but gradually getting closer. At first she sees the mark as a depression or hole in the wall, then as a blemish, like a leaf on the surface, and finally, correctly, as a round protuberance, like the head of a nail. This is as close as she can come by means of speculation. In order to reach the truth it is necessary to move close enough to examine the thing itself.

Virginia Woolf is often known as a revolutionary of prose and often used themes that were new and hyper-realist. When it comes to existentialism, Woolf often uses realistic observations of the modern world to captivate the reader, sending them on a journey of language through her wild and yet, poetic style of prose in which she will compare the tiniest molecule of life to the entire universe and the object and idea itself all at once. This style of realism is often considered to drift from the storyline, but within these existential ideas is Woolf’s own thoughts veer the reader back to the main plot via an observation on life that is something to do with the actual title and plot. This shows that there is far more to the plot than what the title may suggest and also shows that there may be more than one meaning to the title of which we have not realised until we have read the entire thing.

 

Virginia Woolf also uses thrilling ideas of nature and the natural state of being that constitutes life and death – stating that the anthology was written in “a flash, as if flying, after being kept stone breaking for months…” – the idea seems to be to make the anthology look as if it had been written in only a few drafts and from most ideas that came from the top of her head and from the depths of her heart. There are many themes that link us to other books by Virginia Woolf such as the themes of existentialism and hyper-focus that are worked in to the depths of “Jacob’s Room” (1922) and the realism of emotion in the acts of the mundane that are most often associated with “Mrs Dalloway” (1925) are seen in many of the short stories within this particular text.

With darker themes than many Woolf readers may be used to and the arguments of philosophy are introspective to a new degree since the stories are shorter than Woolf’s usual writings. Therefore, when the reader analyzes the text for details, there are perceptions that seem a lot longer than the perceptions of the same situations and philosophies the reader encounters in Woolf’s novellas and novels. However, the themes are relatively the same.

In “The Mark on the Wall” Virginia Woolf often strays from the true point of the story in which she analyses a mark on one of her walls. However, she fills the story with an analysis on life, death, humanity and the darkness of the soul. Even when describing the mark on the wall itself, life seems dark and often unsettling: “The mark was a small round mark, black upon the white wall about six or seven inches above the mantelpiece.”

From this point on, Woolf honestly becomes obsessed with the mark on the wall, often relenting into analysing her social situation, her life and the way in which the world works in order to get her mind off the mark. Be that as it may, her mind goes in one full circle, coming back to the endlessness of the mark on the wall, no matter what it actually is. It is not the mark that is actually important but instead where the mark takes her mind: “But as for the mark, I’m not sure about it; I don’t believe it was made by a nail after all; it’s too big, too round, for that. I might get up, but if I got up and looked at it, ten to one I shouldn’t be able to say for certain; because once a thing’s done no one ever knows how it happened. O dear me, the mystery of life! The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity!”

This is how the mark on the wall leads her thoughts to another aspect of humanity, however – there is another side to this in which humanity and existentialism lead her to discovering what the mark on the wall actually is: “Even so, life isn’t done with; there are a million patient, watchful lives still for a tree, all over the world, in bedrooms, in ships, on the pavement, lining rooms where men and women sit after tea, smoking cigarettes… Nothing ever happens. Curse this war! Goddamn this war! All the same, I don’t see why we should have a snail on our wall. Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail.”

It is a factor that repeats itself in Woolf’s fiction almost constantly and, like in “The

Mark on the Wall”, the reader receives an existential analysis on humanity whilst being slowly drawn back to the main point of the story – but are left incomplete of the narrator’s true thoughts for they are more suited to the term ‘stream-ofconsciousness’ than plot-driven narrative: “Wordless voices, breaking the silence suddenly with such depth of the contentment, such passion of desire, or, in the voices of children, such freshness of surprise; breaking the silence? But there was no silence; all the time the motor omnibuses were turning their wheels and changing their gear; like a vast of Chinese boxes all of wrought steel turning ceaselessly one within the other the city murmured; on the top of which the voices cried aloud and the petals of myriads of flowers flashed their colours into the air.”

The narrator often stops on a very particular subject for longer and does less of a stream-of-consciousness as they are trying to avert from talking about their own particular situation of having something unfinished. It is apparent to the reader that there is no way to return to this unfinished and unwritten business unless the narrator stops purposefully avoiding it and faces the problem which is often much deeper than the unwritten novel itself: “Grey is the landscape; dim as ashes; the water murmurs and moves. If I fall on my knees, if I go through the ritual, the ancient antics, it’s you, unknown figures, you I adore; if I open my arms, it’s you I embrace, you I draw to me – adorable world!”

The darkness of the landscape and the narrator’s mind by the end of the narrative is often associated with this liberation from the one thing holding them back and remaining ‘unwritten’ and ‘unfinished’ in the text and thus, when freed – they can seek to concentrate on the world, themselves and on other aspects of life and death that they would not have been able to concentrate on before. Although, this can also be seen as another aversion and so, the reader is actually unaware as to whether the problem is actually resolved or whether it is just being averted yet again.

These themes are repeated throughout the texts within the book and no matter how long or short the story is, the reader if led through an existential crisis in the form of a stream-of-consciousness and then, led back to the narrative. This can be for one of three reasons: the first reason being that the narrator is overtly focused on what the object can represent, the narrator is avoiding the situation purposefully or that the narrator is trying to apply this object to their own personal situation which the reader can only view in the frame of the narrative and therefore, never know the true or full story. It is a feature that appears in many of Virginia Woolf’s novels and novellas to come afterwards.

In The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf we have the theme of uncertainty, religion, change, trust and gender roles. Taken from her The Complete Shorter Fiction collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed female narrator and Woolf appears to be using stream of consciousness. Just as an individual while in thought might jump from one thing to another this is very much the case in the story for the narrator as she tries to figure out what the mark on the wall in her sitting room may be.

Though the narrator resolves the issue as to what the mark may be (a snail) there are other issues in the story in which the narrator remains uncertain. Some of these issues include the fact that the narrator’s world appears to be dominated by men yet the narrator is uncertain as to why this has to be the case. She cannot think of logical explanation as to why men must rule the/her world. Similarly when it comes to the matter of religion the narrator does not have the faith that others may have due to the fact that the Church is also male dominated.

It is possible that Woolf (and the narrator) are criticising the role of men. In fact there are only three certainties that the narrator can see. The first being that newspapers are a waste of time as ‘nothing ever happens.’ Secondly the narrator is sure of her feelings about the war (cursed war) and thirdly the narrator realises that the mark on the wall is definitely a snail.

It is also possible that by believing that ‘nothing ever happens’ the narrator is accepting that there will be no change in her life or in her position as a woman. She will play the dutiful wife and things will progress as they always have. There is no sense that the narrator sees the possibility of change. The fact that the war is also in progress for three years (the story was written in 1917) may compound the narrator’s feelings of paralysis. She has no role to play in the war as her role in life has already been defined by society. The war is a man-made problem and will be fought and won by men. The role of the female at the time would have been to be subservient to the male. Something that Woolf may be exploring as the narrator is thinking about self-protection when she feels as though she may embarrass herself in conversation while discussing the fact that she has seen a ‘flower growing on a dust heap.

It is also noticeable that the narrator is at first inquisitive as to what the mark on the wall may be though as the story progresses there is a sense that she is irritated by the imperfection of the mark. If anything the mark on the wall is an imperfection that mirrors society at the time. As mentioned the female had a secondary role to the male and Woolf may be symbolically using the mark on the wall and its sense of imperfection to highlight the imperfect world that existed at the time. It may also be important that the narrator is conscious of the differences between male and female. All the power rests with men not only domestically (at home) but politically too. With women not being allowed to vote at the time the story was written. Again the female had one role to play and that was to be subservient to the male. Open dialogue with a marriage was not something that was promoted. A husband’s words were often taken as being what was meant to be.

The fact that the narrator appears to be comfortable when it comes to nature might also be important as by focusing so heavily on nature the narrator might be beginning to challenge her own world and how she lives it. There is a sense that the narrator trusts nature yet the same cannot be said for how she feels about her own personal environment. It is possible that the narrator in her life longs for the freedom that she associates with nature. Trees in particular for the narrator are special. They survive all that life throws at them and even when dead they have a purpose. long after the tree is gone. This may be important

The wood from trees lives on as the narrator may be symbolically comparing herself to a tree and longing to have the purpose (even in death) that a tree may have. If this is the case then it suggests that the irritability that the narrator has shown from the beginning of the story when trying to figure out what the mark on the wall may be. Continues right till the end of the story. However what has changed is the fact that the mark on the wall no longer has the same precedence for the narrator. Instead she is looking not only externally at the male dominated world around her but internally too. Trying to figure out what role she as a woman can play in life. The reader also suspects that the role the narrator wants to play is one that is as permanent as the wood that comes from trees.

The mark on the wall, still unidentified, represents the external facts of life against which it is folly to rebel, facts from which one cannot stay very far without risking great confusion. The mark recalls her awareness of the actual room in which she is sitting. Concentrating on the room, she brushes aside rigid social and intellectual categories and ponders the objectivity of nature. Her position illustrates what S. P. Rosenbaum has described Woolf’s philosophical realism.

The mark on the wall, the narrator says, represents “the impersonal world which is proof of some existence other than ours.” Whatever it is, the mark offers a mediating term between the abstract generalizations of the masculine order and the escapism of a purely subjective vision. As Rosenbaum has observed, Woolf believes that “sanity and sense involve the interrelation of thought and external reality, of consciousness and the objects of consciousness.”

2. The Significance of the Title

[Q. What is the meaning of the title ‘The Mark on the Wall’? Discuss briefly.

Or, Q. What function does the mark on the wall serve? Justify the significance.]

This story of one individual’s mind under pressure begins casually: “Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall. In order to fix the date it is necessary to remember what one saw.” However, what the narrator saw in the external world moments before seeing the mark-that is, the shade of light on the pages of the book she was reading, the three chrysanthemums in a bowl, and the smoke of her cigarette-serve as definite landmarks by which she may locate herself; such location of self becomes increasingly important as the narrative progresses.

With the opening of The Mark on the Wall the reader is thrown into a stable world as the story starts rather naturally with no presentiment of stream of surreal

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contemplation. The story basically begins with the note of a mark on the wall which paves the way for future musing. However, as one can witness, the purpose of the mark changes throughout the plot of the story. Yet originally it serves as a checkpoint for the assessment of time because according to Virginia ‘to fix a date it is necessary to remember what one saw.

In terms of time, the story is transferred into the past when the narrator first noticed the mark. The situation unwinds the narrator in the past who was interrupted from their own thinking of the cavalcade of red knights riding up the side of the black rock.’ In this part, a reader can encounter a contemplation within a contemplation which is rather intricate and easy to become embroiled in. However, the story goes back to the simple and present mark on the wall. This time, the mark represents a bridge between the fancy and the real world in which the narrator is. The reality functions as a crossroads from which one is sent to free and uncontrolled situations. The contrast of the both worlds is more visible with the factual description of the mark. ‘In the short story Mark on the Wall…Woolf fixes reality into one single point (represented by a mark on a wall) and around this point circumvents a stream of consciousness consisting of multiple strings of associations.’

The narration abruptly changes back to the stream of reflections of thoughts and leads to the question of purpose. The narrator asks who and why did make the mark. This leads to change of the situation to another occurrence, more precisely, to a non present object that was supposed to be the reason for the creation of the mark. ‘If that mark was made by a nail, it can’t have been for a picture, it must have been for a miniature-the miniature of a lady with white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations. In this part, Woolf adds another object to move onto another thought. She thinks about society, namely the people living in the house before the narrator. What makes the narrator think about them, is their absence. This makes them interesting and sets the seedbed for another thought at the same time.

A brief notion of society is depicted via the opinion about art. The opinion was uttered by the precedent who believed that art is to be full of ideas for it should unite torn souls of those who are looking for redemption from the divided society. The disunity is ably described by comparison of an old lady pouring tea and a young man doing a sport activity and somebody rushing to catch a train. Those differences do not have to be necessarily pejorative, however, they certainly do depict at least a narrow view of the situation and thus the probable message of Virginia Woolf. This could lead to the presumptions of occurrences as the division of society is nowadays (as well as at the time of Woolf) seen as something noxious.

‘But as for that mark, I’m not sure about it; I don’t believe it was made by a nail after all;’ Being drawn back to the tangible world which seems to be circumventing solely around the mysterious mark, Woolf opens a question of ‘mystery of life’ as she deflates the power of her own tool thoughts. She claims that thought is not accurate, and people are unstable as far as inner minds are concerned. –

Yet the vital quintessence is the relation between the tangible world and intangible minds. Virginia Woolf compares the ostensible importance of materialism. Given the time when she wrote The Mark on the Wall, we could say that the inclusion of materialistic problematics is due to World War I and the upcoming threat of World War II. The inconveniences of both wars were the reason for people to elude. Be it the elusion into the world of thoughts or the world of objects, the relation of both is vast.

However, Woolf’s latter effort to compare life to everything else seems rather questionable. As everything on earth is made of (or because of) life itself, it is irrelevant to compare life to anything that already happens to take its place on earth. Yet the tendency of comparison might lead to existentialist approach. The sole human being cleansed from every influence stands before god and tries to reach the knowledge to obtain its purpose on earth. This remark is supported by Woolf’s own words which say that to find who we are, we must be ‘shot out at the feet of God entirely naked!’ The description of the shooting offers the view of her idea of the time running out. She calls it the ‘rapidity of life’. The rapidity leads to life after death where she claims people should not be born the way they are born here on earth as they are too helpless and defenceless. She, in a certain manner, leads her thoughts towards the end of everything saying that there will be chaos and the purpose of everything will evolve and all ‘as time goes on, become more definite, become-I don’t know what….. To be more precise, definite means chaotic for the more one elaborates the more difficult field of work gets.

Now, the mark is not hole at all as it may be a spatial substance. A dust maybe. The particle of dust leading the reader back to tangibility. Those means of transitions are very subtle and well managed that it seems rather natural and non-invasive which strongly supports the relation of both material and immaterial worlds. While unravelling the real world, Woolf also materializes the thoughts itself. She brings them into reality explicitly describing her effort to think. The tree tapping on the window pane interrupts her ability to think as if the reality averted her from the escape to the realm of mind. The explicitness undermines the implicitness for people in need of concreteness which might be the reason why as the society evolves we tend to divert ourselves from the spiritual path. She even uses Shakespeare’s musing as an instrument of divine intervention, but she later rejects this idea and praises the simplicity, power and beauty of a personal stream of thoughts.

Moreover, the story shapeshifts into a polemic about people’s perception of themselves. Woolf implicitly claims that one puts the image of his soul to a separate world where it might with equanimity rest without being judged, destroyed and dismantled by others as well as by its own carrier. Because the inner self is what really matters to Virginia and our physical bodies are mere containers for without soul there is …only that shell of a person which is seen by other people-what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes!’ Whereas the soul has many

shapes and Virginia uses this contemplation to remark her opinion about novels in the future. She claims that novelists will proceed to descriptions of souls rather than descriptions of reality and says that ‘those are the depths they will explore, those the phantoms they will pursue, leaving the description of reality more and more out of their stories.’

Describing the way of perception of humans, Woolf uses furniture and human activities as a transition back to the real world which she disrupts right away stating that even those palpable objects are not real at all as it just helps to establish false freedom. Questioning freedom and whether it really exists leads readers to the inferiority of women. The line ‘Men perhaps, should you be a woman; the masculine point of view which governs our lives’ vividly shows the narrator’s (and maybe Woolf’s) opinion about the contemporary situation in which men were superior to their feminine counterparts and controlled their everyday life.

The mark on the wall abruptly takes spacious shape and reacts with the surroundings by leaving a shadow and after another stream of consciousness, in which there is described a brief sense of society, the narrator suspects the mark is not a hole anymore but rather a head of a nail. As the mark was a bridge between tangibility and intangibility it now inclines towards the realness. The nail is now being used to describe its history in the particular wall and at the same time associated history of women’s status as ‘the head of a gigantic old nail, driven in two hundred years ago, which has now, owing to the patient attrition of many generations of housemaids, revealed its head above the coat of paint, and is taking its first view of modern life…what should I gain?-Knowledge? Matter for further speculation?’ The connection between the history of nail and contemporary women is considerable. The question whether the narrator should gain knowledge strikes right into the core of feminism.

Equality – the ability to speculate and put women’s hand to the plough. This part is the most significant transition between reality and fancy in The Mark on the Wall, not merely in the language usage but rather in the discussion it gives birth to. The discussion about respect and acknowledgment. ‘One could imagine a very pleasant world…A world without professors or specialists or house-keepers with the profiles of policemen, a world which one could slice with one’s thought as a fish slices the water with his fin… The world would be a candid place where freedom would evolve into its unabridged form removing all the set phenomena. Virginia mentions Whitaker’s Table of Precedency blaming it for the inauspicious organisation of society. ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury is followed by the Lord High Chancellor; the Lord High Chancellor is followed by the Archbishop of York.’ The essence of thought is considered as a power to break out from the vicious circle of predominance.

All in all, the mark becomes a ‘plank in the sea’ and offers certain stability and concreteness in the world of ambiguity caused by thought. ‘Here is something definite, something real.’ Virginia now relies on material in effort to find some stable and firm ground for conclusion. The essential forms of natural prototypes provide candidness,

beauty of simplicity, beauty of life in its rudiments as opposed to degenerated manners of people. Praising nature evokes calmness which is being hunted during World War 1. The great aim, the great solution. Not elusion, but effort to become natural and less humanlike. Virginia Woolf basically ‘disintegrates time into separable segments which she then puts together creating a mere illusion of continuity and timestream.

The end of the story throws all thoughts away and undermines their importance as Virginia writes about their vagueness and vicissitude. This feeling is supported by an interruption of monologue as somebody in the room starts talking to the narrator revealing the mystery behind the mark on the wall. It’s just a snail. The conclusion seems simple. Yet as the mark changes its purpose throughout the story, it may be claimed that we can never be in fact sure about anything because even the ‘plank

in the sea’ ceases to be a stable point in the universe of The Mark on the Wall. Perhaps men have completely misinterpreted the mark on the wall? In this seemingly innocuous fashion, Woolf challenges the prevailing masculine point of view, with its quick judgments, interest in war, and general propensity for making (as well as interpreting) its mark on the wall of civilization. In effect, the story’s conclusion argues for a gender-inflected definition of women as a subclass.

Woolf has made the mark black on a white wall, suggesting that black and white, absolute categories are not always what they seem. She subverts the monolithic category of class here by her emphasis on its gender inflection. Woolf also employs effective Horatian satire throughout this short story, but particularly with her last lines: “Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail”. The two lines constitute their own paragraph. One might expect that the exclamation point would occur after the second sentence (the “aha” experience of the real thingness of the mark on the wall), but instead the final sentence could be interpreted as revealing the stereotypically matterof-fact male point of view

in declaring and labeling the truth of an experience.

The “Mark” on the wall can be seen as ‘Self’, ‘Subject’, ‘Identity’, and it is playing the role of a symbol for any signifier which is attributed arbitrarily to a signified, defined by and within any sign system. What Woolf’s method of narration suggests, is the importance of ‘how’ one’s subjectivity or interiority determines the ‘Existence’ and the ‘Reality’ of an external object. “Everything is moving, falling, slipping, vanishing… There is a vast upheaval of matter”.

In “The Mark on the Wall”, which is published as the last of eight short stories collected in Monday or Tuesday, Woolf is “lodging […] upon” “the mystery of life; the inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity! To show how very little control of our possessions we have what an accidental affair this living is after all our civilization”. –

The mark on the wall in the story of the same name might not be the snail which a supposedly male companion so definitely labels it as being. It might simply represent a fragment of the male point of view, much as the fragments in “Solid Objects” and the objects left behind in Jacob’s Room. therefore, the title of the story is apt and justified at the end.

3. The Structure

[Q. What happens with the notion of plot in this story? Or, Q. What technique does Virginia Woolf use to write it? Explain what this technique consists of and trace its origin.

Or, Q. In “the mark on the wall”, how does the snail of one’s “streamof-consciousness” represent an antidote to the speed, the “perpetual waste and repair” of outward modern life?]

“The Mark on the Wall,” which Virginia Woolf wrote in one sitting in 1917 while recuperating from a long illness, was her breakthrough into a new experimental form of fiction. Concentrating on the narrator’s thoughts and mental states, Woolf tested the limits of the short story form by placing her emphasis on the inner life rather than on external action. Variations of stream-of-consciousness or interior monologue techniques like those in “The Mark on the Wall” were also being explored at the time by James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence, but Woolf combined modernist techniques with a new feminist consciousness.

The narrator’s play on immobility and the supple movements of her thought anticipate Samuel Beckett’s immobile, speculative characters. Woolf’s emphasis on philosophical reflections, as critics like James Hafley and Avrom Fleishman have observed, makes the story resemble an imaginative essay, but the subtle characterization of the speaker places it in the realm of fiction.

The story is an epistemological satire about the narrator’s attempts to identify a mark on the wall across the room without getting up from her chair. Speculating about the mark, she recognizes the forces that prevent her from seeing the world as it is. She is limited on the one hand by rigid social and intellectual conventions and on the other by purely subjective fantasies. The fantasies seem liberating, but they bring their own distortion, blurring her vision at times so that she cannot distinguish men and women from trees. She keeps reminding herself that she must refer to an external reference point, like the mark on the wall, but without moving to discover what it is. The unreliability of her efforts to know the world is mitigated by the solidity of natural phenomena, though the narrator is for the moment too involved in her speculations to check their relation to the truth.

Because the story imitates spontaneous thought, its underlying logic is at first less obvious than the above summary suggests. Its effect depends on the humor with which Woolf presents the narrator’s wayward reflections, while at the same time shrewdly staying on course toward the final disclosures.

Early in the story the narrator ponders the flow of time, considering whether life is entirely accidental or whether on the contrary it follows an intelligible pattern. Is there any rhyme or reason in things, she asks, any way to explain how she could lose such bulky objects as a coal scuttle and a hand organ, which just seemed to disappear off the face of the earth? The ctical people who run the world do not recognize such mysteries. Theirs is a domain of “generalizations,” barren formulas that regiment and limit the mind. She remembers the Victorian world of her childhood,

when society was governed by rigid rules for everything from parliamentary procedure to the way to sew tablecloths. This dominant “masculine point of view which governs lives” leaves hardly any room for imagination. our

But she believes that there is another sphere “after life,” a more spiritual state in which some sign of a larger purpose can perhaps be found. She imagines withdrawing into a purely subjective dream state in which she can be free, as if floating weightless underwater, but of course she knows that the old social and political rules still dominate the surface world. Can she connect these two worlds? For a moment she thinks of Shakespeare, who managed to be both a practical man of the theater and a poetic genius, but since she knows so little about him, his example cannot help her. Shakespeare is merely a “historical fiction,” and she needs something tangible to guide her.

The story is amplified by disclosures at the very end. The final angry remark about World War I broadens the frame of reference, and Alex Zwerdling has properly described “The Mark on the Wall” as a war story. The war is symptomatic of an imbalance between the outer and inner realms, a clash between the social order and the private self that, as the narrator says, blurs our vision, ultimately also creating the need to fight. The snail, on which the story focuses at the end, suggests the moderating influence of nature. With its mollusk’s shell around a soft inner body, the snail symbolizes a harmonious union of outer and inner spheres.

Utilizing a stream of consciousness style, Virginia’s “The Mark on the Wall” begins with the narrator observing a mark on the wall and hypothesizing about what it could be. In these deliberations, the mind of this narrator tends to wander and she (or he) reflects on topics of knowledge, time, nature, and the like, turning back to discussing the mark whenever her thoughts become too unpleasant. At the end of the work, another voice in the room interrupts her thoughts and reveals the mark to be a snail. On the other hand, Leonard’s work in this object, “Three Jews,” represents an exploration of Judaism and contains the narrative of a Jewish father disowning his son after marrying a non-Jewish woman. The pairing of these two works truly emphasizes the novelty of Virginia’s style in “The Mark on the Wall.” When reading one after the other, the innovation of language, stream of consciousness style, and lack of defined plot all found in “The Mark on the Wall” become more pronounced when compared to the relatively simple, realistic narrative of Leonard’s “Three Jews.”

At one point in this story, the narrator remarks how “dull” fiction is which gives the reader only an external description of a given character; if “only that shell of a person… is seen by other people,” then the world will be made to seem “airless, shallow, [and] bald.” No, she says, people are more than one-dimensional shells, and “the novelists in the future will realize more and more the importance of . . . reflections [as those seen in mirrors], for of course there is not one reflection but almost infinite numbers; those are the depths they will explore . . . leaving the description of reality more and more out of their stories.” By “reality” here she means that which is external to a character’s inner self. “The Mark on the Wall” is itself a

paradigm of such a narrative attempt to communicate numerous “reflections” of one character’s being, and this was an important accomplishment for Woolf.

The style of this story came as an artistic breakthrough for Woolf, as it proved to be a decisive break away from the relatively traditional fiction she had written prior to 1917. Indeed, in one of her journals she noted that this story showed her how she could embody her deposit of experience in a shape that fit it; this discovery, she believed, led to the creation of her novels Jacob’s Room (1922) and Mrs. Dalloway (1925). The narrative technique used in both of these novels, like that used in “The Mark on the Wall,” is essentially impressionistic and circuitous, as the narrative focus in all three reveals its subject as ultimately indefinable and only describable through concentric rings of associations. Whether these various associations belong to the narrator in relation to a given character or to a character in relation to others and view that life and people are mercurially mutable.

 

At the time she wrote “The Mark on the Wall,” Woolf was quite enthusiastic about the work of James Joyce (if somewhat uncertain about the early chapters she saw of Ulysses), praising him for his ability “to reveal the flickerings of that innermost flame which flashes its messages through the brain.” In summarizing her own technique in “The Mark on the Wall,” she described those messages as “myriad impressions” which she listed as “trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel.” Her efforts to record the flow or stream of consciousness paralleling what Joyce was doing drew on two crucial, revolutionary components of Modernism. One was the work of the Post-Impressionist painters. The other, which she was much less directly familiar with, was the theoretical work being done in particle physics and quantum mechanics, an aspect of the Zeitgeist that Woolf was aware of.

Roger Fry immediately recognized her inspiration in the work of the artists who were featured in his famous exhibition, complimenting Woolf on the “plasticity” of “The Mark on the Wall,” and Woolf responded by saying “I’m not sure that a perverted plastic sense doesn’t somehow work itself out in words for me.” The concept of plasticity is somewhat vague, but in “The Mark on the Wall,” Woolf muses over the mutability of boundaries between species or categories: As for saying which are trees, and which are men and women, or whether there are such things, that one I won’t be in a condition to do for fifty years or so.

As in a Post-Impressionist painting, “There will be nothing but spaces of light and dark, intersected by thick stalks, and rather higher up perhaps, rose-shaped blots of an indistinct color.”

“No, no, nothing is proved, nothing is known (58).” This quote from “The Mark on the Wall” already reveals one of the major themes of Virginia Woolf’s writing, the uncertainty of knowledge. By using a unique style of writing she shows how we try to make sense of our lives and give meaning to everything in the world. At the same time there is a profound feeling of not being able to fully understand what this existence is about.

In its mediating vision “The Mark on the Wall,” which was collected in Monday or

Tuesday (1921), anticipates Woolf’s major novels, including Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927). Although the story implicitly suggests an epistemological theme, its appeal to most readers, as Woolf’s biographer Lyndall Gordon has pointed out, is based on a humorous evocation of simple objects and ordinary domestic life.

4. The Story in Brief

[Q. “The Mark on the Wall” by Virginia Woolf1. At first, why does the narrator not believe the mark was made by a nail?

Or, Q. What does this mark on the wall cause the narrator to discuss in this story? What does the narrator realize she must do to know what the mark on the wall really is? What actually is the mark on the wall?]

The narrator muses that it must have been January of the present year when she first detected a small, round, dark mark on the wall. This mark will serve as the impetus for the entire story. She then states that “in order to fix a date”, it “is necessary to remember what one saw”. Next, she recalls the fire, a ray of light on her book, and three chrysanthemums in a vase, in order to doubly verify her recollection that it was winter when she first saw the mark. She also recalls that she was smoking a cigarette when she looked up and saw the mark for the very first time. She remarks that the mark was small and round, black upon the white wall, and about six or seven inches above the mantelpiece.

She muses that the mark cannot have been made by a nail used to secure a picture, and instead concludes that it must have been made to mount a miniature of “a lady with white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations”. She states that this miniature must have been a fraud, because the people who lived in the house before her would have chosen an old picture for an old room. She then reveals that she thinks of the former inhabitants of the house often, and imagines them in all kinds of strange places, although she will never know what actually became of them.

The narrator then reconsiders the mark, and revises her former opinion, stating that it is too big and too round to have been made by a nail. She asserts that she could get up to investigate it further but that even if she did, she still wouldn’t be able to tell for certain, “because once a thing’s done, no one ever knows how it happened”. She then expresses a lamentation about the “mystery of life,” “the inaccuracy of thought,” and “the ignorance of humanity”.

Next, she asserts that, in order to demonstrate the fact that humans have very little control over their possessions, and that living is primarily composed of accidents, she will recite a list of only a few of the items that can be lost in one lifetime. She then recites a list of sundry items. She finds it to be a wonder that she even has the clothes on her back, and the furniture in her room, and likens life to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles per hour, landing at the other end with all of one’s hair pins blown off, and arriving at God’s feet completely naked.

The narrator then likens the afterlife to “the slow pulling down of thick green

stalks so that the cup of the flower, as it turns over, deluges one with purple and red light”. She conjectures that, in symmetry that feels right to her, one comes into a state of consciousness very similar to that of a baby in the afterlife. She prognosticates that, after death, one will not be able to distinguish the shapes around them for about fifty years, after which time even more mystery awaits.

The narrator then pronounces that the mark on the wall is not a hole at all; it may be a blemish caused by a round black substance, such as a small rose leaf. She impugns her own housekeeping skills, citing the dust on the mantelpiece as evidence of her negligence. This reminds her of an austere woman who is a housekeeper. The woman has a profile that resembles a policeman. In her mind, the woman menacingly draws near to her, pointing out the dirty places in her home. The narrator feels that she must “end” this woman by taking action and finally getting up to investigate the mark once and for all. However, the narrator then refuses to “be beaten,” and resolves not to move, and thereby not to humor the woman in her conjuration. The vision of the woman therefore fades, along with the woman’s insinuations. The narrator remarks that she will settle her score with the woman at another time.

The narrator tells us that she now desires to “think quietly, calmly, spaciously,” and that she does not want to be interrupted, or roused from her chair. She wishes to allow her mind to freely associate, and to think deeply. In order to steady herself, she catches hold of the first idea that passes through her mind, which turns out to be Shakespeare. She then quickly abandons that train of thought, thinking it utterly uninteresting. She wishes that she could “hit upon a pleasant track of thought” that would reflect well on her character.

She then muses about which kinds of thoughts could do that, and reveals that, if she were to think such desirable things, she would stealthily preen her ego within her mind, but that if she began to openly boast about the quality of her thoughts, she would immediately fetch a book in order to stop herself from doing so. She reflects that all people instinctively protect themselves from becoming conceited, and entertains the dreadful thought that when one’s inflated image of self shatters, they are left with “only that shell of a person which is seen by other people”.

She then states that, when she and the people around her face each other in buses and trains, they are really looking in a mirror, which accounts for the vagueness and glassiness of peoples’ expressions. She conjectures that the novelists of the future will come into a fuller understanding and investigation of this fact. They will explore and parse the fact that reality is composed out of a myriad of fragmented reflections, rather than a singular or unifying system of perception.

Next, the narrator reveals that it is both shocking and wonderful to realize that all of the things she remembers about Sunday luncheons are not entirely real; instead, they are “half phantoms, and the damnation which [visits] the disbeliever in them [is] only a sense of illegitimate freedom”. Shewonders what will rise up to take the place of things and recollections that she once thought to be solid, but which are not substantial after all. She entertains the hope that the masculine point of view

which governs the lives of women and sets the standard, while simultaneously growing careworn and thin since the end of the war-will soon be “laughed into the dustbin where the phantoms go”. She reflects that such an occurrence would leave all with an invigorating sense of freedom-if freedom truly exists, that is.

The narrator returns to the mark on the wall. She reveals that, in certain lights, the mark appears to be three-dimensional, and not entirely circular. She remarks that, if she were to run her finger down the wall, it would encounter a small tumulus where the mark is. This reminds her of the barrows on the South Downs, which are either tombs or campgrounds. She prefers to think of them as tombs: “desiring melancholy like most English people and finding it natural at the end of a walk to think of the bones stretched beneath the turf”. She cogitates on these barrows, thinking that there must be a book about them somewhere, written by an antiquary. She contemplates the characteristics of antiquaries-whom she concludes are mostly retired colonels as well as their laborious work, which often ultimately proves nothing.

The narrator declares that, in the end, nothing is proven, and nothing is known. Even if she were to rise up and ascertain what the mark on the wall is, she is uncertain of what she would gain: She might gain knowledge, but she can think just as well sitting where she is. She impugns the learned men of her society as nothing more than “the descendants of witches and hermits who crouched in caves and in woods brewing herbs, interrogating shrew-mice, and writing down the language of the stars”. She asserts that the less these men are falsely honored, the less weight superstitions bear, and the greater “our respect for beauty and health of the mind” is. She remarks that a world unfettered by the worship of these learned men-“a world without professors or specialists or house-keepers with the profiles of policemen”-would be a beautiful world full of peace and freedom. She then woefully remarks that if it weren’t for Whitaker’s Almanack and the Table of Precedency, such a world could be realized.

The narrator states that she really must now get up and ascertain what the mark on the wall is. She calls this gambit “Nature once more at her old game of self preservation”. By this, she means that to get up and classify the mark on the wall as definitively this or that would either be a waste of energy, or some dispute with reality which will be unwinnable against the exacting, empirical knowledge that, say, Whitaker’s Almanack presents. She muses that the Almanack has already catalogued and delineated all things, and that Nature advises the human to let this fact comfort him, rather than enrage him. Ultimately, the narrator believes that Nature prompts people “to take action as a way of ending any thought that threatens to excite or pain”. She concludes that although society condemns men of action as those who do not think thoroughly enough, there would be nothing wrong with taking decisive action, ending her disagreeable thoughts, and looking closely at the mark on the wall. The narrator fixes her eye upon the mark and feels the oppressive influence of

the Almanack-personified by Archbishops and the Lord High Chancellor–flagging. She finds momentary comfort in the mark’s material realness. She likens this experience

to a person grounding themselves using the solidly-material items in their room after waking up from a nightmare. Wooden furniture, for instance, serves as empirical proof of “some existence other than ours”.

This thought sends the narrator into a rumination about wood. She submits to a reverie about trees: trees next to rivers, beneath which cows leisurely graze. Trees that enjoy a dry sensation of wood, and which produce deliciously oozing sap. Trees which stand with their leaves furled on winter nights. Trees which listen to the songs of birds and feel the legs of insects upon them. Trees whose branches eventually fall off. Trees that find new life as articles of furniture in rooms across the world. The narrator states that she should like to think about every tree in the world as a separate entity, but her reverie is suddenly interrupted by someone, ostensibly her husband, saying that they are going to go out to buy a newspaper. The person continues: “Though it’s no good, buying newspapers […] Nothing ever happens. Curse this war! Goddamn this war! […] All the same, I don’t see why we should have a snail on our wall”. The mark on the wall is thus revealed to be a snail.

5. As A Representation of Thought Process

[Q. Discuss Virginia Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall as a representation of human thought process.

Or, Q. What is the author’s perception of the limitations of knowledge and learning?

Or, Q. Describe the unbroken flow of thoughts and perceptions of the narrator’s mind, using the example of the colonel and the clergy.]

“Everything’s moving, falling, slipping, vanishing… There is a vast upheaval of matter.” In Virginia Woolf’s 1917 “The Mark on the Wall”, the narrator is reflecting on the day she saw a marking on her wall and became utterly perplexed by it. As she stares at the wall, the thoughts in her head seem meaningless, just random ideas strung together as they enter her mind. She claims not to be able to remember anything, which is the real purpose of her reveries in this stream-of-consciousness narrative. Upon further consideration, however, it becomes clear that she is really describing the thought process and its challenges, and how difficult it becomes to focus when one is overcome with thought.

As the story opens, the narrator attempts to identify the first time she noticed the mark. This is accomplished by her recollection of the way the fire lit up the pages of her book, and how she was holding a cigarette, making it clear that it was both winter and after her dinnertime. At this point, her memory is serving a purpose, helping her focus on the mark and discover what it is. Yet as she sees the fire, her mind wanders to an old daydream of a fire-colored flag waving over a castle, as knights march by in front. This, she states, was “an old fancy, an automatic fancy, made as a child perhaps”, and she mentions that it is a relief to be interrupted by the sight of the mark, thus ending her first reverie.

This is the first occasion that readers experience the wandering mind of our narrator, and the mention of the childlike quality proves the immaturity of the daydream and its lack of connection to what she is really thinking about.

Her thoughts jump quickly to the mark on the wall, and then immediately she falls back into daydreams, this time pondering how exactly thoughts work, as they “swarm” a new idea so aggressively and then disappear, as if nothing ever happened. This idea is placed at a very interesting point by Woolf, seeing as as soon as the narrator concludes the idea that thoughts can come and go in an instant, she jumps back to the mark. Not only has she now stated that thoughts and ideas are impermanent, we quickly see this in action as she abandons the discussion of thought to consider the mark once again. Each time she is brought back to her topic of the mark, her mind carries her away swiftly so that she can make no progress in discovering what it actually is.

The narrator follows this with an idea that the mark has been made by a nail, which sends her into another reverie, this time about what could have been hanging there. She insists it was a “miniature”, and accompanies this assertion with a colorful yet unnecessary description of the woman in the miniature. Without ever telling her audience why, she begins discussing the previous owners’ redecorating habits, and their particular designs based on each room and the age of the place. This catches readers off guard, confirming that thoughts are fleeting and disconnected. As she reconnects with the mark, the narrator’s thoughts drift towards the idea of thinking itself. She is struck by how common thoughts are yet how they are gone in an instant.

The idea that something is over as soon as it happens, and cannot be recovered, is emphasized as she exclaims “Oh! Dear me, the mystery of life! The inaccuracy of thought… To show how very little control of our possessions we have!” These “possessions” are moments, thoughts and ideas that are not tangible and cannot be grasped on to, which is why they are so fleeting and disconnected. The following lines where the narrator begins to count the things she has lost and immediately cuts into saying “what cat would gnaw, what rat would nibble…” highlights her mental distance from everything she is thinking of.

While her ideas that thoughts are fleeting and quick to disappear are accurate, the narrator’s audience cannot be sure that she is as reliable as she seems. Even as she is considering the images she has lost, presumably all of the times she has lost her train of thought, she loses that idea too and goes into saying things like “three pale blue canisters of book binding tools”, which sounds more like an alliterative melody than an important object she is longing for. It is easily understood that this is a “stream of consciousness” narrative by her lack of dialogue and unrelated consecutive ideas throughout.

Woolf, through the narrator, succeeds in using this style in order to prove the point her narrator is thinking about. As she is telling readers that thoughts are impermanent,

unreliable notions, she is also showing us how they affect a normal stream of thought for a “real” woman, and distract her from her focus – the mark on the wall. Through this, Woolf accomplishes a great feat in forcing every reader to assess their thoughts and ideas, and how they affect our everyday focus.

6. Subjective Reality – A Narrative Analysis

[Q. Briefly illustrate a narrative analysis of the story. Or, Q. What kind of subjective reality can you find in Woolf’s THe Mark on the Wall? Explain.]

In the early twentieth century, Europe endured the pain of World War I, due to which the traditional social structure was under the threat of falling apart. The social unrest triggered the advancement of Western literature.

Some avant-garde writers broke through the tradition of fiction writing with bold innovations, focusing their works on the complicated inner world of individuals and trying to depict their ever-changing thought process. Thus, stream-of-consciousness, a new narrative mode took shape. Among these innovative writers, Virginia Woolf was regarded as one of the greatest modernist literary figures of the twentieth century. “The Mark on the Wall”, a short story published in 1917 in London, was one of her earliest experiments with stream-of-consciousness. In the story, she discarded the traditional structure of stories which was based on plot or time sequence. Instead, by following the narrator’s flow of consciousness, which is arbitrary and ever-changing, Woolf reflected her intricate while delicate feelings towards life and reality.

“The Mark on the Wall” is considered the first sign of modern fiction. In the story, we find no trace of lively characters, detailed setting, or intriguing plot, which are the indispensable elements in traditional fiction. With an unconventional beginning, evolving around “my” continuing flow of consciousness, the story tells, in detail, “my” six unconstrained conjectures of the mark on the wall. After straying into several pages of reflections on society, history, reality, art, and life itself, it finally concludes that the mark is a snail.

In fiction, setting includes the time, location, and everything in which a story takes place. However, “The Mark on the Wall” has no geographical or time reference. Although in the opening sentence, the writer tells us that “Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall”, we still cannot infer the exact time when the narrator’s six unconstrained conjectures of the mark happen because the first paragraph is a mixture of past and present.

To be frank, “The Mark on the Wall” does have characters, “I” and “someone” who doesn’t show up till the end and speaks only two sentences. Yet we know nothing about the main character “I”, the sex, age, identity, occupation, appearance, experience, etc., nothing at all except her (let’s suppose “I” and the writer are identical in gender) boundless and dizzy psychological activities. We know more about her inner world than the physical world.

Without proper setting and lively characters, it would definitely be hard for stories

to present any intriguing plot. This is the case in point in “The Mark on the Wall”. What can be counted as plot is the narrator’s free association of the mark only, no conflict, no ups and downs. Being a pioneer of modern English fiction, Woolf (1925) believes that “if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style”.

The Mark on the Wall” is a narrative with fixed internal focalization. The story begins in the middle of the consciousness of the narrator-“I”. Following and focusing on her subjective consciousness, we plunge ourselves into her inner world. In traditional fiction, the writer usually looks at other people’s action and narrates their stories through the first person narrator “I”. But in this story, the writer disappears. Instead, readers know only the protagonist’s thought process. All the things other than the narrator’s consciousness are unknown.

Looking into the story, we may find there is also an interchange of point of view between the empirical “I” and the narrative “I”, which can be identified through the mixed use of the past tense and the present tense. In the first paragraph, sentences in the past tense distinguish between the notice of the mark for the first time and the ongoing reflections on it by the first person narrator. Though most part of the narrative is in the present tense, telling us different conjectures of the narrative “I” towards the mark on the wall, yet in the seventh paragraph, there are lots of sentences in past tense, which are the retrospect of the first person narrator-the empirical “I”.

“Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall”. In order to pinpoint the time she first saw the mark, the protagonist thinks of “the burning coals”, “the crimson flag flapping from the castle tower”, and “the cavalcade of red knights riding up the side of the black rock.” By realizing that it could be “made by a nail”, she thinks of “the miniature of a lady”, “the people who had this house before us” and “the back garden of the suburban villa”. As the mark is “too big, too round”, she thinks of “the mystery of life”, the “inaccuracy of thought”, the “ignorance of humanity”, “things lost in one lifetime”, “the rapidity of life”, and “after life”.

Feeling that the mark might be “some round black substance, such as a small rose leaf”, she then thinks of “Troy”, “Shakespeare”, human beings’ instinct of “selfprotection”, “Sunday in London”, and “Whitaker’s Table of Precedency”. Seeing that the mark “seems actually to project from the wall”, the writer thinks of “a small tumulus”, “Retired Colonels”, “the neighbouring clergy”, “their elderly wives”, and a “world without professors or specialists”. By fixing her eyes upon it, she feels it is “a plank in the sea”. Thus, she thinks of “wood” and the life of “a tree”. And in the final part, someone “standing over me” reveals that “It was a snail.”

From the above introduction of the whole story, we can see, instead of following the normal time sequence, the story develops in the free psychological space. Physically

speaking, the time and space of the story remain unchanged from the beginning to the end. The whole story depicts only a moment of thoughts of the protagonist and she remains in a sitting posture in the room while her consciousness travels through history without any restriction. In her thoughts, there are descriptions of concrete images, in-depth reflections on art, and the comprehension of the meaning of life, the spirit of the universe.

The narrator is now stepping into the illusory future, now jumping back to ancient Greek time, now staying on the present leading articles and cabinet ministers. History, present, and future constantly cross each other, implying a disorder of time. Similarly, the protagonist’s consciousness travels freely in different spaces. She is now standing outside the window of Shakespeare, now visiting the tumulus on the South Downs, now roaming on the meadow of London.

Based on the flow of consciousness of the protagonist, the story evolves not in the traditional linear mode, but in “a flower-like radiating structure”. With the mark on the wall as the centre, through free association, the story goes back and forth to the depth of the unreal consciousness, which forms a flower with six petals (six conjectures of the mark).

The mark on the wall, which indicates the physical reality, is meaningless itself. What’s important is the perceiver’s consciousness. Woolf believed the reflections of the tree were much more important than the tree itself. She was particularly interested in the inner reality. What we saw was just the surface reality, it might be cheating. What we are thinking is genuine: This is the indisputable truth.

In “The Mark on the Wall”, Woolf (1921) directly pointed out that the task of novelists was to write about reflections on reality instead of reality Itself: As we face each other in omnibuses and underground railways we are looking into the mirror that accounts for the vagueness, the gleam of glassiness, in our eyes. And the novelists in future will realize more and more the importance of these reflections, for of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number; those are the depths they will explore, those the phantoms they will pursue, leaving the description of reality more and more out of their stories, taking a knowledge of it for granted, as the Greeks did and Shakespeare perhaps-but these generalizations are very worthless.

In “The Mark on the Wall”, by following the protagonist’s subjective consciousness, we enter into her inner reality. However, with her continuous self-negation of the unconstrained conjectures of the mark as the physical reality intrudes at times, we come back and forth between the objective reality and her subjective reality. Woolf created the concept of “moments of importance”. In the moment of importance, physical time and space fuse with psychological time and space, the subjective reality crosses the objective reality. Also in “Modern Fiction”, Woolf (1925) expressed her unique understanding towards life and reality: Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being “like this”.

Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives

a myriad impressions-trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from old; the moment of importance came not here but there.

The closing part of the story expresses the writer’s criticism of the external reality. The dialogue, which reveals the identification of that mark as a snail, indicates the circumstantial reality. “Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail”. This is the voice of the objective reality, which stops the narrator from going further with her searching for the meaning of life. Although fiction of stream-of-consciousness stresses the description of the inner world and seldom reflects social problems in the objective world, yet in “The Mark on the Wall”, we can still read the writer’s thoughts over life, her dissatisfaction with reality, and her pursuit of freedom and ideal.

Being a pioneer and representative writer of modernism, Virginia Woolf introduced innovations in her fiction. Written in 1917 when modernism was on its way, “The Mark on the Wall” is such a typical piece of writing of stream-of-consciousness. Unlike traditional fiction, the story doesn’t have lively characters, detailed setting, or intriguing plot. Discarding the traditional narrative mode of zero focalization, the narrator adopts a new fixed internal focalization, interwoven with the first person external point of view. By weakening the physical time and space, the narrator tells the story according to her psychological time and space, stressing the moment of importance, through which the writer highlights her subjective reality. All in all, the whole piece of writing is more a picture than a story.

7. Imagery

[Q. What is the string of varied thoughts that the mark on the wall stimulates in the author’s mind? Explain with imagery.

Or, Q. Explain the imagery shown by Woolf in The Mark on the Wall.]

Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mark on the Wall’ doesn’t have a strong plot but is the meditation of a lively, creative mind. This meditation is inspired by a mark on the wall which leads the first person narrator to wonder what the mark is, and what it might signify. She doesn’t want to get up to investigate, preferring to let her mind wander, as it will, on the possibilities: How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw to feverishly, and then leave it …

The story does progress, albeit in an organic, stream-of-consciousness way, rather than according to any clear logic. She wonders if the mark is a hole, then thinks it could be a stain, or even, perhaps, something more three-dimensional like a nail head that has broken through the paint. At the end, we do discover what the mark is, but that’s not the point of the story. The point is what she thinks about as she considers the mark …

And the things she thinks about are wide-ranging as we have come to expect in stream-of-consciousness, a technique of which Woolf was one of the early pioneers. The thing about stream-of-consciousness is not only that it tends to roam over a wide

range of ideas and topics, but that these ideas and topics are very loosely connecter Sometimes the thread between them is barely visible, usually because the connection is idiosyncratic to the thought processes of the narrator.

This is the case with “The mark on the wall”. The first paragraph uses strong imagery – based around the colours of red and black which encouraged me to expect something more dramatic than what did, in fact, follow. In the third paragraph she exclaims: Oh! dear me, the mystery of life. The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity! To show how very little control of our possessions we have – what an accidental affair this living is after all our civilisation … –

Nothing, though, is accidental in Woolf’s story, no matter how much the stream. of-consciousness form may lull us into thinking it is. This is the story of a woman concerned about the meaning or import of reality. She ponders the shallowness of “things” (including, even, knowledge). In the second paragraph she suggests the mark may have been made by a nail holding up a miniature that would have been a fraud of course, for the people who had this house before us would have chosen pictures in this way an old picture for an old room.

She writes of how we like to construct positive images of ourselves but how fragile this is, of how superficial reality is. Interestingly, while the story flits from idea to idea, there’s one motif (besides the mark) that recurs, Whitaker’s Table of Precedency. Whitaker exemplifies “the masculine point of view which governs our lives”. She uses it to represent the faith we have in rules, and the way we let rules and reality prevent our seeing the “sudden gleams of light”.

There’s a funny sequence in which she imagines a Colonel pontificating with other men on the history of objects like ancient arrowheads. The Colonel, she imagines, might suffer a stroke and his last thought would be, not his wife and family, but the arrowhead which, she suggests in her stream-of-consciousness way, is now in the case at the local museum, together with the foot of a Chinese murderess, a handful of Elizabethan nails, a great many Tudor pipes, a piece of Roman pottery, and the wine-glass that Nelson drank out of proving I really don’t know what.

And so, what is it about? Well, the mark seems to represent the unwelcome intrusion of reality into her life – it gets in the way of her thinking (of her desire “to catch hold of the first idea that passes”) while also, paradoxically, offering inspiration to her thoughts.

8. Symbolism in the Story

[Q. What significant symbols have been used by Woolf in the short story The Mark on the Wall? Discuss briefly.

Or, Q. What does the snail in Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall” stand for or symbolize?]

 

The mark on the wall is introduced as a mystery that needs solving to both the narrator and the reader. The observation prompts the narrator’s long line of thinking

and self-reflection, and it acts as a kind of projection for her to place her own ideas and memories upon. The history of the mark is ultimately unknown. And although there appears to be a resolution as to what it is, some uncertainty must remain. Woolf uses the mark on the wall to symbolize how the human mind never fully understands the true reality of an object or a person’s history. It also symbolizes the tendency of the human mind to try to create a narrative around observations and how that account is often reliant on memories that may themselves be faulty or warped by time.

The mysterious mark on the wall, which turns out to be a snail, shows that familiar spaces can become mysterious again, and symbolizes the uncertainty of rational knowledge. Throughout the story, the mark grounds the narrator by bringing her back from her unpleasant thoughts. The mark thereby stands for a desire to stay anchored in reality and seek protection from the dangers of drifting too far into abstract thoughts which aligns with the narrator’s skepticism about knowledge and “learned men”, whom she associates with superstition, and her preference for “the impersonal world which is a proof of some existence other than ours.” The mark belongs to that impersonal world.

Additionally, the symbolic nature of the snail resonates with the tone of the narrator’s reflections. Snails move at a slow pace, counter to the current of modernitythis image stands in stark contrast to the narrator’s descriptions of modern civilization, such as being “blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour” and “tumbling head over heels…like brown paper parcels pitched down a shoot in the post office!” Additionally, the snail symbolizes both the narrator’s failures as a housekeeper, which ties into her resentment towards that feminine role. It also demonstrates humanity’s inability to completely bar nature from their homes, which suggests that the borders drawn between nature and civilization are less impermeable than one might think. This in turn suggests the hubris of human endeavors to achieve dominion over nature, indicating that the final outcome of the great acts of civilization-city-building, new technologies, and even war-will be the inevitable return to the nature from which humans come.

Furthermore, though the narrator and her husband have vastly different reactions to the intruder, it catches both of their attention. This underlines the paradoxical ways that the objects and spaces can impact people in essence, it reveals how different people can see the same thing in entirely different ways. The Miniature

In musing over what the mark might be, the narrator briefly considers the possibility that it is a nail once used by the previous inhabitants of house for decoration; dismissing the idea of the décor being a portrait and deciding instead it would be a “miniature of a lady with white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations.” This miniature, in turn, would have no tangible connection to the reality of the family because they were the type who would have made such an aesthetic choice only on the basis of conventional expectation. One of the themes of

the story is a railing against convention, and the miniature symbolizes the failure of authenticity that comes with convention.

Snail

As it turns out, the mark on the wall is only a snail. However, the narrator’s realization of this fact seems little in comparison to the meaning of the image in the entire scheme of Woolf’s narrative. Essentially, the snail is something from the outside world-an object in nature that has crept into the narrator’s household. Given that the narrator dwells on the role of nature in her life, the snail can represent the humble yet significant reminder of life existing outside of the mind. After her mind has wandered out of consciousness thinking about what the mark is, the realization that it is just a snail grounds her in reality because a snail is a small but very real thing.

The reader likely thinks it is odd that the thing that has crept into the narrator’s home is a snail. It seems an unlikely invader from the outside world. However, readers can dismiss the oddity of the situation as they come to see that the snail represents many ideas in Woolf’s story. The slow movement of the snail coincides with the pace of the narrator’s thinking as she tries to discern the mark on the wall. She never stands up to get a closer look at the mark. Instead, she views it from afar while seated in her chair and ponders the nature of the mark. She asks what the mark may be and how it got there, and this leads her mind down a path of selfreflection. And after all this pondering over what the mark is, someone else in the room, a man, stands up, casually notices the mark, and calls it what it is: a snail.

In this instance, the snail comes to represent how she understands that men and women may perceive the world in different ways. Woolf’s feminist stance on gender is reflected in her illustration of man’s practicality versus woman’s inquiry. A man will see something, investigate it, and call it what it is, while a woman will “overthink” before investigating, and her mind will go down a path of inquiry. The differences are not necessarily a bad thing, and modern studies in neuroscience and psychology suggest that these are the ways male and female brains are naturally wired for thinking: women’s brains are wired to think more analytically than men’s. However, in Woolf’s day and age, the difference was likely perceived as a flaw on the part of the woman.

Mirror

The mirror that reflects with “vagueness, the gleam of glassiness” is the author’s symbol for the tradition of fiction as a representation of reality. In her call for writers to portray “not one reflection but.an almost infinite number,” she is disengaging the fiction from its long history as a reflection of reality by implicating its limitations in her call for the techniques of modernism to wipe away the failed conventions of the past.

Trees

If humanity is associated with a fast-paced lifestyle and destructive materialism, trees symbolize the opposite of that-namely, slowing down, growth, and being

present. Their long lives and slow yet constant growth provide an alternative to rapid and ruinous human development. The narrator describes the ways that new technologies impede human connections, as being packed together on the underground and on omnibuses leads people to look at each other with emptiness and “glassy eyes.” Trees, on the other hand, create nurturing communities for other plants and animals, building symbiotic relationships that the narrator contrasts with the isolation of modern humans. She describes the ways that trees grow over the course of years without paying attention to their surroundings, and in doing so provide spaces for cows to swish their tails in the shade on hot afternoons, for birds to sing in June and for insects to sun themselves on the leaves.

Even after succumbing to a storm and falling, “there are a million patient, watchful lives still for a tree,” as they turn into furniture and housing for human activities. This makes trees inherently social, as well as nurturing and protective, in contrast to the “wasteful” and “haphazard” destructive tendencies of humans. Essentially, the lives of trees progress towards growth and community even in their afterlives, as their only goals are growing slowly and being present. Humanity, on the other hand, rushes to develop new technologies, wage wars, and accumulate heaps of material possessionsnone of these things can persist. The hubristic desire for the domination of the world leads to isolation and a shrinking, rather than a growth, of one’s knowledge and possessions.

In addition, a tree tapping on the windowpane catches the narrator’s attention, interrupting the domestic isolation of her living room. Like the snail, the tree also proves that the stark walls humans put up between their lives and the natural world are not impermeable. At times, the narrator appears to identify with the tree, imagining herself leading such a life, as opposed to her civilized life. Because this is a real tree (rather than an imagined one), the tree also represents the importance of paying attention to one’s surroundings. By anchoring in solid material objects, one can find a sense of peace outside the various distractions of the fast-paced civilized world.

The narrator’s mind alights on trees as a symbol after hearing a tree branch tapping on her windowpane. That sensory observation leads her down a path of thinking about trees and how their relationship to time is much different than a human’s relationship to it. Trees connect to nature, which the narrator accuses of playing a “game” that forces one to want to find the answers to questions that settle the experience of reality so the mind can stop dwelling on them. In this light, trees symbolize what is real and tangible, and they serve as a kind of foil to the neverending thinking of humans. Nature appears to wonder little about humans, while humans obsess endlessly over finding meaning within it. The narrator only seems to find peace from her stream-of-consciousness thinking when contemplating the life of a tree, demonstrating for her that there is something about modern life that causes the mind to fixate on the uncertain and unknowable.

Whitaker’s Table of Precedence

This is a reference to a British almanac that delineates the rule of succession:

“The Archbishop of Canterbury is followed by the Lord High Chancellor; the Lord High Chancellor is followed by the Archbishop of York,” and so forth. As a symbol, Woolf charges it with being more biblical in spirit, outlining a system devised by man that has, over time, been endowed with an inviolate truth normally reserved for natural orders. It symbolizes the “masculine view of things” in its claim to order, knowledge, hierarchy, and absolute fact; the narrator, thus, decries it as a symbol of everything that frustrates her.

9. Characterisation

[Q. How many characters are there? Can you give a short sketch of each of them?

Or, Q. Discuss the roles of various characters in the short story The Mark on the Wall.]

In her efforts to find or create another narrative mode than the one which she felt exercised a tyranny of demands (e.g. a plot) Woolf suggested that a writer might “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day.” This approach was in direct contrast to the novel in which a protagonist (usually male) has a series of adventures and performs various heroic feats, and it follows Woolf’s efforts to write. a kind of composite alternative history in which the domestic, the private, and the feminine took precedence.

The only character in “The Mark on the Wall” is a person engaged in an act of contemplation. As (presumably) she looks at the mark, the range of her mind expands outward from this initial observation, reaching back into the past when she first noticed it, and then in many directions as association leads to association, thought to further thought, and onward to reflection on these thoughts and on the process of thought itself. The flow of consciousness that Woolf writes to render the character (who is nameless and has no discernible physical features, a specific age, or any background detail) depends for its power to interest a reader on the brilliance of its intellectual deliberations, but since this is not just a philosophic disquisition, the personality of the character is equally important.

Woolf subtly builds a recognizable human being by controlling mood and temperament through gradual revelations. The tentative “perhaps” at the start, the phrase “so now I think” and then “Yes, it must have been . . .” show the narrator making an effort to be accurate that induces sympathy as the reader recognizes her sincerity. The comment “I was smoking a cigarette . . .” places her among ordinary pursuits, and the expostulation “Rather to my relief. . .” creates an aura of uncertainty that balances the bold assertions that occur frequently. Then, the lyric intensity of the descriptions is compelling, as when she catalogues some lost possessions:

Then there were the bird cages, the iron hoops, the steel skates, the Queen Anne coal-scuttle, the bagatelle board, the hand organ-all gone, and jewels too. Opals and emeralds lie about like the roots of turnips.

The Narrator

The only substantial character in this story is the narrator; everything that occurs is filtered heavily through her thoughts and stream of consciousness reflections. Though never named, the story heavily implies that the narrator is a woman sitting in her living room with someone, likely her husband. She is well-educated, thoughtful, and very introspective, although she also self-describes as a neglectful housekeeper. These descriptions of her housekeeping and ambivalent need to take the London metro (the “Tube”) suggests that the narrator is someone who comes from an affluent household, but no longer has access to or the desire for such extravagant resources. She may be a writer, and she is critical of religion, masculine authority, warfare, and modern civilization.

The narrator of “The Mark on the Wall” bears many of the distinctive hallmarks of being a thinly-veiled, semi-fictional self-portrait of the author, although Woolf never explicitly asks the reader to make this connection. Not much is really known about the narrator except that she is a woman, probably rather young, married, and welleducated. More than a few hints lead toward a strong suspicion that she is a writer, although no concrete evidence exists to make this assumption foolproof. The fact that she is sitting in a chair staring at a hole on the wall while her mind contemplates a thousand different things without engaging in conversation or referencing the fact that another person is there in the room with her-a person whom, it can be assumed, is her husband-strongly suggests a strained relationship marked by emotional distance and a lack of awkwardness during periods of sustained silence. Someone

The person who interrupts the narrator is implied to be her husband (though a gender is never noted), given that the two are sitting alone in their living room smoking cigarettes after tea. He announces his intention to purchase a newspaper and complains about the snail on the wall-abruptly interrupting the narrator’s introspection and ending her musings on what the mark could be. He receives no other descriptive identification in the story, but the belated acknowledgement of his presence is significant as it marks the vast distances thoughts can travel from the reality one is present in; the narrator seems entirely alone and in her own world until this voice breaks through her reverie, reminding her-and the reader-that she has in fact been sitting next to another person all along.

The other person in the room is not explicitly identified as the narrator’s husband, but all contextual clues point to this being the case. Not a whole lot is known about the husband other than the fact that he is perfectly comfortable sitting in the same room as his wife and having no words at all pass between them for extended periods of time. It can also be extrapolated contextually that he is not particularly aware of what might be going through his wife’s head due to his very casual and dismissive identification of the mark on the wall. What is known for sure is that the husband is angered by the continuing war in Europe; we may also assume that this outrage is affecting his domestic enjoyment. The snail that the mark on the wall turns out

to be is transformed into just another imperfection to complain about, and something upsetting his putative expectations of perfection. The Snail

The snail is the third major player in this odd little drama. While it does not speak and is not directly involved in the action-it is not even identified as a snail until the very end of the story-the snail is not only the title character, but also the catalyst for the stream-of-consciousness meandering through the vividly engaged mind of the ironically reposed narrator. The snail’s lack of easy identification and its potential for actually being a variety of other things stimulate the narrator to move broadly about through both space and time, thus making her physical immobility practically pointless in giving an accurate and full summary of the story.

10. Reality in the Mystery of the Unconscious

[Q. Explain how does the narrator try to pursue the reality in the mystery of the unconscious in the story The Mark on the Wall.]

Virginia Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall as an archetype of the stream of consciousness literature explores the mystery of the unconscious through a first-person thought process and self-reflection. The story which centers on the narrator’s introspective attempts at deciphering the true nature of the mark on the wall introduces the themes of uncertainty and self-reflection. The short story has also been interpreted as a critique of the unoriginality in literature and the adherence to religious dogmas. As a modernist, Woolf focuses on the uncertainties and the obscure in her literature in order to represent the complex levels of reality. Through the thought process and the unreliable narration of her characters, she delves into the mystery of the subconscious revealing the ambiguity in her notion of reality.

In The Mark on the Wall, as the woman reminisces on her life as she pursues the identity of the mark, her stream of thought lingers into intricate concepts about the meaning of life and reality. Woolf aims for her audience to embrace the unknown and question their concepts of actuality in her fiction. Through the narrator seeking the nature of the mark, Woolf fosters the pursuit of the true nature of reality in the complexity and mystery of the unconscious mind as opposed to embracing the superficial concept of reality or life.

Woolf illustrates her belief that modern writing should emphasize the introspection of characters to capture an accurate depiction of reality. The narrator deliberates “the novelists in future will realize more and more the importance of these reflections… Leaving the description of reality…out of their stories”. Her focus on the self-reflection of the character poses a criticism to the conventional authoring that is engrossed in describing or discerning the external universe. In the narrative, the speaker contemplates if the thoughts or reflections of the individual were removed and only the superficial shell was left on sight. Then the world would be “airless, shallow, and bald…not to be lived in”. Woolf discards the superficial realities that are imposed in literature and society thereof; rather she embraces reflections of humanity

through the thought process. By formulating the context of the story in the profound depth of the character’s subconscious mind, Woolf manages to capture a more complex concept of reality.

Woolf illustrates the speaker’s stream of conscious thought as a pathway to the deeper planes of realities in the unconscious mind. The narrator asserts, “For of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number”. Her choice to decipher the identity of the mark through her own self-reflection into the deep recesses of her mind attests to Woolf’s intent. The woman claims “Oh! Dear me, the mystery of life, the inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity!” Alluding to the Imitations of facts imposed on our perceived reality hence the meaning of life cannot be truly known externally. She continues, “I might get up, but if I got up and looked at it, ten to one I wouldn’t be able to say for certain”.

The perceived nature of humanity prompts individuals into action to deduce an issue through the philosophical thoughts of others or facts hence humanity’s ignorance. The woman persuades herself into her own thought process, what she as the thinker has experienced, as we can only truly know what happens to us or in our minds. Woolf intends to avoid describing the reality as it actually is, but interested in the pleasure of imagination and autonomy of thought.

The speaker aims to seek the true identity of the mark through the ambiguous reality of the mind as opposed to a logical perception. She narrates she intends “to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts”. She finds pleasure in the mystery of the unknown more than the surface perceived knowledge of the world. She goes through a stream of thought as she sits obsessing over the unknown, seeking the identity of the mark in the deep recesses of her mind.

In the conclusion of the narrative, a second subject reveals the identity of the mark to be a snail with a logical assessment. To the narrator’s disappointment, she replies “Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail”. The disclosure halts the speaker’s train of introspection crushing the reader’s fantasy too. The narrative pulls in the reader to the mystery of the mind and the revelation comes as a disappointment to both the narrator and the audience.

Through the narrator’s thought process, Woolf fosters the search of true reality and knowledge in the recesses and mystery of our mind, into the unconscious; criticizing the adherence to the surface notion of reality and life. According to Woolf, the world and its reality are far more than the conventional perception imposed on it. The mind obtains distinct acuities from the inconsequential and ephemeral to the eccentric and complex. The literature aims to capture the uncertainty of the thought process merging the ordinary and the imaginary while ignoring the surface realities to reveal a more complex and accurate reality.

Through the narrative, Woolf illustrates the planes of realities lodged in the recesses of the unconscious, and through deeper unraveling, an infinite number of reflections are achieved. It fosters the notion of autonomy of thought, resisting the discourses or ideas premade by collective thinking or philosophical thought of others.

Conveying the message to contemporary writers and also readers, that true reality and meaning of life are found in the reflections and introspection of the human mind Humanity and reality are ever-changing hence near impossible to ascertain anything in its entirety, hence the recesses of the unconscious mind are key.

For what Woolf depicts in “The Mark on the Wall” is the process of the mind, mediated by new apparitions like this mark, “black on the white wall,” which takes her mind off the old “automatic fancy” of the images in the fire. And this change does not only affect the content of her thoughts. In her article on “Technology” for the Blackwell “Companion to Modernist Literature and Culture” Sara Danius remarks that these media directly “address the sensory apparatus” and reflect on human perception, to the point that Fernand Leger could say: “Avant d’en voir une au cinéma, je ne savais pas ce qu’était une main”. They create a new relation to the world. Woolf endows this renewed outlook with meaning in her writings. Indeed, her aim is never simply descriptive. She takes advantage of the shift in perspective to vindicate her opposition to a fixed and normative viewpoint, as part of her struggle against the structures of patriarchal society.

Through the acceptance of the new relationship to the world that the modern media have brought about, she is able to shake the foundations of traditional authority. It may seem at first that this leaves her narrator stranded in a very dire, disquieting world in which all forms of stability are broken, “a world not to be lived in”. But the same reflection enables her to develop a new way of communicating ideas and feelings with her reader, leading to what I choose to call an “aesthetic of juxtaposition,” an idea very reminiscent of the one she describes in her essay on “The Cinema” when dealing with her viewing of “Dr Caligari” and the future of the budding medium.

From the outset, “The Mark on the Wall” subverts the codes of traditional storytelling. The first sentence seems to set the narrative in a definite temporal context, but the word “Perhaps” already undermines the narrator’s authority. The following passage explains that: “In order to fix a date, it is necessary to remember what one saw.” Instead of using the context to recreate the scene, it is the visual image which is supposed to evoke its own context.

Furthermore, the confirmation “Yes, it must have been the winter time, and we had just finished our tea, for I remember that I was smoking a cigarette” highlights the irrational aspect of the reconstruction of reality from memory. What is presented in the text is not a structured, omniscient voice but a fragmented string of images woven together by a partial, meandering mind. All these elements, which introduce a technique of stream of consciousness, are linked with the appearance of the mark on the wall. More specifically, the transition from the old narrative structures to this new technique is paralleled with the narrator’s attention being called away from the fire towards the mark.

However, “The Mark Upon the Wall” is first and foremost a work of art, and what appears most vividly from the narrator’s reverie is the creative power of the mind. If the code, the communication with the reader, is the only relevant aspect of literary

creation, the possibilities open to the mind become nigh limitless. This is how I read the meditation on wood, where the poetic aspect of the mind’s peregrinations becomes the clearest. At that point, the juxtaposition of images transforms into a form of as they seem to enter one another. The most interesting example of this synthesis, poetic fusion is the following: [the trees] paint rivers so green that when a moorhen dives one expects to see its feathers all green when it comes up again.

11. ‘The Mark on the Wall’ – A Short Story or An Essay? [Q. To what genre does Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall belong?* Discuss briefly the features.

Or, Q. Discuss how far Virginia Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall is a short story. Some critics also call it a reverie. Explain with necessary evidence.]

As a modernist writer, Virginia Woolf isn’t interested in describing the reality as it really is, but she wants to privilege the imagination and the liberty of creation. In her short story “The Mark on the Wall”, a simple element like a mark on the wall is responsible for the narrator’s deep reflection about life and stimulates the imagination of the reader.

Although, there are many elements in this short story that are capable of being discussed, this analysis only points out some of them. The first point that can be considered very important is the symbolism of the mark on the wall. During all the story, the narrator imagines what that mark could be, but he/she is never sure about it “But for that mark, I’m not sure about it; I don’t believe it was made by a nail after all; it’s too big, too round, for that. I might get up, but if I got up and looked at it, ten to one I shouldn’t be able to say for certain; because once a thing’s done, no one ever knows how it happened.”

This confusion about the identity of the mark on the wall can be interpreted as the confusion that people have in relation to the meaning of life. As in the short story that only in the final the narrator discovers the true identity of the mark, the human beings will probably know what life is only at its end.

Another important element of this short novel is the criticism to those people that don’t develop their own ideas, although they follow somebody’s thinking: “Everybody follows somebody, such is the philosophy of Whitaker”. However the tougher criticism is taken to the realists that wanted to describe the reality and the human being as they are in fact. This literary pattern was very discussed by the modernists, because they defend that the reality and the man are changing all the time and it would be impossible to prove or know something in its totality. Even for an individual, it is difficult to know himself/herself deeply, for the reason that anyone has the certainty about his/her attitude in front of a big problem, for example.

This point of view of the modernists can be verified in some parts of this story, such as the moment that the narrator questions reality and even himself/herself: “No, no nothing is proved, nothing is known”, “Where was I? What has it all been about?

A tree? A river? The Downs? Whitaker’s Almanack? The fields of an asphodel? I can’t remember a thing. Everything’s moving, falling, slipping, vanishing…”

Finally, the last important aspect of this short story that will be discussed is the criticism of the religion that always imposes its dogma and people have to follow it, without questioning. This manipulation of ideas is deeply criticized by modernists, because it contradicts the liberty and the power of creation. In fact not only the religion is censured by modernism, but as it was said before, every person that doesn’t have his/her own ideas and accept opinions and discourses pre-constructed by someone else.

In “The Mark on the Wall” a multifarious structure of different reveries-elements are, too, coordinated and organized by the narrator who keeps bringing the mark on the wall into the field of her perspective: “If that mark was made by nail, it can’t have been for a picture”, “but as for that mark”, “and yet that mark on the wall” etc. Gathered into a whole, the reveries attain the form of logical consistency, required by Cézanne.

“The Mark on the Wall”, too, testifies to the narrator’s wish to discover the truths by constructing the framework of the form of the narrative from a variety of sensedata viewed from different perspectives, i.e., the mark on the wall, which not only serves as the narrator’s point of departure which is eventually ultimately transformed in her contemplative vision, but also is an essential element of formal design, it helps to assemble the “vision’s shimmering particles”, to discover an “intellectual form in chaotic sense-data”49 so as to accomplish what Post-Impressionists sought to achieve – to cut away “the merely representative element in art to establish more and more firmly the fundamental laws of expressive form in its barest, most abstract elements”.

The narrative of “The Mark on the Wall”, therefore, seems to be testing what Fry in “The Artist’s Vision” urged the artist to attempt at: he urged the artist to “contemplate the object disinterestedly”; he believed that if the artist relies more upon the detached and impassioned vision, “the (aesthetically) chaotic and accidental conjunction of forms and colours begin to crystallise into a harmony”. Clive Bell in his theory of “significant form”, too, stretched the detachment of aesthetic appreciation from other sorts of interest we might have in an object.

“The Mark on the Wall”, as Woolf implies in “Modern Fiction”, goes against what was expected by “some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant” who had him in thrall, “to provide plot, to provide a comedy, tragedy, love interest”. But “must novels be like this?”, Woolf asks rhetorically, and suggests that “every method is right, that expresses what we wish to express”. Art, as much as life, offers us a great many infinite possibilities; therefore, “no ‘method’, no experiment, even of the wildest – is forbidden”: “The proper stuff of fiction’ does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; very quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss”.

In “The Mark on the Wall”, Woolf processed the post-impressionist tenets assimilated from Roger Fry, and to some extent from Clive Bell. Her other 1917-1921

stories – “Kew Gardens”, “The Evening Party”, “Solid Objects” and “Blue and Green” – also incorporate Fry’s non- “literary” aesthetics and are, too, based on the postimpressionist exercise with the form of narrative. Since in Woolf’s aesthetics of modern fiction, traditional narrative form was irrelevant to narrate the randomness of life “The Mark on the Wall” can be read as a reaction to a narrative that commences cleanly, unfolds a sequence of events logically and evenly, and concludes unambiguously. “The Mark on the Wall” takes a form of a post-impressionist “exercise in the rendering of consciousness” which rests on a form of stream of consciousness narrative based on Woolf’s own devised method of interruptions, i.e., on figures of interruption (or figures of grammar, for example, such as anacoluthon and aposiopesis) so as to maneuver the vehicle of the narrative to keep up with the pace of thought which in “The Mark on the Wall” assumes a shape of the feminine narrative.

The story, too, questions the necessity of all the heavy impedimenta of plot hindering the novelist to reveal the conscious and subconscious workings of the mind. “The Mark on the Wall” is the early Woolf’s narrative which does not not only signify her attempts to radically remake the form, but also, as Frank Kermode says, manifests the tendency to bring it closer to chaos, so producing a sense of ‘formal desperation’. On the other hand, “The Mark on the Wall” is a response to the need to search for a style and a typology: Woolf’s formalist aesthetics owes much to Fry’s, and Bell’s, philosophy of art, in which, as professor Banfield suggests “the visual meets the invisible and abstract”. “The Mark on the Wall” by Woolf does not report the world, but creates it as much as Fry’s philosophy of Post-Impressionist art which suggests that PostImpressionists do not seek to imitate form, but to create form, not to imitate life, but to find an equivalent for life.

Therefore, it is fairly safe to say that ‘The Mark on the Wall’ was Virginia Woolf’s first short story as it was this piece, along with her husband’s ‘Three Jews’ that launched the Hogarth Press in 1917. The train of thought in the story is not dramatic, nor does there seem to be an attempt to move towards a synthesis. In a graphic medium, it would be free form – in the written it is a stream-of-consciousness equation of life.

The conclusion of the story is the most revealing section, since it reveals Mrs. Woolf to have a purely speculative mind. It is noteworthy that her thoughts arising from the mark become the real world, and that the mark itself is forgotten. Only when the second speaker arrives, does pragmatism return and the mark’s rational identity emerge. Virginia Woolf, in the guise of narrator, would otherwise, presumably, have ended without confirming the mark to be a snail. Also, the phantoms of the story bring the pessimistic feeling that life is restrictive in the wistful phrase ‘if freedom exists’.

Short stories typically focus on a single plot instead of multiple subplots, as you might see in novels. Some stories follow a traditional narrative arc, with exposition (description) at the beginning, rising action, a climax (peak moment of conflict or action), and a resolution at the end. Henceforth, Woolf’s ‘The Mark on the Wall’

besides all other interesting features and techniques, bear the qualities of a proper short story.

In fact it is difficult to decide which genre if any is adequate to describe the form of ‘The Mark on the Wall’ when the sketch so obviously challenges a sense of definite form. The degree of Woolf’s experimentation is appreciated only with the recognition that at the time she wrote ‘The Mark on the Wall, the term ‘short story’ applied to a tight formula of character revelation through plot and action. In this sense, it could be seen as a ‘personal essay’. The most adequate term to describe ‘The Mark on the Wall’ is simply a ‘reverie’, in that the primary unity of the sketch derives from the narrator’s consciousness. There is a distinctive narrative voice, not found in Woolf’s novels and therefore, removing it slightly from the realm of fiction, but whose musing provides the basic material for an integrated and unified work of art.

The whole story probably lasts only half an hour or so starting with the narrator’s sight of the mark on the wall and ending with her realization of the mark which turns out to be a snail, yet it reveals the complicated process of the character’s thoughts, feelings, imaginations, memories and expectations of the narrator in its original shape without any artistic change. Her short story The Mark on the Wall may be taken as an example of the modernist concept of time and consciousness. For instance, the story does not introduce time(when), space(where) and setting of the story at the beginning traditional fiction does but directly starts from the thoughts flow of the narrator’s consciousness. “Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall.

In order to fix a date it is necessary to remember what one saw. So now I think of the fire; the steady film of yellow light upon the page of my book; the three chrysanthemums in the round glass bowl on the mantelpiece. …”In this way, it reflects the genuine experience of the character’s intricate work of mind. Also, the combined use of the present and past tense at the beginning of the story mirrors the reality of the human mind to form a continuous flow of the inner world.

Thus the story goes on with the narrator’s new assumption and negation of the mark on the wall, meanwhile the mark on the wall changes and it’s just like a glimpse of the world, but each glimpse is an incomplete’ fragmentary and significant reflection of human thoughts. Actually the writer just uses these trivial objects to reveal the character’s inner thoughts.

Eventually the story ends with someone’s conversation with the narrator which interrupts the narrator’s profound, philosophical thinking and pulls the narrator into reality. Virginia Woolf tried out her technical experiments with fiction and the extreme richness of the author’s imagination may be seen in her works. The writer fixes such a moment what Virginia Woolf calls “moment of importance”, a quite new concept of time and consciousness adopted by modernists, and turns it into individual life. The whole story probably lasts only half an hour or so starting with the narrator’s sight of the mark on the wall and ending with her realization of the mark which turns out to be a snail, yet it reveals the complicated process of the character’s thoughts,

feelings, imaginations, memories and expectations of the narrator in its original shape without any artistic change.

12. As A Modernist Text

[Q. How does Woolf’s writing capture something important that previous writers had not? Explain using some references to the text “The Mark on the Wall”.

Or, Q. As a modernist writer, how far Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall does justice to the type? Discuss briefly.]

If modernism had a motto, it would be, “Everything is a matter of perspective.” Modernist art and literature render their subjects either with a multiplicity of pointsof-view, or with a single one so distinctive it calls attention to its own idiosyncrasies. In some instances, such as with Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the approaches are combined: the novel’s narrator tries to make sense of his life from every vantage point possible, and in the process renders his own insecurity and obsessiveness-he effectively examines his circumstances through a kaleidoscope, one facet at a time, only to have the glass prove a mirror on himself.

In Virginia Woolf’s short story “The Mark on the Wall,” which can be read to some extent as her version of Proust’s sprawling work, she creates a mirror only to turn it into a kaleidoscope: she fixates on a single point, the “mark” of the story’s title, and uses it as both launching point and anchor for her narrator’s reflections on life and fancy. The mark is the canvas upon which Woolf renders both her subjects and the perspective through which they’re seen. She takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride of meditations ranging across speculation about the previous owners of the narrator’s home, ruminating on the mystery and chaos of life, and thoughts on the masculine nature of war.

Woolf’s use of the mark (following Proust’s use of the tea-soaked madeleine) builds on William Wordsworth’s use of nature imagery-daffodils, for instance-as a spur for thoughts, memories, and perceptions. However, Woolf’s modernist goals are very different from Wordsworth’s Romantic ones: he’s looking outward, seeking to identify with the larger world, while she is looking inward, arguably in rejection of it.

One passage in particular highlights her view that romanticist thought is quaint in the context of the modern world: Yes, one could imagine a very pleasant world. A quiet, spacious world, with flowers so red and blue in the open fields. A world without professors or specialists or house-keepers with the profiles of policemen, a world which one could slice with one’s thought as a fish slices the water with his fin, grazing the stems of the water-lilies, hanging suspended over nests of white sea eggs… How peaceful it is down here, rooted in the centre of the world and gazing up through the grey waters, with their sudden gleams of light, and their reflectionsif it were not for Whitaker’s Almanack-if it were not for the Table of Precedency! Wordsworth found beauty and awe when considering Nature’s order. Woolf sees

only the stifling order imposed by men: rules, hierarchies, and authority figures, Thinking outward, she muses, “what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in.” However, discordant notes like this aside, the story is all but a paean to the joys of imagination. Romanticism may reflect an outdated approach of engagement with the world, but the rustic imagery it idealizes makes a fine subject for fantasies. As Woolf writes at one point: For years and years they [trees] grow, without paying any attention to us, in meadows, in forests, and by the side of rivers-all things one likes to think about. The cows swish their tails beneath them on hot afternoons; they paint rivers so green that when a moorhen dives one expects to see its feathers all green when it comes up again.

The bit about trees painting the rivers green hints towards a taste for absurdity, which is reflected quite strongly in many of the story’s other passages. The narrator draws analogies between the dust on her mantelpiece and the dust that “buried Troy three times over.” She’ll also liken life to a ride on the Tube, and then the ride to being “[s]hot out at the feet of God entirely naked!” Or she’ll come just shy, as she does near the end, of calling wood the be-all, end-all of life. Although she does mention worshipping her chest of drawers at times.

Woolf’s sense of humor is also present in her decision to structure the story as a bit of a mystery. Just what is the “mark”? Woolf returns to the question-and her speculations about the answer-again and again. Is it a hole or a rose leaf? Could it perhaps be the jutting head of a nail? The answer, which comes at the story’s end, plays like the punchline of a joke, and it is what gives the story its final charm: Woolf invites the reader to laugh along with the narrator’s implicit amusement at the pretentiousness of her flights-of fancy. The “mark” proves to be even more inconsequential than Proust’s madeleines.

There is something of an irony in this, though. For these writers, nothing is more consequential than these seemingly innocuous objects: they are the catalysts for nearly every word that appears on the page. They are the nothings from which everything comes. “The Mark on the Wall” is a testament to imagination: anything and everything is a starting point for it, and the most fecund minds can not only spin lead into gold, they can spin it from the very air itself.

Woolf finds a small mark on the wall and transforms it into a deluge of thoughts – perfectly connected, exquisitely disjointed – that grabs one’s soul and tears it asunder, just to repair it by the end of her story, of her interior monologue, leaving the scars of memory and possibility forever burning inside one’s head.

Woolf takes an equally miniaturist tack in “The Mark on the Wall,” a sketch in which the narrator studies a mark on the wall ultimately revealed as a snail. Although the premise sounds militantly boring-the literary equivalent of watching paint drythe mark on the wall works as a locus of concentration, like a hypnotist’s watch, allowing the narrator to consider everything from Shakespeare to World War I. In its subtle tracking of how the mind free-associates and its ample use of interior monolog,

the sketch serves as a keynote of sorts for the modernist literary movement that Woolf worked so tirelessly to advance.

As a modernist author. Virginia Woolf isn’t interested in depicting the world as it truly is. but she wants to favor the imaginativeness and the autonomy of creative activity. In her short narrative “The Mark on the Wall”. A simple component like a grade on the wall is responsible for the narrator’s deep contemplation about life and stimulates the imaginativeness of the reader. Although, there are many elements in this short narrative that are capable of being discussed. This analysis merely points out some of them.

The first point that can be considered really of import is the symbolism of the grade on the wall. During all the narrative. the storyteller imagines what that grade could be. but he/she is ne’er certain about it: “But for that grade. I’m non certain about it; I don’t believe it was made by a nail after all; it’s excessively large. excessively circular. for that. I might acquire up. but if I got up and looked at it. ten to one I shouldn’t be able to state for certain ; because once a thing’s done. no 1 of all time knows how it happened. This confusion about the individuality of the grade on the wall can be interpreted as the confusion that people have in relation to the significance of life.

As in the short narrative that merely in the concluding the storyteller discovers the true individuality of the grade. Human existence will likely cognize what life is merely in its terminal. Another important component of this short novel is the unfavorable judgment to those people that don’t develop their main thoughts. although they follow somebody’s thought: “Everybody follows a person. such is the doctrine of Whitaker”. However the tougher unfavorable judgment is taken to the realists that wanted to depict the world and the human being as they are in fact. This literary form was really discussed by the modernists because they defend that the world and the adult male are altering all the clips and it would be impossible to turn out or cognize something in its entirety. Even for a person it is hard to cognize himself/herself profoundly for the ground that anyone has the certainty about his/her attitude in the forepart of a large job for illustration.

This point of position of the modernists can be verified in some parts of this narrative. such as the minute that the storyteller inquiries the world and even himself/ herself: “No. no nil is proved. nil is known”. “Where was I? What has it all been about? A tree? A river? The Downs? Whitaker’s Almanack? The Fields of an asphodel? I can’t retrieve a thing. Everything’s traveling. falling, stealing, vanishing…” Finally the last important facet of this short narrative that will be discussed is the unfavorable judgment to the faith. that ever imposes its tenet and people have to follow it. without impugning. This use of thoughts is profoundly criticized by modernists. because it contradicts the autonomy and the power of creative activity. In fact not merely the faith is censured by modernism. but as it was said before. every individual that doesn’t have his/her main thoughts and accept sentiments and discourses preconstructed by person else.

“The Mark on the Wall” is one of the stories from Monday or Tuesday, and Kew Garden was republished in the same collection. The mark on the wall is mostly introspective and has been called “a manifesto of modernism’. And Kew Gardens is set in the Royal Botanic Gardens situated in London. Woolf decides to use a thirdperson narrator whilst delving into the psyche of her characters. Using the memories, perceptions, stream of consciousness and dialogue of said characters, she effectively paints a vivid picture of the scenes the reader is exposed to.

The first story starts off with the main character most likely Woolf herself – remembering when she first saw the mark on the wall. This is when a series of seemingly unrelated musings beginsShe considers several possible identities of the mark, starting with a hole produced by a nail – this leads to thoughts about, ending with how fast life disappears and what might be waiting for us afterward. This is then followed by another possibility of what the mark might be: a small rose leaf or From Shakespeare. Next, she sees the mark on the wall as something which is projecting from it. This reminds her of the South Downs and the mystery of their true origin. lead her right back to them. Also, Reference to war is given by a male speaker which interrupts her reflections. He mentions the war, then asks why there is a snail on the wall, abruptly cutting off her contemplations and leaving the reader with an unsatisfactory feeling when she ends the story with: “Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail”.

In “The Mark on the Wall” the reader is first presented with a mark, then through a long stream of thoughts and visions, with different interpretations of the mark leading to different ideas, it ends with the character not remembering what she was thinking about.

She brings two themes together, namely the fact that there is a mark on the wall and the visions this mark evokes in her, with different interpretations of the mark leading to different ideas. She compares trees to life, human thoughts to fish swimming through the water, and tablecloths to reality. Throughout the story there are different definitions of the mark, from nails to rose leaves, until at the very end of the story the true identity of the mark is made known: it is a snail. This puts an abrupt stop to all the ideas she had had when she did not know the reality yet, which confirms that reality oppresses fantasy. Fact wins over vision, the body wins over the mind Even the mark on the wall fits this pattern: from a hole made by a nail she contemplates the possibility of it being a rose leaf, a bump on the wall, an old nail, a crack in the wood, until she realizes it is, in fact, a snail. Perhaps reality is not controlled by a man after all, but nature and its circle of life. Humans are part of nature, they do not stand above it, and Woolf does not want the reader to forget this.

To conclude, Virginia Woolf’s short story “The Mark on the Wall” is a fascinating piece with many different aspects to it that strays from the traditional norms of storytelling. Woolf experiments with narrative, shifting the reader continuously from scene to scene creating a level of complexity in her work that breaks the expectation of realism. Such experimentation is a common characteristic of the Modernist writers

of Woolf’s era, Modernism itself is defined as a literary movement spanning from 1890 to the start of the Second World War, in which writers aimed for innovation and individuality, trying to move away from previous literary traditions in order to find newer, more modern ways of writing.

It is noticeable that in The Mark on the Wall she opts for a more modernist style since she expresses her disregard towards the prevailing system by means of repealing any fixed meaning or fixed narrative structure.

13. As A Feminist Text

[Q. Elucidate Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall as a feminist story.]

The term ‘feminism’ elicits varied responses wherever it is mentioned. It is seen by most people as describing a bunch of aggressive and militant women who want to do away with men, marriage, childbearing and rearing, who want to rule the world as a colony of women. Perhaps the interpretation also is that it applies to women who are not in the traditional sense, women.

The term ‘ecriture feminine’ refers to women’s writing, the subject of which is often, women. It refers to an alternate mode of perceiving the world and expressing it, other than what men have been able to do in their writing. The ‘mark on the wall’ refers to measuring one’s height (and therefore, achievements) by literally putting a mark on the wall. Woolf wants the reader to see that there is beauty in the twists and turns of the human mind, and that ignoring that fun for the sake of increasing one’s “knowledge” is far from productive. In fact, it’s antiquated and boring.

Virginia Woolf’s short story, The Mark on the Wall, has been considered an apolitical work of literature ever since its humble beginnings. Most, if not all, of her work has been analyzed by scholars from all perspectives, though most notably from the feminist perspective, because of her adamant belief in giving women an equal footing in society. The Mark on the Wall seems to be the only Woolf story that nobody wants to admit is political. The story comes across as rather absurd; it winds in circles around the narrator’s mind, it trails off and ends thoughts abruptly, and-to the inexperienced Woolf reader-it seems to have little purpose. But, like every piece of art in this world, The Mark on the Wall is indeed political and has a very important purpose. Allow me to demonstrate.

There is little analysis of The Mark on the Wall available, since the story isn’t as well-known as Woolf’s other work. Of the analyses that exist, most are written by critics who choose to study the style of the story, which is of course stream-ofconsciousness. Like many writers in the modernist era, Woolf favors this style in most of her writing, and many would argue that she was one of the first authors to use it successfully. In her essay, An Analysis of Stream-of-Consciousness Technique in To the Lighthouse, Yanxia Sang wrote, “… Virginia Woolf is at her best when she is writing her stream-of-consciousness novels which deal with the conscious, subconscious and even unconscious part of her characters”. This is true not just of Woolf’s novel, To the Lighthouse, but of all of her other work as well.

Woolf’s work was published during the modernist era (approximately 1890-1945), which encompasses a great deal of history in Europe and the world at large. The Mark on the Wall was first published in 1917, at the tail end of WWI and just one year before English women (of a certain class) were granted suffrage. Amidst all this history going on around her, Woolf and other modernist writers began to take literature down a new path. The old conventions of writing weren’t enough for modernist writers like Woolf; they needed a new style to express new, radical ideas. Just as Wayne Narey said in his essay, Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall”: An Einsteinian View of Art, “…in periods of crisis and upheaval the arts and philosophic thought flourish”. Because art doesn’t exist in a vacuum-every piece of art created will always occur in the context of history-Virginia Woolf’s art can never be disregarded as political writing.

But this didn’t stop critics and scholars from treating her work without much regard. After her novel, Mrs. Dalloway, was first published in 1925, a critic by the name of Joseph Wood Krutch published a review of it in a journal called The Nation. He described her as “a decorous James Joyce” whose characters and style are just like those of Joyce, except that “she discovers none of those grotesque monsters whom Mr. Joyce finds inhabiting the jungles of the mind…”. By “decorous,” I can only assume that Krutch meant to describe Woolf as a more demure, modest version of James Joyce. He meant she’s a lady-writer who writes like a lady. If this isn’t a perfect example of the way female writers were directly controlled by male society, I don’t know what is. Because Woolf chose to write in a way that, according to people like Krutch, is “becoming” of her femininity, she was given a “positive” review that could show male readers how good she is at writing-she’s basically a female James Joyce, people! If Woolf had chosen to write stories about blatantly “unbecoming” topics (off the top of my head: misandry, material of a shamelessly sexual nature, gruesome torture or murder), I highly doubt that Krutch would have granted her this gift of a review. Woolf would have been tossed to the bottom of the best-seller list, regardless of her talent. Can anyone blame her for choosing not to write like James Joyce?

Now that I’ve established Virginia Woolf’s work in the context of the larger picture, I can begin to discuss how The Mark on the Wall is a feminist piece of literature. In my search to find scholarly evidence of this, I found just one essay that took the story in that direction: Structure and Anti-Structure: Virginia Woolf’s Feminist Politics and “The Mark on the Wall” by Magdalen Wing-chi Ki. Wing-chi Ki gives a very thorough analysis of every winding sentence, every beautifully written image in The Mark on the Wall and proves that there is an underlying political agenda hidden between the lines.

First, Wing-chi Ki references Victor Turner’s book, The Ritual Process, an examination of the rituals of the Ndembu people in Zambia. The connection between the Ndembu and Virginia Woolf seems like a stretch, but the concepts behind his research are indeed applicable. Turner applies the concepts of “structure” and “anti

structure” to the Ndembu people as he analyzes the structures of their society. He “structure” as orderly systems of hierarchical power, while “anti-structure” is denotes denoted as “an ambiguous and indeterminate state” where order doesn’t exist. Also defined in The Ritual Process are the terms “liminal” and “liminoid.” Structured societies exist in the “liminal” zone because they are associated with “primitive societies and collective action,” while less-structured societies exist in the “liminoid” zone because they are “complex industrial societies” that put emphasis on “radical individuals”. Liminal and liminoid zones are the keys to analyzing The Mark on the Wall from a feminist perspective.

Wing-chi Ki says that the very first paragraph of The Mark on the Wall “indicates Woolf’s preference for the liminoid zone…”. Woolf begins the story by describing her uncertainty about when the event actually took place: Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall. In order to fix a date, it is necessary to remember what one saw.

The narrator goes on to describe everything she saw on the day she noticed the mark, from an arrangement of chrysanthemums on the mantelpiece to the burning coals in the fireplace. Already, the narrator has established herself as the “radical individual” who prefers to exist in the liminoid zone-she can’t remember exactly when she saw the mark, but what matters most isn’t the time or day of the event. What truly matters are the images that are clear in the narrator’s mind, and it’s these images that effectively place the reader in the context of the story.

Although this is an interesting connection, a reader could still interpret Wing-chi Ki’s point as strictly style-related. However, Wing-chi Ki takes this connection a step further and applies it to the bigger picture: the patriarchy. The world exists in the context of a patriarchal hierarchy; in other words, a liminal zone. If this is true, then “structure”-the patriarchy-is gendered as male, while “anti-structure”-feminismis gendered as female. Knowing the time and day of when the narrator saw the mark on the wall is far too structured; she prefers to remain in the liminoid zone, going directly against the system that would prefer her to tell us exactly when she saw the mark. This represents the female narrator’s opposition to the system that would constrain her-the patriarchy.

But Woolf doesn’t just leave this symbolism on the page without adding to it. Further along in the story, the narrator laments the lack of power that facts possess: “Oh! dear me, the mystery of life; the inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity!” Whether Woolf meant this as a joke or as an honest lamentation of how ignorant humanity is, this single quote describes what the entire story is about. Thought depends solely on the thinker in question and what that thinker has experienced, and if we rely on the thoughts of others (historical scholars) to tell us everything we need to know, humanity truly is ignorant. All we can really know is what happens around us as we live our lives, and what occurs inside our own heads. Wing-chi Ki takes this concept of the inaccuracy of knowledge and applies it to the patriarchal system. If the system that the narrator is defying relies solely on recorded

knowledge to guide humanity (a history that has been recorded by and for men), and that system is also the patriarchy, then knowledge as we understand it is inherently gendered as male. Wing-chi Ki says that “…(male) literature is characterized by the mimetic style…, linguistic essentialism…, [and] the transcendental vision,” while “modern literature is completely different: it loves to foreground the Self and its consciousness”. Woolf contrasts the past-“male” writing that relies on what came before with modernity-“female” writing that relies on the thoughts of who lives now. To Virginia Woolf, thinking one’s own thoughts and understanding the world through the eyes of oneself is far better than looking at the world through the system that oppresses her.

The end of The Mark on the Wall finishes Woolf’s thought on the inadequacy of knowledge. An intruder-presumably the narrator’s husband-walks into the room, disturbing the quiet thoughtfulness that existed before. His tone contrasts the female narrator’s tone greatly:

“I’m going out to buy a newspaper.” “Yes?”

“Though it’s no good buying newspapers…. Nothing ever happens. Curse this war; Goddamn this war! … All the same, I don’t see why we should have a snail on our wall.”

Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail.

The intruder’s talk of the war and newspapers is indicative of his logical attitude. He should want to increase his knowledge, even though the world may be a horrible place at this moment. Because he looks at the world from such a logical perspective, he instantly identifies the mark on the wall as a snail, cutting the narrator’s winding, introspective tale short. However, according to Wing-chi Ki, “…the intruder cannot see the value of the snail. He cannot understand the liminoid fun, the subversiveness of being out-of-place”. Here, we see again the contrast between male antiquity and female modernity. The female narrator can see the beauty and pleasure in not knowing what the mark is, but the male intruder cannot. He is stuck in his own little’ war-torn world, disconnected from the “liminoid fun” of daydreaming. Woolf wants the reader to see that there is beauty in the twists and turns of the human mind, and that ignoring that fun for the sake of increasing one’s “knowledge” is far from productive. In fact, it’s antiquated and boring.

To conclude, Virginia Woolf’s short story, The Mark on the Wall, is a feminist piece of literature and should be treated as such. It’s also a demonstration of revolution against a system that desires to keep writers in a logical box. In her essay, The Mark on the Wall of Fiction: Virginia Woolf’s Ars Poetica, Adriana Carina Duban writes, “In Woolf’s opinion, real life does not consist of contemporary matters. One should look within to find real life”. The premise of The Mark on the Wall is that real life isn’t limited to the knowledge we’re expected to accumulate over the course of our lives; daydreams and fancies can be just as important.

As said above, feminism was considered an important aspect of Virginia Woolf’s

stories. Indeed, it was an important part of her life. “The Mark on the Wall” was written in 1919 and is set in that time period. During that time, feminism and emancipation were fought for more strongly than today, because women were suffering more difficulties in those days: they were denied education, could not own their own property and were expected to care for their husbands and children with complete disregard to themselves. Woolf wrote novels and essays on the topic and wished to create a different literature, namely one which included a female point of view.

Feminism can be found in “The Mark on the Wall” in the suggestions of the positions of men and women, for example in the recurring mention of Whitaker’s Table of Precedency. This table (or “list,” as Woolf refers to it) is first mentioned when her main character muses about the standards for men and women. The list is taken from Whitaker’s Almanack and portrays the hierarchy for official events. The King or Queen is at the top, followed by princes, archbishops, etcetera. Woolf claims that “the masculine point of view” establishes this table and she continually expresses her hope that it will disappear.

There are several other allusions to how Woolf views men and women, or believes they are viewed. For instance: “What now takes the place of those things I wonder, those real standard things? Men perhaps, should you be a woman”. The “perhaps” gives the allusion that she does not agree with this idea entirely. However, it is known that she believed the world was man-made and women should not have to solve the problems men created. This might be how men take the place of those standard things: they made the world what it is today, though she does not agree with their methods.

The most obvious reference to the difference between men and women is the ending. After a long, contemplative story, in which reality and fantasy intermix, the male character interrupts her thoughts. He reveals that the mark on the wall was a snail, thereby causing an abrupt ending to the story. The truth has been revealed, reality has intervened. “[T]he masculine point of view […] governs [the women’s] lives”, as she says herself. The woman does not get up to see if the mark truly was a snail, instead, she merely accepts the man’s perception and promptly ends the story and her entire train of thought. The reader is left with a dissatisfied feeling, as though the true ending is missing, which might prove that Woolf herself was unsatisfied with the state of affairs.

Woolf’s portrayal of the female main character makes the reader believe that she sees women as imaginative. She questions reality – both the reality opposed to fantasy and the reality in which women are not seen as being as important as men. The male character oppresses the woman by forcing her to see reality and live according to his rules. This last part is emphasised by him saying he does not understand why they should have a snail on the wall, even though this snail or mark was the cause of the female’s thinking.

On the other hand, there are people like J. B. Batchelor, who do not believe Woolf was a feminist after all. According to Batchelor Woolf emphasised femininity, not

feminism. She is merely concerned about her womanhood and transfers writing, but she does not believe women should rival men. Batchelor claims that Woolf saw a different role for women, namely to renew the sense of life in men, Whether this is true or not, it might explain why nature and life are so important in this piece of writing.

this into her

14. Critical Appreciation

[Q. Appreciate critically Virginia Woolf’s short reverie The Mark on the Wall.]

“The Mark on the Wall” is Virginia Woolf’s first short story and an example of her pioneering, modernist style with stream-of-consciousness and introspection. Of the story, she wrote, “I shall never forget the day I wrote ‘The Mark on the Wall’-all in a flash, as if flying, after being kept stone breaking for months.” She also wrote to David Garnett after he admired the story, “I’m very glad you liked the story. In a way it’s easier to do a short thing, all in one flight, than a novel.”

“The Mark on the Wall” references two of Woolf’s childhood memories. She did not like the fire burning in the nursery at Hyde Park Gate because “it frightened me if it burnt after we went to bed. I dreaded that little flickering flame on the walls.” The second memory alluded to in the story is of her mother’s dress, with its red and purple flowers on a black background.

The story was first published in 1917 by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press; it appeared in pamphlet form. It was later issued in a collection of Woolf’s short stories entitled Monday or Tuesday (1921). She considered it to be “dancing in unity” with two other short stories-“Kew Gardens” and “The Unwritten Novel”included in the volume.

Early critics had mixed reactions to the story, though contemporary reactions are much more favorable. Commentators in the early-mid 19th century called the story “exasperating,” “cruelly disappointing,” and “insignificant.” Writer Katherine Mansfield, however, wrote to Woolf, “reread ‘The Mark on the Wall’ yesterday and liked it tremendously.” It is now widely discussed and considered a vital part of Woolf’s oeuvre, especially as a precursor to Jacob’s Room (1922).

Virginia Woolf’s distinctive talents did not arrive fully formed in her first published work. One of her very first published pieces of writing was actually produced when she was still very young: it was an obituary for the family dog, Shag. When Woolf published her first novel, The Voyage Out, in 1915, there were a few signs that she would become a great modernist writer, but not many. The Mrs Dalloway who appears in this first, altogether more conventional novel is markedly different from her reincarnation, in the novel Mrs Dalloway, ten years later. In the ten years that intervened, Woolf had forged a new path for herself, and published two further novels. But it was in short fiction that she first perfected the modernist style that would make her one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

‘The Mark on the Wall’ is one of the greatest of these very short stories Woolf

produced towards the end of the First World War and in its immediate aftermath; they were collected together in the volume Monday or Tuesday in 1921. Woolf herself took on the task of publishing the volume: she and her husband had founded their own printing press, the Hogarth Press, and they duly printed 1000 copies, including four full-page woodcuts by Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell. Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband, called Monday or Tuesday one of the worst printed books ever published because there were so many typographical mistakes, but that didn’t matter. With this volume, which included ‘The Mark on the Wall’, Woolf made her mark as an exciting new modernist writer.

Woolf wrote ‘The Mark on the Wall’ in 1917, while the First World War was still raging; it’s the earliest of her ‘mature’ and most recognisably modernist short stories. The story was conceived partly as an escape from the wearisome process of writing her second novel, Night and Day (1919), which, like her first novel, began to gesture towards a new modernist technique but hadn’t quite arrived there yet.

In summary, ‘The Mark on the Wall’ is narrated by someone who recalls noticing a mark on the wall of their house. But the story is not really ‘about’ the mark on the wall, but rather what it prompts the narrator to think about, muse upon and recollect. As well as speculating on what the mark on the wall might be a small hole, or perhaps a leftover rose leaf – the narrator’s mind wanders to much bigger questions and meditations, such as the nature of life, where Shakespeare found his inspiration, and even what the afterlife might be like: Hogarth Press published Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall” originally in pamphlet form, and then later in a collection of short stories. Formed by Woolf and her husband, Leonard Woolf, the press occupies a storied position in 20th-century arts and letters.

The narrator fancies she sees the fire as ‘the cavalcade of red knights’. The alliterative fricatives in the phrase ‘that old fancy of the crimson flag flapping’ lend an excitement and verve to this image. There seems to be some irony in her ‘relief’ as the ‘sight of the mark interrupted the fancy’ because the majority of the story seems to be her exercising her imagination. The fact that it is ‘an old fancy, an automatic fancy, made as a child perhaps’ implies that this is part of her character – the tendency for her mind to wander to the fantastical. Again in the phrase is the ‘perhaps’ of not quite knowing from whence her thoughts and memories come. This self-confessedly fallible narrator seems more genuine because of her uncertainties: an irony that adds to the depth of the narrative point.

The dark spot on the wall is the focus of the story that she returns to, periodically anchoring the stream of consciousness. Colours of ‘crimson’ and ‘red’ provide a contrast with the mark, ‘black upon the white wall’, perhaps juxtaposing the vibran.cy of the imagination with the room. The description of her knight image is finished with the words ‘black rock. The pararhyme creates a definitive, conclusive end to her distraction. She returns directly after the mark. The colours ‘red’ and ‘white’ reappear in another fanciful thought: ‘the miniature of a lady with white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations. It is interesting that the flowers

of her simile are given colour, yet the ‘three chrysanthemums’ that stand on her not. This could indicate that she is more taken by the brilliance of

mantelpiece are colour in her mind’s eye than in reality and so more absorbed with her internal life. At times the story seems a self-aware exploration of internal monologue, ‘how readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object. The lexical field of nature hints at the idea that it is ingrained in human behaviour patterns to think this way. In this simile, the ants carry ‘a blade of straw’, rather than grass, thus suggesting that their exercise is futile and ultimately unfulfilling. The implication is that swarming thoughts are similarly fruitless.

Complex sentences reflect the flow of related thoughts; the final sentence of the second paragraph is significantly longer than others, evoking excitability in the focaliser’s rapidly flowing thoughts. The extreme verb ‘torn asunder’ indicates the significance of this conversation to her, potentially because of the idea presented: ‘art should have ideas behind it.’ It is possible that Woolf is making a wider point here about the art of literature that she intends the reader to pause on. The simile that follows shows the narrator seeing things as they almost happen, ‘as one is torn from the old lady about to pour out tea and the young man about to hit the tennis ball in the back garden of the suburban villa as one rushes past in the train.’ Her experiences are incomplete, unsatisfactory, connoting the truncated and fleeting nature of thought. It is also reminiscent of the way she pulls short and limits her moments of imagination at the start of the story.

A contrast is created by the staid thinking of the people that owned the house previously, who moved because they wanted to change their style of furniture.’ Their insistence on a single style of house and décor is contrapuntal to the fluid, imaginative thinking of the narrator. The repetition in ‘an old picture for an old room’ highlights the simplicity of their view.

The narrator’s curiosity about the neighbours seems to be phrased more as one would refer to a story than to people, ‘one will… never know what happened next’, as if their lives are a tale without ending. This further connotes her tendency to imagination. In this case and elsewhere, the voice changed from using the first person ‘I’ to the inclusive pronoun ‘one’, which creates a distance from the sentiment. This has the effect of drawing attention to the thoughts and their processes: she is observing the thoughts as if they are held by another, but also creating the sense that her concerns could have universality.

This story typifies a modernist transition from traditional first person narration to stream of consciousness. The narrator begins by resisting distraction, drawing the story back to the mark on the wall. However, in her attempt to express the nature of wandering thoughts, she ultimately introduces imagery that is more elaborate and evocative than her childhood imaginings. The reader realises that the mark on the wall is the catalyst for an exploration of the ever-active mind.

‘The Mark on the Wall’ ends with the narrator realising that the titular mark on the wall was nothing more exciting, after close analysis and inspection, than a snail.

But this is surely the point: it’s very ordinary, its unremarkable nature, the fact that it is something so everyday and unattractive (unless snails are your thing), is a reminder that external details do not give our lives the meaning they have. Instead, that meaning is found in the musings and daydreams, the thoughts and meditations, that arise from everyday contemplations of such things – even something as small and insignificant as a mark on the wall.

Woolf experiments with this impressionist style yet again in a story entitled “The Mark on the Wall.” The narrator of this short piece sees a mark on her wall as she sits smoking and begins to meditate on it: within this meditation, impressions flow swiftly. She contemplates the meaning of life: “…if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hourlanding at the other end without a single hairpin in one’s hair! Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked! Tumbling head over heels in the asphodel meadows like brown paper parcels pitched down the shoot in the post office! …all so casual, all so haphazard. . .”. She further contemplates what is “after life: The slow pulling down of thick green stalks so that the cup of the flower, as it turns over, deluges one with purple and red light…There will be nothing but spaces of light and dark, intersected by thick stalks, and rather higher up, perhaps, rose-shaped blots of an indistinct colour…”. Such passages indicate Woolf’s developing impressionist method, of her need as a writer to create the shifting, vivid life as it is lived-the thoughts as they change from one subject to another, the connections between our minds, the subterranean life of which we remain largely unaware.

A TEXTUAL EVALUATION [BROAD TYPE QUESTIONS: 5 MARKS]

1. Comment on the use of stream-of-consciousness technique in the story.

While T. S. Eliot surveyed the “waste land” of modern society with despair, other modernists like Virginia Woolf observed the break-up of traditional meaning structures and formal unity with something closer to exhilaration. As Woolf writes in “The Mark on the Wall”, “Why, if one wants to compare life to anything, one must like it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hours-landing at the other end without a single hairpin in one’s hair!…. Yes, that seems to express the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard”.

On one level, “The Mark on the Wall” is a humorous record of one mildly eccentric woman’s thoughts as she sits by the fire on a winter’s day. Yet on another level, the thoughts this woman thinks and more importantly-the way she thinks them amount to a manifesto for modern literature. In Woolf’s view, traditional narrative form cannot do justice to the tumultuous randomness of life. A novel that commences deanly, unfolds a sequence of events logically and evenly, and concludes unambiguously,

is too similar in its structure to “Whitaker’s Almanack” with its “Table of Precedency” that explains how the various ranks of society must comport themselves in public life. “The Archbishop of Canterbury is followed by the Lord High Chancellor; the Lord High Chancellor is followed by the Archbishop of York. Everybody follows somebody, such is the philosophy of Whitaker; and the great thing is to know who follows whom”. Fiction should instead convey the brevity and disjunction of relations and experiences: life is much like looking out the window of a fast-moving train and being continually “torn … from the old lady about to pour out tea and the young man about to hit the tennis ball in the back garden of a suburban villa”. Rather than an orderly sequence of events, Woolf advocates a form of narrative that consists of a series of brief impressions, unfinished vignettes, unfolding in random order, unrelated to one another, and of no particular consequence in themselves.

With Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf also accepts the stream of consciousness technique in her writing. To record the flaw of consciousness this technique is brought into perfection by certain use of symbols and imagery where plots relegate into the second position. Her present essay The Mark on the Wall is well distinguished by a capacity for a deep and complex response to the experience of the moment, stressing the subtle to and fro activity of the mind.

The Mark on the Wall is most probably written in the year 1919, that month of January when the author sits comfortably in a chair, finishing her cigarette, few old fancies touch her thoughts. The old castle town where the crimson flag flapping and the red knights with their perfect dress patrolling the castle is the fancy she glances in her mirror of mind. But certain Mark on The Wall that is a few inches of mental peace stops her fancy and moves her to general reflections on life that comes into her consciousness.

Now the narrator at first surrounds her thought on that mark. After careful perception she concludes that it is a mark made by a nail. And if so it must have been for miniature not of a picture. With this connection she furthers her thought about the farmer occupants of that house and their likings.

In an argumentative tone she then remarks that the mark is too big or full to be a nail’s. The mystery regarding the identity of the mark leads the author to reflect upon the mystery of life. On a philosophical note Virginia Woolf commands that mankind has lesser knowledge regarding the mystery of life and after life. She then thinks the mark is made of rose leaves. She then travels in her imagination from the world of reality to the unreality covering all the aspects of life. As the mark is a reality she touches the hole and feels its wavy shape that reminds her of the mounds in the hilly regions of the southern end of England.

In a sudden sprang of thought the author now decides not to disturb herself by brooding on The Mark on the Wall. She tries to find out peace or a comfort from existing things. The author then acknowledges us that she is quite aware of the fancies of nature. That nature aims at reducing all the pains and pangs of life in an automatic way. It soothes her heart. The horrors in her heart are coming down.

Suddenly the fancy is displayed by the rude reality of ‘The Mark on the wall’ and suddenly the author reveals that ‘The Mark on the wall’ is made by a snail. And to that end the thoughts that have been coming freely into her mind stop suddenly.

2. Produce a brief analysis of the story.

Virginia Woolf illustrates her writings in many ways. She uses complex and textured narrative which requires the reader to have active engagement to untangle what the meaning or purpose she had for writing her stories. She uses many techniques in her writing that break normal writing rules. In one of her story’s she uses an unnamed narrator and goes through her thoughts and understanding all because she sees a mark on the wall. Woolf wrote that story to write using intimate thoughts of a woman with random thoughts spiraling out and touching on subjects not most people would not normally think about. The reader’s analysis of Woolf’s use of broken thoughts and her unusual way of writing with some of her history reflected in her story, “The Mark On The Wall.” Woolf’s full name is Adeline Virginia Woolf, she was born on January 25th, 1882 into a complex large family of Leslie and Julia Stephen. Her family was relatively privileged. Her background lies within the circles of the London elite families. Her atmosphere at home was linked by intellectual, artistic, literary and philanthropic interest. Virginia was self-educated. She taught herself from her father’s extensive library.

In Woolf’s life she experienced debilitating periods of illness, which she labeled madness. During Woolf’s time the first World War was happening and along with women’s suffrage. Also in the span of her life women did not have the same resources as men when it came to universities. Woolf not only persuaded the importance of many different feminisms; she also shows that it was possible to encompass them. When she was fifteen she was rebelling against the traditional role played by her mother. Woolf wanted to convince people that if we do not reject the term as she did, there are many advantages to using feminism in plural, a strategy that can help accommodate the many different uses of feminism. “The Mark On The Wall” is the result of Woolf’s effort to write in private. The intimate thoughts and mind of a woman. The woman in the story demonstrates that Woolf believed that feelings and emotions in a work of art are better conveyed by women.

3. What gender roles have been shown by Woolf in the story ‘The Mark on the Wall’?

The United Kingdom saw the birth of social movements around women’s rights during the Victorian Period, but many major victories occurred during or after Woolf’s lifetime. The first law on women’s suffrage, for instance, was passed in the UK in 1918, one year after “The Mark on the Wall” was originally published. Virginia Woolf wrote most of her fictional work about female protagonists and often addressed the inequalities between men and women-for example, UK universities like Oxford and Cambridge only began admitting women later in Woolf’s life and she regretted never having access to the formal education her husband and other friends in the Bloomsbury group had. Although the gender of the narrator of this story is never explicitly

specified, the text strongly suggests she is a woman sitting in her living room with her partner. She reflects on different social expectations on men and women and addresses the male role particularly critically. However, she blames society rather than individual men and women for the problems with gender roles.

The narrator reflects on developments in human history, discrediting the alleged superiority of masculine authority that has shaped so much of that history. The narrator specifically dismisses “learned men” as “the descendants of witches and hermits who “crouched in caves and in woods brewing herbs, interrogating shrewmice and writing down the language of the stars.” By linking such men to a history of superstition, the narrator implicitly devalues the authority of those who control society. The narrator further compares belief in the wisdom of ruling men to a form of superstition itself. Thus, “the less we honour them as our superstitions dwindle”that is, the less people put unquestioning faith in fallible masculine authority-“one could imagine a very pleasant world […] without professors or specialists or housekeepers with the profiles of policemen.”

Yet even as the narrator devalues male authority, she questions the ability to truly overthrow it: “This train of thought, she perceives, is threatening mere waste of energy […] for who will ever be able to lift a finger against Whitaker’s Table of Precedency?” She further notes that old traditions like “Sunday luncheons” (a reference to Sunday mass and religion) have been displaced without “damnation.” In their place stands “the masculine point of view” which governs lives, sets standards, and “establishes Whitaker’s Table of Precedency.” Although she does not regret the loss of old traditions, she also does not celebrate the “masculine” standards that have replaced them. The narrator claims that the war has caused Whitaker’s Table of Precedency to become “half a phantom to many men and women” and hopes it “will be laughed into the dustbin where phantoms go.” She believes it would leave behind “an intoxicating sense of illegitimate freedom.” The narrator’s hopes are clearly linked to the rejection of masculine standards. Because she has seen progress in her own lifetime, she comes to a partially optimistic conclusion about the future that is seemingly at odds with her own assertion that such endeavors toward equality are a “mere waste of energy.”

Furthermore, the narrator thinks about the impact of gender roles on her own life and shows the ways that these expectations do not match her reality. She notices the dust left on the mantelpiece by her “not being a very vigilant housekeeper.” Given her desire for a world without housekeepers, this indicates that she does not wish she were a better housekeeper but rather feels trapped by the expectation that she be one in the first place. When she pictures a more beautiful “after life,” she claims that “saying which are trees, and which are men and women, or whether there are such things” will be impossible. This means that a utopian vision in the mind of the narrator involves the eradication of the differences between the sexes. She also names the image of “men and women [sitting] after tea, smoking cigarettes” as a peaceful and happy one. And as this is what she is currently doing, the more pleasant

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world she pictures is clearly within reach for individuals. Unequal standards and the tendencies of “men of action” upset the narrator, but she leaves the possibility for pleasant thoughts of men and women living in harmony.

Although the narrator chafes at the gender roles that have been ascribed to her, she does not make sweeping biological generalizations-that is, she does not argue that men and women are inherently different. Rather, she reflects on the way that social expectations influence people of either gender and constrict their lives. Woolf portrays a strongly egalitarian view on the relationship between men and women, indicating that both are capable of reason and goodness. A better world would emerge with the relaxation of these strict social norms-and positive relationships between men and women were already possible between individuals.

4. An account of reflections is more important than a description of reality according to the author. Why?

Reality is often a dry and monotonous explanation of things. It lacks the luster of emotions and a description of reality often fails to evoke the feelings that the author wants to convey through his or her work. Reflections, on the other hand, helps people to introspect. By composing characters who can reflect upon the deep hidden truths of life, the true meaning of the work can be conveyed. Woolf believes that true reflections are required to make the character a round character and the depths of that character can be explored through such reflections. While reality can inspire the author, however, only portraying the character’s realist side tends to make it dry and devoid of any underlying emotions. Hence, according to the author an account of reflections is more important than a description of reality.

5. In the short story ‘Mark on the Wall’ by Virginia Woolf, how do the various images of the mark contribute to the story?

It Must Have Been Winter – The narrator struggles to fix the date in January when she noticed the mark on the wall by welling images capable of making the connection: “So now I think of the fire; the steady film of yellow light upon the page of my book; the three chrysanthemums in the round glass bowl on the mantelpiece.” The fire connotes the need for winter warmth; the yellow light is a visual indicator of the subtle changes in tone and hue of sunlight as the earth makes it way around the sun; the flowers seal the deal: chrysanthemums are late bloomers, usually not capable of being cut for display until late fail at the earliest.

Stream of Consciousness – The story is an example of the stream-of-consciousness technique, in which the writer attempts to present the world through the perspective of how the mind actually works by jumping from one thought to another in ways sometimes associated and sometimes not. Early on, Woolf allows her narrator to recognize the technique and comment upon it, presenting an image that exploits the connotation of “swarming” with the visual concept of ants engaged in a process of construction similar to the construction of her thoughts in that brief chronological moment in time which the story describes: “How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it.”

The Mark – The central imagery in the story is directed toward the titular blemish. The imagery is a strategic device utilized for the purpose of revealing the imagination and intellectual depths of the narrator; her rejection of patriarchal conventions and her intellectual exercises thus take on greater focus and set the stage for the story’s conclusion. The imagery starts from a purely utilitarian point: “The mark was a small round mark, black upon the white wall, about six or seven inches above the mantelpiece.” From there, the imagery of the mark grows increasingly metaphorical and philosophical, expanding within the consciousness of the narrator to become something worthy of use to contemplate history, art, sociology, and politics. All of these images make the mark something more than it is, as every flicking thought of the woman looking at it leads to the moment when the explanation she was trying so hard to avoid is provided for her, and the reality that it is a snail confirms the validity of her rejection of the patriarchy.

“The Mark on the Wall” concludes with the narrator’s discovery that the mark on the wall was a snail. This realization ends the story, but it can be assumed that the narrator’s internal monologue does not end here rather, the story proves that internal monologues persist through our waking lives, only interrupted by action. The narrator explains to us that interruptions are part of human thought patterns: “Here is Nature, once more at her old game of self-preservation. This train of thought, she perceives, is threatening mere waste of energy, even some collision with reality…”. The final “collision with reality” comes with the story’s last sentence. This aspect of. human thought, along with doxa, order of thoughts, and reflection, are Woolf’s observations on how the mind works in solitude.

6. Explain : “Oh! dear me, the mystery of life; The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity!”

The Narrator of the story speaks these lines. By this point, the reader knows that this story is about far more than a mere mark on the wall. It’s not the mark on the wall that is important. It is not even what the mark is that is important. What’s important is the mystery-a mystery that is far better left unsolved for as long as possible. The narrator herself knows this, for she understands that, at any moment, she can stand up, walk over to the mark, inspect it, and thereby know what it is. This, though, is the “masculine view of things”: the claim that everything is as Whitaker’s Table of Precedency says it is-clear, ordered, and precise. That is not the true nature of things, however, and she ruminates on how the world would be much more pleasant and peaceful if one stepped back from the claim to knowledge.

7. Why does the author feel that one needs to have an account of his or her reflection than get the description of the reality? Bring out the ironies in the story.

Reality puts an end to our imagination in one go, and it makes the explanation monotonous. Reality also puts an end to our emotional lustre. The reflections help

people to introspect better their decisions and judgements. When one looks at the things and starts to analyze it in his or her mind, this helps to get deep in to unveil some hidden truths. These reflections help to bring out the depth of the character. This is why the author feels that an account of the reflection is more important as compared to describing reality.

Active Mind versus Inactive Body – Its a situational irony. If bothered by a strange and hitherto absent mark on the wall, most people would simply get out of their seat and see what it was. The woman does not do this. Her mind is running a marathon of possibilities, visiting different historical periods, considering the meaning of life, and wondering about prior inhabitants of the house, but her body is ironically still, as she is oddly not motivated to get out of her chair to see what the mark is. As fast as her mind moves, her body does not move at all.

Husband’s Identification of the Mark – A dramatic irony in the story is the husband’s identification of the mark on the wall. The woman spends a long time considering what the mark might be and philosophizes at length about it. By contrast, her husband is in the room for less than a minute and is able to identify the mark as a snail.

Overanalyzing without Remembering – This is another situational irony. The woman decides that the mark is actually a nail hole that was left after a picture was taken down. The irony of this is that, for all of her philosophizing and thinking, she does not remember for some time that she has never actually hung a picture up there.

An Answer without Closure – Finally a verbal irony in the conclusion. At the end of the story, the narrator’s husband flippantly, unknowingly, answers the question that the narrator has been pondering throughout the story: the mark on the wall is a snail. Ironically, however, the overall epistemically skeptical tenor of the story leaves the reader uncertain as to whether the mark really is a snail, despite the fact that the mark’s identity has been identified in what one might imagine is the most straightforward way possible. This invites the question: is there any ending to the story that could really leave us satisfied that we really know what the mark is?

8. Looking back at objects and habits of a bygone era can give one a feeling of phantom-like unreality. What examples does the author give to bring out this idea?

The author gives the example of William Shakespeare, one of the most popular Elizabethan dramatists, who perfectly depicts the phantom-like unreality of a bygone era. The image of Shakespeare sitting by the residence with his hands in his head in quiet solitude while the heavens showered him with ideas and inspirations, seemed extremely unreal and improbable. She does not believe that any such phenomena can take place to provide inspiration. Inspirations come naturally to a person through his/ her surroundings. For her, the concepts of Hell and Heaven or Good and Evil or Devil and God, all seem too unreal to exist.

9. Comment on the significance of the snail.

As it turns out, the mark on the wall is only a snail. However, the narrator’s

realization of this fact seems little in comparison to the meaning of the image in the entire scheme of Woolf’s narrative. Essentially, the snail is something from the outside world an object in nature that has crept into the narrator’s household. Given that the narrator dwells on the role of nature in her life, the snail can represent the humble yet significant reminder of life existing outside of the mind. After her mind has wandered out of consciousness thinking about what the mark is, the realization that it is just a snail grounds her in reality because a snail is a small but very real thing.

The reader likely thinks it is odd that the thing that has crept into the narrator’s home is a snail. It seems an unlikely invader from the outside world. However, readers can dismiss the oddity of the situation as they ome to see that the snail represents many ideas in Woolf’s story. The slow movement of the snail coincides with the pace of the narrator’s thinking as she tries to discern the mark on the wall. She never stands up to get a closer look at the mark. Instead, she views it from afar while seated in her chair and ponders the nature of the mark. She asks what the mark may be and how it got there, and this leads her mind down a path of selfreflection. And after all this pondering over what the mark is, someone else in the room, a man, stands up, casually notices the mark, and calls it what it is: a snail. In this instance, the snail comes to represent how she understands that men and women may perceive the world in different ways.

Woolf’s feminist stance on gender is reflected in her illustration of man’s practicality versus woman’s inquiry. A man will see something, investigate it, and call it what it is, while a woman will “overthink” before investigating, and her mind will go down a path of inquiry. The differences are not necessarily a bad thing, and modern studies in neuroscience and psychology suggest that these are the ways male and female brains are naturally wired for thinking: women’s brains are wired to think more analytically than men’s. However, in Woolf’s day and age, the difference was likely perceived as a flaw on the part of the woman.

10. How does the imagery of (i) the fish (ii) the tree, used almost poetically by the author, emphasize the idea of stillness of living breathing thought? How does the author pin her reflections on a variety of subjects on the ‘mark on the wall’? What does this tell about the way the human mind functions?

Woolf contemplates the life of a tree and a sh to depict the idea of the ‘stillness of living, breathing thought’. She says “Wood is a pleasant thing to think about. It comes from a tree, and trees grow, and we don’t know how they grow”. The phenomena of a tree quietly growing without any external interference describes how nature works in solitude in its own way. She further explains it using the imagery of a sh saying, “I like to think of the sh balanced against the stream like ags blown out” to describe the still nature around us which is often left unseen.

The method of narration portrayed in this chapter is the technique of “Stream of consciousness”. The author jumps between narrowly related thoughts in order to

solve the mystery behind the mark on the wall. This portrays the workings of the complex human mind and the mental processes. For solving the mere issue of the mark on the wall, she goes into unimaginable depths. The mark on the wall makes her dig into history as far as Shakespeare and consequently provokes her mental processes to look into the future. Thus, the vast scope of the human mind is portrayed through this story and it uses the technique of ‘stream of consciousness’ to depict the complex workings of the human mind.

11. The story is based on the theme of war. Explain.

Woolf wrote and published “The Mark on the Wall” while World War I was sweeping across Europe. The war had a drastic impact on life in London-Germany began strategically bombing the city in 1915, and Woolf writes extensively in her diaries and other stories about the unprecedented architectural and social destruction caused by the fighting. The narrator of this story attempts to have a normal day “smoking a cigarette” after tea, but allusions to the war repeatedly interrupt her thoughts. The persistence of these interruptions on an otherwise peaceful day indicates the difficulties of leading a normal civilian life during wartime. The narrator displays a distinctly negative stance on the war but ultimately cannot escape its effects.

There is a clear dissonance between the domesticity of the narrator’s day and the unrest in her thoughts-despite her peaceful activities, she cannot keep her mind off the war. The story starts with the narrator sitting in her living room in winter, for instance; prompted by the sight of burning coals, the narrator jumps to the militaristic image of a “crimson flag” and a “cavalcade of red knights.” This fancy is interrupted to her relief by “the sight of the mark.” These thoughts link clearly to the war, revealing how deeply it has entered even into the homes of London residents.

She goes on to think about how future novelists will describe the modern world and accuses herself of making “generalizations” that she calls “very worthless.” She dismissively links the word “generalizations” with the military notion of general, noting, “The military sound of the word is enough. It recalls leading articles, cabinet ministers…” In her final mental monologue on the life of a tree, the narrator again uses several military metaphors and similes. She thinks about fish in streams “like flags blown out” and considers the tree with “nothing tender exposed to the iron bullets of the moon.” Even the narrator’s “pleasant” thoughts show a preoccupation with the war.

Thinking about the war, in turn, makes the narrator feel out of control-and she deliberately tries to distance herself from such “disagreeable thoughts” by looking at the mark on her wall. She further notes that when she “must shatter this hour of peace” she should “think of the mark on the wall.” This links the practice of thinking about the mark directly to distraction from unpleasant thoughts in general, which are militaristically intruding on her “hour of peace.” Although she also criticizes this form of distraction, she is forced to play along to find a sense of calm after “waking from a midnight dream of horror.” She describes focusing on the mark as taking action to

avoid painful or exciting thoughts, even as she expresses contempt for choosing distraction over reflection.

Notably, one of the narrator’s primary preoccupations centers on Whitaker’s Table of Precedency, which is a list of the hierarchy of officials in England such as the archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Lord High Chancellor. These individuals control large social decisions, including the decision to go to war, which normal civilians take no part in. In theory these facts of hierarchy could “comfort […] instead of enraging” the narrator-in the sense that they assert someone, somewhere is handling things; however, she fixes her eyes on the mark on the wall to dismiss the Archbishops and Lord High Chancellor to “the shadows of shades.” It seems she has little faith in those in charge, and this moment drives home her resentment for the war at large.

The final proof that the narrator uses the mark on the wall to distract her from the war occurs at the end of the story. Her partner says, “Curse this war; God damn this war!” and then complains about the snail on the wall, but all the narrator thinks in the final line is “Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail.” She would still rather think about the mark than the war, because those thoughts are useless and “no good.”

In the end, “The Mark on the Wall” portrays some of the civilian costs of war. Rather than focusing on the larger economic and political costs and benefits, however, Woolf examines the impact of wartime on an everyday civilian couple. Because wartime decisions were made by officials higher up on Whitaker’s Table of Precedency, there was nothing civilians could do to cope with the war besides try to take their minds off of it. Focusing on the solid natural world worked to a certain extent, but the story suggests that there was ultimately no way to entirely escape the effects of the war.

12. How are reality, memory and time represented? What nature of self-reflection do you find in the story?

The narrator struggles to discern what is “real” in the meaning she makes of the mark on the wall. What seems like a simple observation becomes an invitation for her to ponder the meaning of how the mind perceives reality by trying to piece together the unknowable history of things. Virginia Woolf’s investigation of this theme through the mind of the narrator also provides a commentary on whether or not it is possible for a writer to ever truly represent reality in fiction, given that one can never truly know another person’s inner world. Woolf builds tension without action, as both the narrator and the reader question the mystery of the mark in a quest to understand it. Through this lens, the reader is in the same position as the narrator, until the other person in the room-“someone”-declares that the mark is a snail.

It is significant that even though the story begins in the past tense as a memory, the narrator recalls in stream of consciousness her thought process in the present tense. Thematically, Woolf comments on the idea that past, present, and future can blur together in the way the mind attempts to understand the reality of what already

happened, what is currently happening, and what might happen. The narrator concludes that only solid things are real, such as trees and furniture. Everything else is warped by time in memory.

Woolf’s use of stream of consciousness highlights the theme of self-reflection. Woolf develops the narrator’s character through her line of thinking, or the path down which her thoughts lead her consciousness, and the self-reflection it instigates. Thus the reader gains insight into the narrator’s internal world. This use of self-reflection demonstrates how a character’s thoughts can indicate who they are-perhaps even more than their thoughts and action do. Revelation through self-reflection allows a different point of entry into the character’s motivation. Even though the narrator’s thoughts and memories are unique, Woolf invites readers to consider the ways their own stream of consciousness and free associations mirror the narrator’s. Self-reflection is rarely linear; it often follows a circular or meandering logic that departs from a memory or an observation. In this case, the narrator receives some closure in the end as to what the mark is. Still, her self-reflection opens up further inquiries for her to investigate and for the reader to consider in the total impact of the story.

13. Comment on the significance of the self and the other in the story.

Although the story’s narrative occurs solely in the mind of its narrator, her thoughts turn consistently towards those of other individuals and the possibility of knowing their minds. She reflects with interest on the impossibility of following another’s life, yet her mind circles back to figures as diverse as the former tenants of her house, the people she sees outside a train window, and Shakespeare. These mental forays reveal some hope of encounter between others’ minds, or perhaps merely a pleasant fascination with others’ internal lives. However, the sudden reveal at the story’s close that the narrator has not been alone in the room retrospectively colors these musings. In the end, Woolf leaves it ambiguous as to whether people can truly understand each other at all when the narrator’s partner anticlimactically reveals the identity of the mark on which she has spent so long dwelling.

The narrator enjoys considering the lives of others, and also cites distance between people as a source of deep concern and anxiety. In her first guess about the identity of the mark on her wall, she wonders if it belongs to the house’s former tenants and says she thinks of them often because “one will never see them again” and “never know what happened.” She goes on to consider how others think about her and concludes that humans like to construct romantic images of themselves. The narrator wonders what happens when that romantic image disappears and all that remains is “that shell of a person which is seen by other people.” She says this leads to an “airless, shallow” world that is “not to be lived in.” This would suggest that people can never truly know each other, leading to a world in which people see only the hollow shells of those around them. Despite her cynicism about the way others see her, the narrator also displays ambivalence about self-image. She talks about “dressing up the figure of herself” in her mind “stealthily.” She finds it curious that “one protects the image of oneself from idolatry.” This language of “dressing up” and “idolatry” indicates that the process of protecting a positive self-image from the criticisms of others is itself an illusion.

Despite the deeply introspective and solitary reflections of the narrator, at the close of the story it turns out she is not alone-someone, presumably a man, interrupts her reflections. This leads to two possible conclusions. In the first instance, this moment confirms the narrator’s worst cynicisms. Attempts at contact between different people’s competing mental lives will lead to disappointment as they do in the conclusion of this story. To evidence this, the man’s interruption “gets in the way” and causes “a vast upheaval” where “everything’s moving, falling, slipping, vanishing.” These emotions are chaotic and a shocking contrast to the calm tone of the narrator’s previous reflections, which make them appear all the more unwelcome. He then curses the war and then says, “all the same, I don’t see why we should have a snail on the wall.” Given that the narrator has spent the entire story guessing the identity of the mark, even saying she might not want to know, this reveal is very anticlimactic and proves that none of her thoughts have been apparent to her companion. In a second, more positive interpretation, the presence of this other person proves

the narrator is not as alone as she thought she was. Furthermore, if the narrator’s mind is this vibrant and lively, then perhaps the minds of others are too. Only society leads one to see other people as “shells” with “glassy eyes.” And though the man might have a different perspective on the mark on the wall, he and the narrator share a negative view on the war-suggesting a certain meeting of their minds.

What’s more, the “pleasant thoughts” that the man interrupts with such upheaval include the image of “rooms where men and women sit after tea, smoking cigarettes.” The narrator has already admitted to smoking in the first paragraphs, indicating that this happy image could refer to her and the man in question. Furthermore, when she imagines that she wants a life without interruption, she chooses to picture Shakespeare, “a man who sat himself solidly in an arm-chair, and looked into the fire” much like the narrator herself. However, she soon calls this “dull” and a “historical fiction” which doesn’t interest her at all-suggesting an ambivalence towards her stated desire for a solitary, uninterrupted life and perhaps, an appreciation for the intrusions of her companion.

The narrator displays a paradoxical desire for solitude and connection which concludes rather ambiguously. Although she likes to imagine the lives of others and criticizes the elements of society that isolate people, she also has a romantic image of herself that she feels that others cannot see. A cynical worldview might be confirmed when she is flippantly interrupted at the end of the story, but this remains open to interpretation. The narrator indicates that encounters with others lead to a “shallow” world and the shattering of one’s self-image, but that self-image is merely “romantic.” The very fact of her preoccupation of others proves how necessary they are to her, even if this appears to contradict her desire for solitude, pleasant thoughts, and a life “without interruption.”

14. Not seeing the obvious could lead a prospective mind to reflect upon

more philosophical issues. Discuss this with reference to the ‘snail on the wall’. What is the string of varied thoughts that the mark on the wall stimulates in the author’s mind?

The story ‘The Mark on the Wall’ decidedly revolves around the mark present on the wall from across the author. Instead of going for the obvious action of getting up from her chair and inspecting the mark, she decidedly delves into several mental processes in order to solve the mystery behind it. Through this process, she reflects upon more philosophical issues. She travels to the past and the future meeting between thoughts, reflecting upon philosophies and at the same time trying to solve the mystery behind the mark. It is revealed at the end that the mark was made by something as simple as a snail. However, she fails to see the obvious and having a perspective mind, reflected upon a lot of philosophical issues through the entire process.

The mark on the wall stimulates various thoughts in the author’s mind and hence can be seen as a perfect example of ‘stream of Consciousness. At first, she thinks of it as a result of a nail but then while rejecting this idea she starts to think about the personalities of the previous occupants of the house. Then thinking about the hole as an ink mark and not a hole she starts to philosophize about the idea of death. Again, she changes her interpretation and sees the mark as just a shadow while pondering over the writings of Shakespeare and the art character composition.

15. What parallels does the narrator share with the flesh-and-blood author of this story? What is the role of the second character in the broader context of the narrative?

Virginia Woolf lived in a house similar to the one described by the narrator. Like the narrator, she spent countless hours battling a writer’s block, which would lead to lapses in concentration, such as the particular lapse that would enable her to notice and contemplate the mark. Also, the second character who makes a brief appearance at the end is believed to be the husband of the narrator; Woolf lived with her husband Leonard, a publisher who was preoccupied with the news and whose everyday routine included going to buy a newspaper from the corner store. The way in which the narrator’s mind leaps from one subject to another is also reminiscent of Woolf. Throughout her life, Woolf suffered from depression and was given to moments of deep melancholy. The types of things that the woman is thinking about sound very much like things that Woolf herself would be thinking about.

On the face of it, the second character-thought to be the woman’s husbandis largely irrelevant to the plot. He does not seem to affect the woman one way or another, and is seemingly lost in his own little world of ranting and raving about politics. He is passing through her reverie on his way to buy a paper. However, he is actually very important: he observes that the mark on the wall is not a mark at all, but rather a snail. This suggests that something can be one thing to one person and another thing entirely to a second person. This reinforces the philosophical air to the writings-the air that was introduced when the woman began to consider her E.20th.KU-V-51

place in the world and the insignificance of humans in general. He represents the “masculine view of things” in his loudness, assertiveness, explosion into action and desire for indisputable knowledge.

16. How far nature and natural civilization are some intimately related themes with the story?

In the final moments of Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall,” the unnamed narrator discovers that the black speck on the wall of her home-a mark that has prompted her musings about everything from war to the meaning of life is just a snail. This mundane realization at the end of such deep introspection reflects the tension between nature (represented by the snail) and civilization. Nature, in Woolf’s rendering, is indifferent to the whims of humankind-which is why the consideration of the mark on the wall-that is, an intrusion of nature into the home-repeatedly interrupts the narrator’s philosophizing, grounding her before she spirals into existential dread about “accidental affair this living is after all our civilization.” Writing during the rapidly changing technological and political landscape of the early twentieth century, Woolf ultimately presents the natural world as a potential antidote to the anxiety and ills caused by rapid, impersonal societal development.

Though human beings would like to think of civilization as evidence of their dominion over the world, Woolf instead associates society with anxiety, isolation, and disorientation. Woolf specifically links the modern condition to technology such as the Tube (the London metro) and the post office in order to reflect the “ignorance of humanity”: “if one wants to compare life to anything,” she notes, “one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour-landing at the other end without a single hairpin in one’s hair! […] Tumbling head over heels […] like brown paper parcels pitched down a shoot in the post office!”

Woolf clearly feels a disconnect between highly-ordered civilization and the cold randomness of existence, asserting that her technological metaphor “seems to express the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard….. Woolf further rejects that material possessions could protect one from this chaotic loss, presenting even civilization’s most prized objects as ultimately nothing more that fodder for rats to “nibble”: “let me just count over a few of the things lost in one lifetime […] the bird cages, the iron hoops, the steel skates […] all gone, and jewels, too. Opals and emeralds, they lie about the roots of turnips.” In aiming to “show how very little control of our possessions we have,” Woolf denies humanity’s hubristic belief that civilization has achieved mastery over the world.

Natural imagery, however, frequently interrupts these negative reflections on civilization. After being drawn into a spiral of thoughts on the rapidity of life and its “perpetual waste and repair,” the narrator moves into thoughts of the “afterlife” which center on the “slow pulling down” of green stalks of grass and an inevitable return to an indistinct world characterized by “spaces of light and darkness.” When a tree taps against the window, the narrator thinks about her desire to think “quietly, calmly, spaciously” and never be interrupted; she considers thoughts about society to be

Interruptions, it seems, while perceptions of the natural world provide welcome relief. As the narrator fixes her gaze on the mark on the wall, she expresses a longing for certainty, solidity, and “proof of some existence other than ours.” She then thinks about wood, trees, and all of the flora and fauna that live slow lives around human beings. She repeatedly expresses pleasure and happiness about thinking about the different slow, natural sensations produced by trees, until “something gets in the way” and she is pulled back through a “vast upheaval” into the room-that is, into the domestic human world.

Ultimately, the natural world lends itself to perception and reflection in ways that modern civilization does not. The narrator does not embrace an unambiguous preference for nature over civilization, however-in effect, reflections on the slowerpaced and more “certain” realities of the natural world can provide mental relief from the ricocheting onslaught of uncertainties in industrialized spaces.

17. Are time and memory an integral part of the story ‘The Mark on the Wall’? Elucidate.

The narrator fixates on the passage of time and discusses the objects and habits that disappear as time passes. Fragments of the past remain both in the form of memories and objects, like shards of pottery, but time still ultimately emerges victorious in its destructive force. Though people try to hold onto the past, the story suggests, life remains a “scraping paring affair” that is indifferent to individual desires. However, some of the changes that come with the passage of time are positive and even exhilarating. People should focus less on controlling and understanding the past, the story suggests, and instead focus on reality and “the impersonal world which is a proof of some existence other than ours.”

Although the narrator posits that considering concrete possessions allows a return to the past, that return is ultimately limited by the sheer volume of things-physical or otherwise-lost over time. At the start of the story, the narrator claims that to “fix a date it is necessary to remember what one saw.” She considers “the fire,” “the steady film of yellow light on the page of [her] book,” and the chrysanthemums “in the round glass bowl on the mantelpiece,” grounding her setting in concrete images her of surroundings. This indicates that the story that follows occurred in the past, and that the narrator’s stream of consciousness is also a form of memory.

Even though she has grounded her story in the memory of these specific objects, her subsequent memories of objects and possessions leads her to think about their loss and the “haphazard” nature of life. She names “three blue canisters of bookbinding tools” as well as “bird cages, iron hoops, the steel skates” and other items lost over the years. Although one might anchor one’s memories in certain objects, then, the objects themselves will inevitably disappear with the passage of time.

Inspired by the dust on her mantlepiece, she considers “the dust which, so they say, buried Troy three times over, only fragments of pots utterly refusing annihilation.” The process of loss that she experienced on a personal level extends to the scale of grand civilizations like Troy; no matter how developed a society, in the end only

fragments remain-fragments that only tell part of the story. She later reflects on the antiquaries-individuals who study or collect antiquities. She claims they were often retired Colonels who spent their spare time visiting sites like the “barrows on the South Downs” to try to determine whether they were tombs or camps. They might find evidence like “a handful of Elizabethan nails, a great many Tudor clay pipes, a piece of Roman pottery” to support their conclusions, but the narrator dismisses this as “proving I don’t know what.” She concludes that “nothing is proved, nothing is known.” This supports her belief that fragmentary objects cannot in themselves contain or communicate a full history.

Much as Woolf laments the knowledge that time will inevitably erase her own life, she finds a distinct sense of freedom in the knowledge that everything is fleeting. The trivial, unpleasant parts of life will also disappear. For example, the narrator reflects on the Sundays she used to spend in London, which were full of “afternoon walks, Sunday luncheons” as well as “the habit of sitting all together in one room until a certain hour, although nobody liked it.” There were rules for everything, even tablecloths: “tablecloths of a different kind were not real tablecloths.” The narrator’s distaste for these past Sunday afternoons provides an example of time passing in a positive way. Those habitual Sundays with her family eventually ceased, and the narrator describes “how shocking, and yet how wonderful it was” that “these real things […] were not entirely real, were indeed half phantoms.” Reality is not always pleasant, especially when defined by restrictive traditions, yet even the habits that constrict one’s life will disappear over time, like “mahogany sideboards and the Landseer prints, Gods and Devils, Hell and so forth” and leave “a sense of illegitimate freedom” in their stead. While these changes also entail some form of loss, the narrator portrays them as also positive and liberating.

The narrator ultimately takes a cynical view on the prospects of historical reconstruction that is, trying to determine what happened in the past using the fragments left in the future. However, she does not conclude that change is always bad. Instead, she mourns that all that one acquires and produces in one’s life will disappear and be destroyed, while acknowledging that this unceasing march forwards can also be linked to freedom and a sense of progress.

18. What is the anticlimax of the story?

The narrator continues to speculate on the origin of the mark on the wall but concludes, “Nothing is proved, nothing is known.” She contemplates getting up to examine it more closely but decides to stay put because she feels there is nothing to gain by knowing. This leads her to ponder what knowledge even is. In the next moment, she decides she must jump up and finally see for herself what the mark is, but she also considers that this is “Nature’s game-her prompting to take action as a way of ending any thought that threatens to excite or to pain.”

Her thoughts eventually lead the narrator to think about what an individual can be sure about that is solid and real, such as trees. Yet even to trace the life and experience of a tree is unknowable. The narrator realizes that she has lost her train

of thought and forgotten what she was talking about initially. She notices that someone Is standing over her saying they are going out to buy a newspaper, and the person remarks, “I don’t see why we should have a snail on our wall.” The mystery of the mark on the wall is solved-it is only a snail.

19. Can you tell how the author uses communication in marriage in this story? Describe the unbroken flow of thoughts and perceptions of the narrator’s mind, using the example of the colonel and the clergy.

A recurring motif in the works of Virginia Woolf is the gulf that exists between husbands and wives. This theme is not directly addressed in the sense of it being a major point of consideration in the narrator’s long inner monologue; rather, the issue lies simmering quietly by virtue of it not being addressed. The narrator makes just one brief reference to not being alone in the room in the first paragraph when she casually sets the scene: “Yes, it must have been the winter time, and we had just finished our tea.” For the bulk of the story, however, she might as well be completely alone. Only five lines from the end of the story does the other person in the room re-enter the narrative; the shockingly prosaic announcement of this presence “I’m going out to buy a newspaper”-is like having cold water thrown in the face. The monologue of the narrator is so distinctly at odds with this reminder that another person has been there the whole time that, suddenly, the lack of communication becomes an essential theme in a story that has seemed to be about little more than communication. The reader is forced to realize that they likely know more about what goes on inside this woman’s head than her own husband does.

Through her thoughts and views upon the mark on the wall, the narrator philosophizes vast aspects in various ways. This leads to an unbroken flow of thoughts and perceptions in her mind and while thinking of Mark as a Hole she wonders the profession of an antiquary, who without any evidence cannot prove any truths. For this, she uses the example of the colonel, who has to look at both the sides of the coin and then incline himself towards his camp. Giving the example of a retired colonel she says “Retired Colonels, for the most part, I daresay, leading parties of aged labourers to the top here, examining clods of earth and stone, and getting into correspondence with the neighbouring clergy”.

20. Explain the metaphors and similes used in the story.

The Dustbin – The dustbin is used as a metaphor. Woolf muses on the subject of patriarchy, which she describes as the masculine perspective governing all of society. Already, World War I has made the conventional wisdom of the patriarchy “half a phantom,” which she hopes soon will be “laughed into the dustbin”-a metaphor for the manner in which outmoded systems of thought eventually are exposed as laughably empty.

Nature’s Game – Another metaphor is the Nature’s game in the story. Twice Woolf makes specific reference to “nature’s game,” which serves as a metaphor for selfpreservation. But nature, in this sense, is also a metaphor for those things that are not natural, but which seem to be natural through widespread acceptance of

conventional thought-a kind of epistemic “game” that masks the truth of the world from people.

Life as a Wild Ride in the Tube – Woolf constructs an elaborate simile that ruminates on existential dread about the meaningless of life in the face of a disinterested God. Life, the narrator imagines, is akin to “being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour-landing at the other end without a single hairpin in one’s hair! Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked!”

Ants as Stream of Consciousness – Ants are used as simile in the story. Throughout the story, the narrator’s thought processes flit from one idea to another in a demonstration of Woolf’s use of the stream-of-consciousness technique. She even expresses an awareness of this at one point in a simile comparing the cognitive process to the labor of swarming ants: “How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it.”

SHORT TYPE QUESTIONS

1. Who wrote “The Mark on the Wall”?

Virginia Woolf.

2. When was the story published? Where?

‘The Mark on the Wall’ appeared in July 1917 as part of the very first publication of the Hogarth Press.

It was printed in Two Stories.

3. Name another story accompanying the prescribed text.

It was printed in Two Stories, accompanied by the story Three Jews written by Leonard Woolf.

4. ‘And the novelists in future will realize more and more the importance of these reflections.’ Comment.

The narrator’s musings take her down the path of thinking about how writers are able to represent the experiences of human beings. In her view, people prefer think the best of their own image. In reality, most people are merely reflections of one another. As a result, the narrator believes that in pursuing the ability to describe the depths of these reflections, novelists will probably leave the description of reality more and more out of their stories, as Woolf herself did.

5. What technique does Woolf use to make this story modernist experimental fiction?

Interior monologue.

6. What, finally, is the mark on the wall?

A snail.

7. Who is the narrator?

The narrator is most likely a woman.

 

8. Whittaker’s Table of Precedency is associated with what in the text?

The masculine point of view of the story.

9. ‘Nothing is proved, nothing is known.’ Explain.

As the narrator contemplates the origin of the mark on the wall, she grapples with the notion that meaning can never be truly proven or known, given how discriminatory the mind is, biased by its own memory and perceptions. In her mind, she would gain little from the knowledge of the mark on the wall’s origin. If anything, it would only give her more material for speculation, and she arrives at the conclusion that knowledge itself means very little in the philosophical sense.

10. The author describes ‘wood’ poetically. How does this emphasize the idea of being still and the living and breathing thought?

Woolf describes the life of the tree to peep into the stillness of living and breathing thought. She describes the ‘wood’ which is pleasant as it comes from the tree. Trees grow and no one knows exactly about this phenomenon. The reality of how the trees grow in solitude and in its way is something that depends on the idea of being still but breathing and living.

11. What does a woman see? What month did she see the mark on the wall?

A woman sees a mark on her wall and contemplates what it could be. January.

12. Who is likely to be an antiquary?

A retired colonel.

13. What does the mark generate in her mind? What was she doing when she first saw the mark?

Each new idea about the mark generates a train of thought about the complexities and challenges of life.

14. What does she refrain from?

She refrains from actually looking at the mark but prefers to observe and contemplate its meaning and origins.

15. ‘There’s no harm in putting a full stop to one’s disagreeable thoughts by looking at a mark on the wall.’ – What’s the harm?

After the narrator contemplates “Nature’s game” of prompting humans to take action to find answers to questions or worries that plague their mind, she arrives at a conclusion. The narrator thinks that there is no harm in taking that action if it will stop her endless contemplation.

16. Who reveals to her the actual mark? What does the burning coal remind her of?

Eventually, another person reveals to her that it is a snail.

The burning coals remind her of a flag on a castle.

17. What type of narrative technique is used in this story?

The short story “The Mark of the Wall” is a prime example of stream-of consciousness, in which one idea flows organically into another.

18. How is the male point of view criticized in the short story “The Mark on the Wall” by Virginia Woolf?

The short story “The Mark of the Wall” is a prime example of stream-ofconsciousness, in which one idea flows organically into another. This piece is not entirely fictional, as it is told in the first person from the author’s point of view. The narrative is a reflection of the speaker’s thoughts as she contemplates an odd mark on the wall. The story criticizes the male viewpoint by portraying men as the arrogant and rather bumbling controllers of human culture. Woolf also pokes fun at military men, often considered paragons of masculinity.

19. ‘Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall.’ Comment.

The Narrator speaks this.

Woolf investigates the mutable nature of memory and how the senses evoke memories in human beings. At the same time, Woolf explores how a memory is nearly always accompanied by a story a person tells about the recollection to create narrative and meaning.

20. How are ‘our thoughts swarm’?

“Our thoughts swarm upon a new object” like

ants.

move out of the house? The people who moved out of the house did so because they wanted to change their style of furniture.

21. Why did the people move out of the house?

The people who moved out of the house did so because they wanted to change their style of furniture.

22. ‘How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly.’ – Who says this and why?

Narrator.

When the narrator first sees the mark on the wall, she immediately tries to make sense of it and how it came to be there. Woolf does double duty by having the narrator relay her experience as well as comment on how the mind works to assess and understand reality, particularly when what is being beheld is a mystery. Here the narrator cannot help but try to make up a story about the mark on the wall since it is a “new object.”

23. What is the first thing the narrator thinks while seeing the mark? What does she want to have control on?

The first thing she thinks is the mark is a hole.

 

24. Which of the possessions she reflects on losing? Bird cages, jewels and bagatelle board.

She thinks we have little control over our possessions.

25. Explain the speaker and the context of the line ‘I think of them so often because one will never see them again, never know what happened next.’

The speaker is the Narrator.

Here the narrator contemplates the former residents of her home, who may have been the ones to make the mark on the wall. Even as she remembers them, she confronts the notion that the narrative she has about them stopped the day they moved away, because that is where their story ends in her mind. Although their past be a part of her present, she will never know what happened to them next, and so much like the mark on the wall, she finds her mind dwelling in the possibilities.

26. What is life like to the narrator?

She says life seems to be haphazard, rapid and full of waste.

27. What does she observe? What’s the first idea that she came upon?

She observes that she may not be a vigilant housekeeper. The “first idea” that she decides to come up is Shakespeare.

28. ‘The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity!’ Comment on the significance.

As the narrator dwells on the possibilities of how the mark on the wall came to be, she realizes that she will likely never discern the facts of what happened. This leads her down the path of contemplation. She reflects on how inaccurate most speculations and thoughts must be and how ignorant many humans must be regarding the stories that make up their own lives since so little can be known for sure.

29. What does the narrator wish to do? How does she find ‘historical

She wishes to sink deeper into her thoughts.

She finds thinking about “historical fiction” very dull.

30. What is the author’s perception of the limitations of knowledge and learning?

For the author, knowledge has nothing to do with education. One can gain knowledge when he/she starts to think, anyone under any circumstances can think. She says, “A world which one could slice with one’s thought as a fish slices the water with his fin.” The author does not favour blind pursuits of knowledge and learning. She suggests a life, “without professor or specialists”.

31. ‘If one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour.’ Explain.

The narrator’s stream-of-consciousness thoughts lead her to consider how little a person can ever truly know throughout life and how little control people have over the events that occur and the objects they encounter. Regardless, people try to create meaning out of what they encounter, just as the narrator does with the mark on the wall.

32. What were “they” discussing when she came into the room? What does she say to them?

fiction’?

Botany.

She says that we do all except openly adoring the figure in our minds. 33. When will the world be airless and shallow?

If we are only left with the shell of ourselves, the world is airless and shallow.

34. ‘I understand Nature’s game-her prompting to take action as a way of ending any thought that threatens to excite.’ What does the narrator personify here?

The narrator personifies “Nature” as a woman who plays a game, and notes that human nature, in this sense, is driven to take action in order to make sense of the world and create meaning or find answers to the unknown. The narrator realizes that she is driven by the action to take a closer look at the mark on the wall and that this is “Nature’s game” so that she will stop thinking about it.

35. What word brings back ideas of Sunday luncheons and rules and habits? Which point of view governs our lives? Generalizations.

The masculine point of view governs our lives. 36. What change in the depiction of reality does the author foresee for future novelists?

According to the author, the future novelists will no more rely on deadened traits and realities to compose their characters. They will look deeper into the minds of the characters.

37. Where should the “phantoms” go? What are the phantoms? Into the dustbin.

Hell, gods and devils, and landseer prints are the examples of phantoms for the narrator.

38. When does the mark seem like projection from the wall? In some lights, the mark seems to project from the wall. 39. ‘One hastily turns on the light and lies quiescent worshipping solidity.’ Comment.

In the narrator’s mind, she would gain little from the knowledge of the mark on the wall’s origin. If anything, it would only give her more ideas for speculation, and she arrives at the conclusion that knowledge itself means very little in the philosophical sense.

40. What makes the narrator think of the barrows? What does she hope the barrows to be?

The “tumulus” aspect of the mark makes her think of the barrows on South Downs.

She hopes that the barrows are actually tombs.

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