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Septimus Warren Smith

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Raymond S. Fathauer

Professor Carolyn Butcher

English 111

October 22, 2015

Septimus Warren Smith

        World War I was a catastrophic war with many detrimental affects on the world as a whole.  With the vast number of casualties and the presence of so much death and turmoil, the culture around that time period portrayed the grief and melancholy of the era.  British Modernist literature more specifically expressed tones of bitterness and despair, protested against the nature of modern society, and showed the examination of the inner self.  Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway exemplifies the qualities of British Modernist literature through the use of her characters.  Septimus Warren Smith is a World War I veteran who is suffering from posttraumatic-stress-disorder.  As he struggles to fit in with a society that doesn’t understand what he is going through, Septimus finds himself very isolated and often up in his own head.  Much of his isolation is due to the numbness that was caused by the war.  Although living apart of an imperialistic society, he becomes very cynical towards war and the purposes of war after becoming a victim of war himself.  Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway is plagued with shell shock and struggles with insane thoughts and hallucinations, is isolated due to his madness, and is opposed to the oppressive Modern British society.

        Virginia Woolf shows her bitterness towards war by displaying Septimus as an insane war veteran who is struggles with insane thoughts and hallucinations.  The reader first sees signs of insanity in Septimus when there is a backfiring of a car in the street, “And there the motor car stood, with drawn blinds, and upon them a curious pattern like a tree, Septimus thought, and this gradual drawing together of everything to one centre before his eyes, as if some horror had come almost to the surface and was about to burst into flames, terrified him,” (Woolf 15).  This quote shows that even the ordinary occurrence of a car backfiring takes Septimus back to the memories of the war, and shows how terrifying daily life can be for a war veteran with “shell shock”.  Woolf uses Septimus to show how excruciating it was for World War I veterans who were mentally ill to live and go through life.  Woolf writes, “In the street, vans roared past him; brutality blared out on placards; men were trapped in mines; women burnt alive; and once a maimed file of lunatics being exercised or displayed for the diversion of the populace (who laughed aloud), ambled and nodded and grinned past him, in the Tottenham Court Road, each half apologetically, yet triumphantly, inflicting his hopeless woe. And would he go mad?” (Woolf 66).  This shows that the war has greatly impacted the mind of Septimus.  He is burdened with the awful memories of the war cannot forget the horrific images of the war.  This also portrays what Woolf thought about the war.  She shows the ugliness of war and the affects through the insanity of Septimus.  She opposes war and shows how negative it can be on a person’s mind and soul.  

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