What is happiness? This question may seem to have a simple answer, but proves to be more daunting when further investigated. If you ask a child what they think happiness is, they will probably mention candy, sports, TV, video game, ect. But buried within these responses is the innocence of youth. The older you become, the harder it is to identify the activities and feelings of happiness. Larger issues become more prevalent in life was we age, therefore creating a blurred image of what happiness is. For example, it is harder for children to understand the concept of death; however, as you become older the thought of losing someone forever is more easily understood and creates a stronger emotional response. In humanity we struggle with what true happiness is. We are blinded by the pressures of society such as social pressure and economic pressure. Because there are such high expectations in our society, people tend to focus more so on the negative aspects of life in order to achieve what they think could be happiness. For example, a businessman will work a boring job for years in hope of eventually achieving a dream that may include a family, financial stability, or a home. Consequently, he must endure years of tedious work and misery before he could possibly reach his happiness. Happiness is different for every individual. One might find happiness in love; another might find it in the woods or on a boat. But in the society we live in today, it makes it very difficult for an individual to truly enjoy himself or herself. In Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, a man named Septimus, who suffers from severe PTSD, does not find happiness in life and eventually kills himself. Mrs. Dalloway overhears the news at the party and begins to question what happiness is. Reflecting on the suicide of Septimus, she concludes that “death [is] defiance” from the miseries people face when alive (Woolf 184). In addition, Sigmund Freud mentions in his book Civilization and its Discontent that “satisfaction is obtained from illusions” (Freud 50), and some mechanism used to cope with unhappiness include “powerful deflections… substitutive satisfactions… and intoxication substances” (Freud 41), which goes to show how superficial happiness can be. Society today struggles with the concept of happiness and whether or not people are truly happy. The social normal imposes substantial amounts of pressure on people to fit in with society as opposed to finding individual happiness. Each individual has their own perception of what happiness is, but society today makes it almost impossible to some day achieve that goal.
In the 1920s America was at its highest point. It was the roaring twenties. There were parties going on, people were spending money on extravagant things, having a great time and just enjoying life. It was post war and everything was going spectacularly. But, that was America. What was going on in other countries? How were people responding to the newly ceased war? What was daily life like in countries other than America? Were there underlying issues that are hidden in the chaos of the time? Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf provides a strong perspective of what it was like to live in this time. While reading this story, I took the liberty of comparing the stereotypes we learn about the roaring twenties in America and comparing them to what was going on in Mrs. Dalloway.
To begin, it is important to establish some background information on Virginia Woolf. She was a modernist writer in the early 19th century and spoke at many universities. However, she was mentally ill and would eventually commit suicide. She also questioned her sexuality and was exposed to radical feminism in the UK.
Several of the issues Woolf faced in her own personal life appeared in Mr. Dalloway. The story gave a more dismal aspect to life, despite the underlying plot of preparing for a party. This could be due to the way the story is written. This story is told through many different character perspectives and employs the use of stream of consciousness. Mainly, we get the perception of Mrs. Dalloway who had relations with another women and Septimus who is suffering from a mental disorder known as shell shock. Mental disorder was a very prevalent issue in Woolf’s life and is seen as a major problem through Septimus’ character.
Through these characters and deeper thoughts, are we obtaining a more accurate depiction of what life was really like in the 1920s? Or are we seeing a more biased perspective from Woolf and her personal experiences? We are certainly receiving a biased opinion from the characters.
After reading Mrs. Dalloway, I feel I have a different perspective as to what life was like in the 1920s. It seems to me now that there were many underlying issue of the time that I had not been aware of before. Comparing Mrs. Dalloway to stories such as The Great Gatsby and other stories of the 1920s provides the reader with two completely different perspectives.