Women in War and Violence dissertation

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Women in War and Violence

Women War and Violence

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the theory of being and becoming, and to discuss how this theory relates to war and violence in Virginia Woolf's portrayal of female characters in her novels. Being and becoming relates the theories of existence, and how one becomes and matures as an entity in society. It is evident throughout Woolf's lifetime that her character's evolve from simple creatures consumed with thoughts of darkness and death, that through a myriad of experiences with power, control, and pain they are able to transform their lives from simple existence into complex portrayals of beauty and lives that reflect the art of becoming human beings consumed with the beauty of all life has to offer.


To understand being and becoming, and how this relationship exists with regard to war and violence, and further with Woolf and her women characters, one must first understand the theories of being and becoming. According to Karpatschof (2000), to understanding being, one must first understand existence, and to do this one must first specify the "coordinates of existence" or the certain interval something occupied in time and space. Something must be acknowledged as existing when "we are forced to realize its existence, being unable to deny its existence," and can deny existence when we are "unable to assert its existence" (Karpatschof, p. 84). According to Karpatschof (2000), there are categories of being, including "phenomenon" which refers to a casual mode of existence when something "appears," and an object mode which appears as a more "substantial entity; where more "solid and dignified behavior" is expected (p. 88). From here one may expect essence" which categorizes being that exists in "an even more fundamental sense" in that it includes an "ensemble of properties resistant to change" or at a magnitude that is much lower than that of phenomenon or objects (Karpatschof, p. 88). This being, which is defined by changes that make being more elaborate, may more accurately be described as the "becoming" or metamorphasizing into something more than simply coming into existence, which is defined more by phenomenon. Objects and essence involve change and progression, or the becoming of something that came into existence into a new creation of sorts. This is what becoming entails, the development from what was once simple into something more detailed, complex and exacting.

Woolf understood the process of being and becoming very well, because in order to write one must become a writer; this in itself involves a step-by-step process that involves an evolution from being to becoming. Writing is a process; it is a process that moves one from "being" or simply appearing as a written word, into becoming a work of literary excellence that carries the heart, mind, and soul into brave new places. Often, as is the case with Woolf, writing good fiction involves taking bits and pieces of the writer's life and evolving it into complex characters that reflect life's realities in telling ways so that the audience can relate to characters.

Any good author knows that the plot of a story, or real life for that matter, is a process of "being and becoming structured around insights realized and gained through reflection on experiences" (Johns, p. 102). Being is a process as well, of working with the self and others, rather than doing and working for. Being is a reflective model that requires individuals to create an environment where they are available for relationships, typically therapeutic ones to evolve, although this is not always the case (Johns, 2009). Being allows one to "become" with time, enabling individuals to realize desirable goals and practices (Lee, 1997).

Johns (2009) suggests that being involves a modest amount of self-control, demonstrated by individuals like Woolf who experienced severe trauma and abuse during one's life It includes poise, which is defined as: "a graceful and elegant manner of holding the body; calmness and confidence; ready and preparedness to accomplish tasks at hand." (Johns, p. 105). The art of reflection and contemplation, or being, is ultimately what allowed Virginia to become a writer. She nurtured an "invisible presence" according to some, which allowed her to go backwards and forwards in time, in her personal writings and elsewhere, to be creative and imaginative in her writing (Dalsimer, 2002).

The art of being and becoming is demonstrated in many ways through the works of Virginia Woolf, as she uses it as a tool to empower her women characters. Among the various themes Woolf uses to round out her characters include the consequences of war and violence. For example, in Three Guineas, published in 1931, Woolf states, "Therefore if you insist upon fighting to protect me, or "our" country, let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share; but not to gratify my instincts, or to protect either myself or my country. "For," the outsider will say, "in fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world." -- Chapter 3

Mrs. Dalloway, written in 1925, is an exemplary work written by Woolf that explores the lives of Woolf's characters over the course of one day. It examines a series of epiphanies or illuminations that help explain the meaning of life and death to the reader (Webb, 2000). In this piece Clarissa Dalloway is described as a socialite hosting a party, on a day that is of particular importance. Ms. Dalloway is going through a mid-life crisis, while she is petrified of death, she seeks it, as she hopes that a piece or part of her will continue forever. This novel is as much about communication as it is anything else, in the postwar era. On page 9, the character speaks, "Did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling… " Mrs. Dalloway wanted to live forever, she loved life, and fears that no one will realize this when she moves on. Other characters in the book also search for meaning in life, wondering what the purpose of life is, and fear that life appears to be meaningless; for example the character Warren Smith begs the question, "Why live" (p. 101). He is looking for anything significant in life, but finds nothing. One would expect just the opposite from a poet. Smith fought in World War I, and as a result has become a madman, resulting largely from the many deaths witnessed during the war; including one he almost falls victim to. These memories are difficult to deal with; he ends up committing suicide; he claims that the verdict of human nature "was death" (p. 91).

This character was unable to mourn the loss of friends during the war, which many claim was Woolf's own problem; this character in many ways resembles Clarissa as well. Clarissa wanted to do away with life too, and admitted to feeling "glad he had done it, thrown it away (p. 186). She did not feel pity toward Smith, because she was pre-occupied with mortality herself (Webb, 2000, p. 14). Clarissa felt that death was nothing more than an attempt to communicate to others some things that evaded communication (Webb, 2000). Death, for Smith, for Clarissa, and for Woolf, war, violence, may be a means to create life, for without death, there may be nothing to cherish and nothing to live for (Webb, 2000).

Clarissa remains alive however, in Woolf's story, with Smith committing suicide to reflect on instead. This allows Clarissa to value life that much more. Clarissa is only able to appreciate the beauty around her when she feels the heaviness and the significance of the suicide of her party companion. He made it possible for Mrs. Dalloway to feel her life and to feel the impulse of life, it was in his death that she went from simply being, from being Mrs. Dalloway, to becoming a real, living human being, capable of illumination, of life, of accepting her feelings and transforming them so she could become significant to herself and others. Other themes that occur in this novel involve the fall of the British empire which until this era seemed as though it were utterly invincible, expanding into multiple territories including India and parts of Africa. During World War I England suffered much and was much a victory only in name; England suffered much in the way of casualties and the strength of their empire. It was no longer considered "all-powerful" and the lack of faith in the "empire" was certainly reflected in the gloominess of the citizens of the "empire." Thus class constraints were no longer respected among much of the citizenry, and failures among the establishment of the British empire is reflected as much in the British Kingdom as…[continue]

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