1. Mrs. Dalloway is constructed from many different points of view, and points of view are sometimes linked by an emotion, a sound, a visual image, or a memory. Describe three instances when the point of view changes and explain how Woolf accomplishes the transitions. How do the transitions correspond to the points of view being connected?
2. Flowers, gardens, and nature are important motifs in the novel. Choose three characters and describe their relationships to the natural world. What do these relationships reveal about the characters or their functions in the novel?
3. Characters in the novel come from a range of social classes. What does Peter mean when he feels the “pyramidal accumulation” that weighed on his generation is shifting? How did the old social order weigh particularly heavily on women?
4. What role does Sally Seton play in Clarissa’s life, and what is the significance of her surprise appearance at the party?
5. World War I affected all the characters in the book to some degree. How did the war influence at least three of the characters?
6. The multitude of minor characters in the novel can be compared to the chorus in a classical Greek drama. They are often observers in the street. Choose three or four minor characters and describe their roles. What is their importance to the novel as a whole?
7. When Clarissa reflects on Septimus’s death at the end of the novel, she experiences a moment of being, or an epiphany. What truth becomes clear to her, and why is it significant?
Writing the AP English Lit essay can be a daunting experience but in this article we will go over how to use Mrs. Dalloway to answer some of the free-response questions from past exam papers. You will see how Mrs. Dalloway can be applied to a variety of questions, with the same characters or events being used to provide the answers. This will show that, based on your knowledge of the text, you can often alter your answer to suit a particular question.
The novel can be interpreted in a number of ways, with many themes and devices that can be explored. Questions that deal with psychology are particularly ideal for using Mrs. Dalloway. Memories, or inner thoughts, and the significance of time are important elements to study, as these elements will give you a good base for branching out to connect to the question.
Mrs. Dalloway Themes for AP English Literature
Mrs. Dalloway is a good novel to study for writing the AP English Lit essay, as it deals with a number of themes, which we will discuss, that can be applied to the free-response question in the exam. One of the main themes of the novel is time. Time plays a key role in the lives of the characters and in the overall structure of the novel, with the sections coinciding with the hours on a clock. There is not only real time to consider but also imagined time.
Privacy features as a theme in the novel. Private thoughts of characters, such as Clarissa, Septimus and Peter can be used to expand upon this theme, as can the characters’ struggles to find privacy. Communication also plays an important role in the theme of privacy and despite there always being people around, there can be loneliness and isolation.
Death has a key role in the novel and the inclusion of quotes from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline helps to highlight this, as does Clarissa’s inner thoughts and the death of Septimus.
Another theme that can be explored is fear. Fear impacts on the life of Septimus, which leads to his death.
The theme of oppression also features strongly in the novel. This theme can be explored through all of the main characters. Their society is oppressive because it requires the characters to present a public persona that may be different from the life they imagine or desire. With the war having recently ended, the novel also highlights the effects of the war that continue, despite the fighting having stopped, such as the mental health impact on Septimus and through other people in their society having lost loved ones.
How to use Mrs. Dalloway for the 2016 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.”
In choosing Mrs. Dalloway to answer this free-response question you would be able to discuss the ways in which the characters of Septimus and Clarissa hide their homosexual desires or interests from their respective partners. The two characters of Septimus and Clarissa also hide their same-sex feelings from the rest of society, effectively deceiving the other characters in the novel. It’s worth noting that homosexual acts were illegal in Britain when the novel was set and published.
In section three of Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa’s attraction to her old friend Sally can be noted, particularly in the comparisons Clarissa makes with the love between herself and a woman and with herself and a man.
Clarissa is married to Richard and she makes reference, in section three, to their relationship being not quite as one might expect from a marriage. They sleep in separate rooms and it could be taken that she and her husband were not in a sexual relationship. Clarissa mentions, again in section three, that she had “failed him” on numerous occasions.
This marriage between Richard and Clarissa could be used as a tool in Clarissa’s deception. Other people in society and the other characters in the novel are led to believe that Clarissa and Richard are in a marriage of the traditional sense, even though it could be implied that she has no physical feelings for her husband. In early 20th century Britain it would have been appropriate for a woman of the upper middle class to marry a man who would be able to take care of her financially.
You could also analyze the relationship between Septimus and his friend Evans, who was killed during the war. His post-traumatic stress disorder stems from the horrors he witnessed during World War I and, most likely, the tragic death of his friend. It could be interpreted that Septimus and Evans had stronger feelings for each other than just friendship.
Septimus’s relationship with his wife, Lucrezia, is clearly not a happy one. However, this could just be because of the devastating impact that the war has had on Septimus’s mental health.
How to use Mrs. Dalloway for the 2015 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.”
For this free-response question, Mrs Dalloway is not an obvious choice but could still be used to answer the question. You could mention the cruelty that is suffered in the mind of Septimus. He has experienced the cruelties of war, which has impacted on every aspect of life. He is living in fear, with triggers, such as the loud backfiring of a car that immediately sends his mind back to the war.
Septimus experiences fear when he is approached by a small dog in the park, as he believes he can see the dog transforming into his friend, Evans. He experiences a similar vision when he sees Peter walking towards him, believing it is Evans.
The cruelty that Septimus witnessed during the war has affected him so deeply that he cannot live a life free from it. His marriage has suffered because of his mental health, as has his job. The doctors have not experienced the trauma of the war and don’t understand his condition. He feels alone, being abandoned by society, leading him to eventually commit suicide.
How to use Mrs. Dalloway for the 2014 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Select a character that has deliberately sacrificed, surrendered, or forfeited something in a way that highlights that character’s values. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how the particular sacrifice illuminates the character’s values and provides a deeper understanding of the meaning of the work as a whole.”
Mrs. Dalloway is a good choice for this free-response question, as death is one of the main themes of the novel.
You could mention that when Septimus commits suicide it could be seen as a sacrifice, which is perhaps how Clarissa sees his death when she learns of it. His suicide could also be interpreted as Septimus surrendering to the suffering he experienced during his life.
His life was impacted by the trauma he experienced during the war, leaving him to be unable to see the good in life or enjoy any of the activities he did prior to the war. Septimus went to war to protect his country but having returned, his country was nothing like the way he experienced it before he left for war. The war had impacted his outlook on the world.
Evans, Septimus’s good friend, was killed during the war, so he sacrificed his body and soul for the war effort. In Septimus’s case, his mind was sacrificed. Despite the war being over, Septimus was still living it through his mind every day, before finally surrendering to the pressures of his mind and throwing himself out the window. His wife, Rezia, imagines Mrs. Filmer’s apron waving like a flag in the garden where her husband landed and likens it to when a soldier is saluted after being killed in battle.
Clarissa sees the death of Septimus as “defiance” and appears to feel relief for him no longer having to live in the society that was so oppressive.
How to use Mrs. Dalloway for the 2013 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Select a single pivotal moment in the psychological or moral development of the protagonist of a bildungsroman. Then write a well-organized essay that analyzes how that single moment shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.”
For this free-response question Mrs. Dalloway is not an ideal choice since it wouldn’t ordinarily be considered a bildungsroman. Other books that would be better suited to answering this question are To Kill a Mockingbird or Atonement.
How to use Mrs. Dalloway for the 2012 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Choose a novel or play in which cultural, physical, or geographical surroundings shape psychological or moral traits in a character. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how surroundings affect this character and illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole.”
For this free-response question, Mrs. Dalloway is a good choice as you can expand on the theme of time in the novel and the way that the novel deals with memories. Throughout Mrs. Dalloway there are events in the physical surroundings of the characters that trigger memories in each of the characters.
The car backfiring is an event that makes Clarissa jump and a number of people on the surrounding streets look to see what had caused the loud noise. This car backfire terrifies Septimus, triggering memories of his experiences during World War I. Septimus lives with his war memories every day, which affects how he lives his life. The death of Septimus then becomes a talking point at Clarissa’s party, showing that his life and death have an impact on the novel as a whole.
Memories play an important role in the novel and many of the memories are triggered by events that happen to the characters in the physical present. The striking of Big Ben throughout the novel also affects the characters. Clarissa sees the striking of the hours as “irrevocable” which reinforces that time is automatically passing but she also expresses anxiety over the anticipation of Big Ben’s bongs. Interestingly, the chiming of Big Ben was first broadcast across British national radio on December 31st 1923, the year in which Mrs Dalloway is set, so the sound would have been familiar to a British audience, not just Londoners, in the year the novel was published, in 1925.
How to use Mrs. Dalloway for the 2011 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Choose a character from a novel or play who responds in some significant way to justice or injustice. Then write a well-developed essay in which you analyze the character’s understanding of justice, the degree to which the character’s search for justice is successful, and the significance of this search for the work as a whole.”
Mrs. Dalloway is not a particularly good choice for answering this free-response question. Other novels that would be better choices are Song of Solomon, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Atonement.
Now that you’ve looked at some of the AP English Lit essay questions you should have a better understanding of how to apply Mrs. Dalloway to the free-response question in the exam. If you explore the themes and read the novel again, with the themes in mind, you will be better able to apply the text to a wider range of questions. Re-reading the text based on the themes will provide you with a deeper understanding of the novel.
Further resources for you to master the AP English Lit essay can be found on Albert.io, including The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs which will give you extra help on how to approach the free-response question.
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