The Waves


The Waves Essay, Research Paper

In this essay, an analysis of process types will show how Rhoda, a character from Virginia Woolf s novel The Waves, experiences herself and the world. It will be demonstrated that Rhoda is a kind of displaced person in the universe , unable to act upon this world but longing for a transcendental, immutable dream world. In her interior monologue, Rhoda builds up a strong contrast between the room in which the party takes place (associated with agitation, terrors, heat, fire, scorn, individual details and the tiger) and another world, immune from change (associated with rest, lovers, coolness, pools, beauty, absence of individual features and the swallow). This basic contrast is not only reflected in the circumstances of location (e.g. here versus on the other side of the world ), but also in the nature of the material process types, the main type of process in this text. Here , in the room, Rhoda is mainly acted on (Goal): she is pursued by terrors, seized by people, pierced by arrows and by scorn, cut by tongues (metonymic for people) and so on. In those instances when she does act in the room, the predicator is usually modalized, or the action is expressed in a question, both of which construals imply that the action is not necessarily carried out: she plans to do something ( I shall edge , I shall twitch ), she should do something ( I must take , I must answer ) or she wonders what to do ( What answer shall I give? , What face can I summon ). Moreover, the material clauses in which Rhoda is Actor are often intransitive and therefore not Goal-directed ( I shall edge between them ), or the Goal is inanimate ( I shall twitch the curtain ). The few mental, behavioural and relational clauses are reduced in import in a similar way: as if I saw , I know no one , I must prevaricate , as if I had an end in view . All these construals show that Rhoda is fundamentally incapable of acting on her environment. Moreover, she can hardly see, know or have things; she can only receive scorn and she is forced to lie, doubt and tremble. In the other world she conjures up, and in the two scenes which resemble this metaworld (the cat and the lovers), however, she is truly a Senser ( I who long for , I see some unembarrassed cat , I hate , I see the sky ) and even an Actor ( the treasures I have laid apart , I rock my basins ). The immutability of this imagined world is evoked through the accumulation of intransitive material processes: the lovers crouch , the policeman stands sentinel , a man passes . So far, we have concentrated mainly on Rhoda s incapacity to act in the real world. She appears to be equally incapable of interacting with other people. If we bear in mind that she is at a party, it is hard to imagine that people treat her with scorn and ridicule, but this is how she perceives it. Similarly, the arrows which pierce her are more likely to be harmless questions, aimed at nothing more than a conversation. Yet, Rhoda feels oppressed by all these active people coming into the room, and she cannot communicate with them, as opposed to Jinny and Susan, who do not have the slightest problem with conversation ( They say, Yes, they say, No ). In the first paragraph of the excerpt, for instance, Rhoda does not simply shake hands and chat with the man (the tiger ), but instead she does not know what to say and stands perplexed. In grammatical terms, this inability is not only expressed by the aforementioned modalization, but also by the use of material instead of verbal processes ( What answer shall I give , (not composed enough) to make even one sentence ), and by the use of an inanimate Goal in the material transitive clause I must take his hand . Note, in this example, that Rhoda does not act on people ( him ), but only on a thing, i.c. his hand. Rhoda s troubled and baffled presence in a threatening world seems to affect her self-image too. She does not use any relational clauses to name or qualify the people in the room, and she only mentions Jinny and Susan to wonder how they cope in this world. She does use a number of relational clauses, mainly at the end of the excerpt, which reveal how she pictures herself. In intensive attributive clauses, she not only gives some simple facts ( I am not yet twenty-one , I am also a girl, here, in this room ), but also shows us how she sees her own vulnerable future: I am the youngest, the most naked of you all , I am to be broken ( ) derided ( ) cast up and down ( ) like a cork on a rough sea . (Indeed, she is to drown herself later on in the novel.) She is not composed enough and even broken into separate pieces , no longer one . Two intensive identifying clauses epitomize her contrasting positions in the room here and in the imagined world through metaphoric images: I am the foam that sweeps and fills the uttermost rims of the rocks with whiteness (in fact, the foam a substance, not a person is scattered on the rocks) versus I am mistress of my fleet of ships (a whole person is in control). With these images, we are back to where we started: the underlying contrast of two worlds, one in which Rhoda is a vulnerable and maladjusted girl that cannot act on her environment nor communicate with others, and another in which she is mistress of a never-changing universe. This portrayal of a transcendental world is perhaps exactly what a novelist a fortiori a modernist like Woolf tries to create in language: to turn the discontinuities and fragmentations in human experience into a lasting, aesthetic shape. This artistic interpretation is further enhanced by Rhoda s extensive use of metonymy (tongues, terrors) and metaphor (arrows, tiger), including grammatical metaphor (e.g. Throwing faint smiles , Scorn and ridicule pierce me : you cannot throw smiles, and scorn and ridicule cannot pierce). We may conclude that the process types have proven to be adequate means to give body or word to both worlds described.

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