In a novel very concerned with connection, Virginia Woolf uses many scenes throughout Mrs. Dalloway to not only raise the question of what connects people but also to illustrate certain ways that are not sufficient to be the one answer that makes connection possible. Perhaps the most ironic and interesting example of this is the scene shared by Miss Kilman and Elizabeth Dalloway in the teashop. This scene is an example of how language is not even a sufficient connecter between people because of how little the words spoken truly matter in the strain being put on the relationship.
Before reaching the teashop, Miss Kilman and Elizabeth are out shopping for coats. Woolf wants the reader to have a fuller understanding of how Miss Kilman’s mind works, so she focalizes initially through Miss Kilman. This begins on page 125 as Miss Kilman begins thinking about overcoming the flesh. One of the first apparent things right when Miss Kilman becomes the focalizing character is her comparative mindset. The final paragraph on page 125 includes words such as control, mastered, and triumphed. What makes these words help establish a view of Miss Kilman is that Woolf is using free indirect discourse. While it does not make sense to imagine Miss Kilman actually thinking to herself, “I despise Mrs. Dalloway from the bottom of my heart,” it is certainly done in the type of language Miss Kilman would use. The sentence that looks most condemning towards Miss Kilman would have to be, “her life was a tissue of vanity and deceit.” Having to think such a thing about another person shows how comparative a mindset one has.
All this establishes a great distance between the reader and Miss Kilman in a way not previously seen. While it is true that the reader was already distanced from her, this passage is far more effective in its separating powers. The first passage where the reader separates from Miss Kilman comes on page twelve where the psycho-narration of Mrs. Dalloway refers to her as an idea that one hated, and dominator and tyrant, and “one of those spectres who stand astride us and suck up half our life-blood.” It is, however, in this very same passage that the reader is informed that the idea of Miss Kilman “undoubtedly had gathered in to itself a great deal that was not Miss Kilman.” While this does set the reader at a place of distance, it also sets the reader in a mindset of curiosity. One reads on a bit skeptical of Miss Kilman, but also quite eager to see the difference between who she is and what the idea of her has come to be. Getting to be focalized through her one page 125 helps the reader begin to see that distinction as well as help the reader realizes how one could make ideas of her that are grander than her.
Focalizing through Miss Kilman enables the reader to be sympathetic towards Elizabeth as well. Getting to see how Miss Kilman bounces very quickly from what displeases her in the world to thoughts of God to what pleases her and then back around her displeasure gives the reader insight to what Elizabeth undoubtedly knows about Miss Kilman already. There is a bit of a graceful transition out of Miss Kilman and into Elizabeth through a short segment of focalization through an unnamed character. The bottom of page 126 shows Elizabeth leading Miss Kilman around as if she were “a great child, an unwieldy battleship.” These negative images come across very strongly as they are brought up by the girl serving. In that paragraph, the only clue received about focalization is the short line “the girl serving thought her mad.” This coming from a completely outside source helps give the reader a sense of what the average person sees. It is different than hearing Mrs. Dalloway’s perspective because Mrs. Dalloway admits she struggles more with the idea of Miss Kilman than the reality, and it is very different than seeing directly through Miss Kilman as her self-concept is used to show what one should think about her. This external perspective seems to be the first completely based on her actions alone, namely this one visit to the store.
This all leads to the teashop where the first half of the conversation is focalized through Elizabeth. This is evidenced on page 127 by the repetition of the phrase “Elizabeth rather wondered.” That phrase in particular reminds the reader which mind her or she is currently occupying. It is also implied later on that same page when it simply says “her mother” as opposed to “Elizabeth’s mother.” All through that paragraph, there are moments where Elizabeth is forced to doubt herself. She ends up having to think that she never actually thinks about the poor. Miss Kilman is doing nothing more in this paragraph than simply talking, but it leads the reader to see exactly how she goes about making one feel small. On page 128, when it says “Miss Kilman made one feel so small,” the reader can easily infer that this is something Elizabeth is feeling because the entire segment leading up to that was focalized through her. Because the reader has watched Miss Kilman being the woman that makes others battle the idea of her in the night, it puts the reader firmly in Elizabeth’s corner when focalization goes back into Miss Kilman.
That shift is made in a very clever way. The use of quotes helps show the reader who he or she is seeing through. Everything Elizabeth says is not in quotes and seems to be felt and analyzed, but not from an internal, knowledgeable perspective. Miss Kilman is seeing what Elizabeth is doing and hearing what she is saying and wants to do all she can to keep Elizabeth from leaving. This makes every word of Miss Kilman’s more necessary to quote as well as making every word Elizabeth says less important. It is not Elizabeth’s words that matter; many different words could mean the same thing, what matters is that she is leaving and Miss Kilman is very aware of that.
Focalizing the majority of page 129 through Miss Kilman is the necessary way to focalize that scene. One reason why is that the reader already is very aware of what Elizabeth thinks. Her reactions will be very easily understood as they are, in fact, the far more rational, natural, and normal responses. Getting into Miss Kilman’s mind is the interesting part, and if the reader is given access into that, then the reader will have a full knowledge of everything going on in this scene. Beyond that, Elizabeth’s emotions, though already completely understood by the reader, are very easy to express in the way she is carrying herself. It is very easy for the reader to see that Elizabeth is reaching for her gloves and know that she wants to get out as quickly as human possible; it would be nearly impossible for the reader to see Miss Kilman put her hand on the table and know all that she is trying to accomplish as well as her motives for trying to accomplish those things.
Lastly, seeing through Miss Kilman’s eyes is necessary to see just how strong her meltdown is. Page 129 says that she was very aware of her own undoing, showing that she indeed felt herself coming apart. Seeing her mind go back and forth between seeing her own foolishness and thinking she deserves to be with Elizabeth shows the reader something her hand opening and closing could not. Seeing this unto itself is enough to make the readers feel uneasy and want to get out of the situation themselves. Because the free indirect discourse used earlier helped to show a great and necessary distance between the reader and Miss Kilman and a connection between Elizabeth and the reader, it is easy to assume one is already feeling what Elizabeth feels.
This links to an interesting theme throughout the book. Connection is of the utmost importance throughout the novel, and here is the interesting break down of a connection. The actual words that are being used are not necessarily what is driving the connection; Elizabeth is seeing straight through what Miss Kilman is saying and sees directly into her motives and inner workers. She doesn’t see a woman merely reflecting on her day, she sees a woman trying to accomplish something, trying to triumph herself. It is there inner qualities that Elizabeth decides she does not want to be around. It links to the psycho-narration very well; perhaps it is not others one connects with, but rather with the idea of another. That theme shines through in this particular passage.
This theme would not have come through as well had focalization not done the things that it did. Woolf masterfully and artfully crafted a way of seeing the world by organizing information as neatly as possible into small segments of focalization. The reader feels well informed as to what is actually going on without having to actually hear every detail laid out. The use of voice also allows the reader to see the proper distance to take with regards to each character. It allows each reader to form his or her own idea of a character when deciding the level of connection to have.