This blog is a combination of information compiled as an element of a seminar course revolving around Virginia Woolf.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Jacob's Room

Men vs. Women

After reading Jacob’s Room, I was left with many unanswered questions (probably a pretty standard reaction to a Woolf novel). However, through the first chapters, many reoccurring ideas seemed to emerge with vitality. Although I have yet to determine specific meanings behind these motifs/symbols, several thematic interpretations have come to mind. After thinking of the novel in terms of the relations between men and women (because I noticed an ever present pull between the two), one can see a small power struggle at play. One instance in particular sparked my interest in the subject, which fueled the ‘men vs. women’ fire bubbling in my imagination. At the beginning of chapter three, Mrs. Norman, who is riding in the smoking carriage with Jacob seems apprehension of being around a male. She is constantly on edge and at one point the narrator states, “it is a fact that men are dangerous.” AHA, the first small inkling of Woolf’s feminist demeanor is revealed. In addition to this situation, Woolf continues on an underlying rant regarding the differences between men and women when stating that women are ugly as sin and specifically compares them to dogs (31). When reading these lines, one assumes that women are in the subservient position. Mrs. Norman acts as if Jacob is the person in the position of power. She watches as a timid on-looker and women are degraded and ridiculed as the novel progresses.

Thinking that the woman is the lesser-of- the-two- evils, I, as a reader was confused as to where the Virginia Woolf ever-praised feminist voice had disappeared? For at first, it seemed as if the male figurehead received all of the praise and attention in Jacob’s Room. However, Virginia Woolf subtly includes references regarding women’s ability to undermine male’s translucent behavior. When discussing the relations between Mr. Dickens and Mrs. Barfoot, Woolf states, “ He, a man, was in charge of Mrs. Barfoot, a woman.” This is an automatic red-flag to the Virginia Woolf reader. While she is directly claiming Mr. Dickens authority over Mrs. Barfoot, she undermines that authority in later lines when Mrs. Barfoot is discussing her husband’s actual actions. By having Mrs. Barfoot know her husband if off to see Mrs. Flanders shows Woolf’s subtly commentary on a woman’s insight. In reality, Mrs. Barfoot is the more sly and intelligent of the two subjects because Mr. Barfoot believes he has outsmarted his wife into not knowing where he is going when in actuality she knows his deceiving ways, but chooses not to reveal her true knowledge.

This is one of the more specific examples of a woman’s domination over her male counterpart in Jacob’s Room, but the novel is littered with examples of the power struggles between the two parties. Overall, I would state that the entirety of finding out who Jacob actually is comments on a male’s inability to find his true identity. In the novel, we see a variety of female characters who recognize themselves and what they desire from life (most of the time Jacob). Although all the female characters are not society’s top class, they seem to be happy in their various occupations, while Jacob seems mysterious and aloof throughout most of the novel. The reader never gets a full image of the real Jacob Flanders and thus Woolf slyly hints at the downfall of the male gender. Because she includes a great number of derogatory comments against women, she further exploits the male gender’s unintelligence. She allows comments against women to be included within the novel to further show the male’s inability to see a situation for what it really is. Women are the strong point of the text, but Woolf seems to include derogatory comments against them simply so female readers can laugh at the male’s constant inability too see how the world truly works. Knowing oneself and the world around them seems to led to a satisfying life in Woolf’s eyes and she uses the juxtaposition between the male and female characters to highlight this exact point.

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