A Link to the Past

I sat beside her through the night. I saw the dawn steal over Washington. The Capitol dome looked like a gray ghost ship drifting in from sea. Avey’s face was pale, and her eyes were heavy. She did not have the gray crimson-splashed beauty of the dawn. I hated to wake her. Orphan-woman… (88)

Toomer, Jean. Cane. Liveright, New York, 1923. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015000252448&view=1up&seq=8

The narrator in the chapter “Avey” meets up again with Avey after five years since their last interaction. The narrator made note of how Avey garnered the attention of various men during his time in Washington, D.C. Here, many of the men who strived for her attention had now either forgotten or dismissed her (including Ned). Her appearance here is representative of the newfound realization the narrator has of her. He has grown and she is lost, but they somehow still came across each other.

Reflection of the Past

“So Richard’s mind, recovering from its lethargy, set now on his wife, Clarissa, whom Peter Walsh had loved so passionately; and Richard had had a sudden vision of her there at luncheon; of himself and Clarissa; of their life together; and he drew the tray of old jewels towards him, and taking up first the brooch then that ring,” (Woolf 111).

Woolf, V. Mrs. Dalloway, ed. Bonnie Kime Scott (2005).

Reflection on his relationship with his wife overcomes him as he learns that her old love has returned to London. It seems that out of fear and disappointment in his past actions, Richard, wants to apologize by giving Clarissa a gift.

Past in Mrs. Dalloway

“…and she couldn’t ask him, for he had changed. He was rather shrivelled-looking, but kinder, she felt, and she had a real affection for him, for he was connected with her youth…” (Woolf 184)

The notions of living in the past and being unable to cope with the evolution of human beings through time are established through the enduring relationships of the characters such as Clarissa, Peter, and Sally. The past and the present are repeatedly connected through the vivid memories the characters share at Bourton. The past life of their bonds is revived in their present thoughts made clear through the external narrator’s glimpses into the interiority of each character. This duality creates a tension in the novel by allowing the actions of the past to continue to influence the characters’ lives in the present.


“Listening to-night to the names of all those great singers of the past it seemed to me, I must confess, that we were living in a less spacious age.”

Joyce, James, and Jeri Johnson. “The Dead.” Dubliners, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2000, pg.261

It’s not that their time is less spacious, but that they are too afraid to do anything else and this yearly tradition, and the past, is just an excuse.