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Significance Of The Representation Of The City English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2614 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In this essay I will be discussing three very diverse texts which will allow me to bring into light a various number of views and interpretations of the city. I will be focusing on D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, T. S Eliot’s The Waste Land, and finally Virginnia Woolf”s Mrs Dalloway. All texts will help me come across the different insights, views and personal feelings towards the city the authors felt. Many of these authors develop their ideas and emphasise on the affects of the city through their characterization, this essay will further help me develop the representation of the city and look into it in more detail. I will focus on a number of areas such as characters, settings, thoughts and views in the texts in order to gain an answer as to what the significance of the representation of the city may in fact be in connection to its authors.

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As we read on through the poem, Eliot continues to present the Waste Land as a very complex poem; it tackles and confronts a variety of contradictory ideas and understandings. The intended meaning of the poem may come across as something different to both critics and readers; it can in effect be seen as a text that can have a variety of meanings and can be interpreted by anyone in their own ways. The text can be seen as being interpreted through the person and society, or can also be interpreted on a personal note where Eliot may seek to reveal his own feelings and intentions as to why he wrote the poem. The main theme of the poem can be distinguished through the way in which Eliot portrays modern life as a ‘Waste Land’. He supports this theme by showing what was wrong with society in the early twentieth century. He demonstrates the lack of faith in the poem through a number of ways; he puts into words the weakness of society by presenting a certain lack of faith, lack of communication, and corruption of life, alcohol and sex. At one point he shows one of the characters saying “I can connect nothing with nothing.” [4] This indicates the character having no faith or confidence in them self; there seems to be no connections and no meanings to her life, it seems to come across as though her life is just a waste. In the text Eliot speaks about the crowdedness of the city many of times. The ‘Unreal city, Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many…’ The fast paced text conveys allusions which create a sense of crowding in the city. London is depicted as a very busy city, a place where something is always happening; it is illustrated as being different in contrast to what you would experience in the countryside. ‘The Waste Land’ creates an unattractive image of London, we feel appalled by the amount of industrialization taking place as the surroundings are described as being encircled by ‘the brown fog’. The depiction of the industrialized city can become so shocking and brutal that it can in some ways be seen as a character.

Furthermore ‘The Waste Land’ conveys several distinct images that help to present a deeper meaning to the text. As we read through the poem, we come across the lines “Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.” [5] This sentence conveys a feeling of sadness and obscurity. This frame of mind is related to the lines that follow which talk about death and sorrow, the mood of the text comes across as very dark and threatening. One of the main points seems to come into light through the portrayal of the River Thames. This river can be seen as symbolising death, it is like a bridge which the dead spirits need to cross over in order to face death. By saying that this person wants the river to run ‘softly’ before the song ends indicates that this character is near death, and after his story has been said, he will be ready to accept it. Death in itself is a very dark topic in relation to the title of the poem; this passage can be seen as linking the time and the place together before death. The place is shown not to exist in the living world or the dead; it is conveyed as being something which is in between. This area can be seen in many ways as a ‘Waste Land’ just as the poem’s title suggests. ‘The Waste Land’ can be linked to many things in this poem, in this case it can be where the river Thames lays, a place where the living and the dead do not inhabit. The imagery bought across in these lines is very effective in relation to the mood and themes they set in the poem. They give the mood of sadness and mourning which gives deeper meaning to the rest of the text. All the way through the preceding lines after the “Sweet Thames”, there is a sad mood which flows in the course of the text. As the readers read on in The Waste Land, they get a feeling which indicates that even if they were to read something happy and cheerful in the poem it would still have a dark effect. The imagery of death, sorrow, sadness and gloom is very effective in this case as it allows the poem to set a feeling for the rest of the text. In the Waste Land “…the images and symbols fall broadly into two categories-firstly, images drawn from myth and religion, and secondly, images taken from the common aspects of urban life”. [6] 

The modern city in contemporary literature is shown to be very complex in the 20th century. Within literature there are a number of writers who move towards the physical reality of the modern urban life and surroundings; Virginnia Woolf in many ways is a good example of this. In her novel ‘Mrs. Dalloway’, we are presented with the city’s obscure feelings that link the perception of the two main protagonists together. The characters Woolf looks at are the “the centre of life itself” [7] . On the contrary, “D.H. Lawrence has been the most provocative of modernist authors” [8] , he shows his own understanding of the city as a place of desolation and division. His text ‘Women in Love’ illustrates London as a corrupted city which is populated by outward characters who can only find their pleasure and happiness in sex, drinking and taking part in criminal activities. Both of these modernistic texts allow us as the readers to identify the different representations of urban life in a changing city; we are presented with images of the actual London and the illusory London. Both of these texts can in many ways portray similar themes, feelings and ideas towards the city which ‘The Waste Land’ has previously been seen to do in this essay.

In addition Mrs Dalloway and Septimus are characters in Woolf’s novel who capture the passing moments of their lives in a city. Both of these characters are shown to be walking through the city and feeling the liveliness of London. Their responses to the same city symbols vary from one another. Septimus Smith says “everything had come to a standstill” [9] whereas Mrs Dalloway shows us she is amused by the noise and high energy of the city life. The opposing reflections both of these characters present show how their everyday city-occurrences result in a contradictory presentation of the city life; it offers an accurate sense of reality within this way of life. We can see this being present in the novel as Woolf uses free indirect speech. Her form of expression is a good linguistic technique in the novel; it acts as a verbal counterpart to the mental moments of uncertainty within the reality of urban life. In this sense, the contrasting reflections on the same incidents and Woolf’s new form of expression result in an overlapping of the characters’ consciousnesses which at the same time link to images presented in the novel. In D.H Lawrence’s work on the other hand, traditional language is not enough to show his understanding and feelings towards modernity. The city is illustrated as a complex, and socially diverse place, the new forms of expression are essential in order to work in opposition to the growing sense of isolation. Lawrence is shown to be using repetition in his work in order to bring across the crowdedness and light-headedness of the atmosphere in the city. Birkin says “I always feel so doomed when the train is running into London. I feel such despair, so hopeless, as if it were the end of the world.” [10] The diction Lawrence chooses to use is very interesting to look at, he uses ‘hopeless’ in different contexts and repeats himself in order to bring across Birkin’s emotions towards the city. We can say that the actual meaning of the diction he decides to use may in fact change and be a connection to the modern city and environment where it bears a resemblance to the new time of order and effectiveness.

The characters in ‘Women in Love’ are shown to undergo different experiences and feelings in relation to the modern city, for example they are shown to feel misery and corruption in the text. Lawrence brings across the unattractiveness of the urban and industrial city and establishes the city’s mentality into the minds of the miners. As a result, he creates a perfect, inhuman system of machines, where the miners begin to deny their humanity in feeling “satisfied to belong to the great and wonderful machine, even whilst it destroyed them” [11] . There is a lot of depiction of the state of mind in ‘Women in Love’; Woolf also brings across this mental absorption of the city’s characteristics through the characters she presents in Mrs Dalloway. Doing everything on time and being exact is something which is part of most modern minded people, this is symbolised by the way in which time is shown on Big Ben in the novel. Virginia Woolf presents the city as a physical place presenting the mental state of mind of the characters. For Mrs Dalloway “…silence falls on London; and falls on the mind” [12] , this in many ways indicates a deep connection between the inner thoughts and emotions and the outer world. Septimus’ consciousness reflects the understandings of the outer world. He “did not want to die. Life was good.” [13] 

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There are many ways in which we can see that the link between the city and the mental life is illustrated through the character of Peter Walsh. On one hand Peter suffers from the loneliness in London as he feels a “strangeness of standing alone, alive, unknown, at half-past eleven in Trafalgar Square.” [14] However he also uses this feeling to keep track of the young woman before she is lost in the city crowd. Peter chasing the young woman may in fact symbolize the change of social behaviour and interactions between the two sexes within the restrictions of the city. In ‘Women in Love’ a new directness regarding sexuality is presented as a consequence of the changing cultural environment in the city. Alcohol and sexual excitement are presented as the main occupations of the Pussum and the other residents of the flat. Although Gudrun regards London as a ‘foul town’, it is within the urban city where her new understanding of art is recognized. In the flat, a weird number of modernist works of art and influences are shown to symbolise the directness to non-traditional art. Within this environment of the modern city, we are presented with the Brangwen sisters as having much better chances to live their eminent individual personalities than within the well-known closeness of urban Beldover. Although Birkin and Gudrun detest the masses, Mrs Dalloway looks at the “small crowd…gathered at the gates of Buckingham Palace” [15] from the distance it becomes striking and beautiful. It is the sense of an endless society and quality which attracts Woolf, Lawrence nonetheless is shocked by the crowd’s single mindedness. It is interesting to note that the characteristics of the crowd are not obvious for all citizens of the city.

In conclusion we are able to identify the significance of the representation of the city in all three works by Lawrence, Eliot and Woolf. There are many different modernist representations of the city which come across in all three texts. What T.S. Eliot pictures as an isolated, distressed area, is in fact for Virginia Woolf a symbolic landscape of life and vibrancy, and for D.H. Lawrence an urban area of despair. All three diverse understandings and ideas of the city are reflected in the characters presented in the texts by the modernist authors. For this reason we are shown how Mrs Dalloway’s consciousness presents an optimistic image of the city, which is contrasted by both Birkin and Gudrun’s negativity. On the other hand, we do not only get the general approach of the presentation and its significance, the authors are shown to be expressing their personal and individual understandings and views of the city. The city’s attitude of precision is symbolised within Gerald’s modernization of the coalmines which introduce the perfect inhuman machines to Beldover. Exactness can also be found in the strikes of Big Ben in Mrs Dalloway. Furthermore, in Mrs Dalloway the cities characteristics are mirroring the state of mind of the characters and give therefore another perspective of the urban landscape. In addition, Lawrence’s and Woolf’s new modernist techniques of expression have the ability to cope with the progressively altering conditions of modernity within the city life. Woolf’s free indirect speech gives a full meaning and insight into the awareness of the characters, therefore giving them a much better and accurate understanding of their own individual views of the city. Lawrence uses repetition in his language in order to improve his conventional understanding of particular terms and provides the city with new characteristics. As a result, the individual and subjective experiences of the authors offer a complex and deeper picture of the reality and unreality of a weak city.



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