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The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham's THE HOURS tells the stories of three women and depicts their lives in different time periods. The book is authored by a reader of Virginia Woolf's classic novel, Mrs. Dalloway which was published in 1925. The three female protagonists include Laura Brown. Clarissa Vaughan, and. Virginia Woolf who is the author. Cunningham borrows heavily from Woolf in the presentation of his characters and in literary style. He introduces the concept of time and breaks its bondage by the writing technique of a "Stream of Consciousness", and also puts the image of Woolf in timelessness by using her as a main character.

The Stream of Consciousness is a narrative style in which flowing thoughts and perceptions of the protagonists are made to look as if they are real life, are unedited, unpredictable, uncensored and often moving from one thing to another. All that happens in this novel depicts the lives of each of the women in a single day of their lives in the month of June. As the plot thickens, Mrs. Dalloway's theme echo throughout each of the woman's life. Clarissa Vaughan plays the modern day version of Mrs. Dalloway.

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When looking at the main characters; Mrs. Virginia Woolf is the main character and she lives in Richmond, a suburban of London at the beginning of the 20th century (1923). She is fatally psychotic and her health is in an extremely fragile state. She conceives the idea of Mrs. Dalloway, and though it realizes that she has to go back to London to reclaim her own identity even though she knows she risks relapsing mentally. She tries to persuade her husband into this. To Virginia, Clarissa Dalloway is the true heroine and she unfolds her entire life. Mrs Woolf seems to have lost all hope in life, having not had children of her own and thereby considering her a "failure" for not achieving the "real accomplishment" in life, which is producing children.

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She struggles with mental illness which leads her to commit suicide as Cunningham depicts in the prologue. She concentrates her efforts on writing, as a way of escape, although she really does not think she is in control of her writing herself. She likes literature and values family - we see her partying with her sister before leaving for London. When compared to Laura Brown, she is incredibly sensitive to the world around her and even picks out the most mundane of things. This triviality can also be seen in Clarissa Vaughan. Both Laura and Virginia appear to be impersonating themselves, by pretending that they are sane in the lives they portray to others. The emotions depicted in her writing are set off by events that other people may not even notice. She perceives the world so profoundly that she is haunted by feelings of madness.

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Mrs. Laura Brown is a woman married to her high school love, Dan, with one child, Richie and expecting another. She tries to suffocate herself in domesticity but is actually very lonely and it seems prefers her solitude. Her story is told in June of 1949 in Los Angeles. On this day, she is baking a cake for her husband's birthday, which unfortunately turns out badly. She too values her family, and her first concern is her 3 year old son. Laura seems to have resigned herself to fate, but also seems all the full of faith in the strength that a solid family unit provides. On page 79, she is the woman who will not lose hope, mourn her lost possibilities, but rather devotes herself to her husband, son and unborn child.

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She is trying to escape the reality that is her life, by immersing herself in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, checking herself into a hotel for two hours to read the book. From reading it also contemplates the idea of suicide. Through her pretentious life, we see her trying to lose herself in perfection by being the perfect mother and wife. She paints a happy face, but Richie perceives something amiss with his mother. The question of her sexuality comes out when she kisses Kitty and momentarily bears feelings of jealousy towards Ray, Kitty's husband, which makes the reader wonder whether she could be bisexual just like Mrs. Vaughan. In the last chapters of the book, she actually attempts to commit suicide and leaves her family to go to Canada.

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Mrs. Clarissa Vaughan is the character that is based on Virginia Woolf's title character, Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway, and they even share a first name. She is the central figure, and her story is the dominant one, told in present tense throughout the novel. She is a witty, thoughtful woman, but not of great intellectuality. We see her whole life unfold in one day of June in contemporary New York. The story is set out in 1998. She is the lively personality who enjoys the hustle and bustle of the city, is self-conscious but seems to have thrown some care to the wind. We see her in the throes of preparing an important party for that evening.

She goes out to buy flowers, and is hosting a party for an afflicted friend, Richard, a former lover who nicknamed her Mrs. Dalloway, because of her resemblance to Virginia Woolf's character in Mrs. Dalloway. Richard, it turns out is Richie, Laura Brown's son who is now gay and slipping away to AIDS. Throughout the novel, Clarissa Vaughan is fixated on her alter ego, Richard and the memories he elicits in her. He later on becomes her patient when severely incapacitated by the virus.

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Clarissa Vaughan is a lesbian, married to Sally for 18 years, but she is not fulfilled in this life. She is rather sporadic, stopping on her way from the florist, to catch a glimpse of a movie star. She is actually embarrassed by her own trivial interests. She really cares about the small details of her life like buying flowers. Although she knows that Richard abhors Walter's shallow interests in fame and fashions and the latest restaurants, she still invites him to the party anyway. She compares the hollowness of her life to that of Richard's squalid house and seems to have lost hope in what to live for. These thoughts plague her mind as she recalls criss-crossing with both Louis and Richard, in her day of wild, unabashed freedom. It prompts her to reevaluate herself and reassert the affirmation of life.

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It is argued that we are all products of our time in one way or the other. Cunningham brings in the concept of time and its effects on life through the interweaving of the three main characters lives and reworking the characters in Mrs. Dalloway. He shows them similarities in their lives and how they react differently to situations. Looking at each character in the novel, we see the differences in each of them and can attribute these to the time in which they live. I therefore agree that we are all products of our time. Time has a great impact on the women's past. For Clarissa, it reaffirms her, because of her memories of Richard; she has something to live for. For Virginia, its frightening; she remembers the mental anguish that she's been through. Although it inspires her creativity, it prompts her into ending her life. Laura does not get influenced by the past but her veiled life has a strong impact on her son Richard, who portrays this later on in his poetry.

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Laura Brown who was a bookworm in high school ends up as a housewife because at her time (in the late 1940's), women were discouraged to work and had to give up jobs in favour of men returning from the second world war. This period was considered the baby boom - she is pregnant with her second child. Girls had to be taught early how to become the perfect wives and mothers, and the image of a woman as a housewife was rife at the time. She desperately does not want to desire anything other than the life she has as a wife and mother. The limitation on the choices she has in life leads her to attempt suicide.

Mrs. Vaughan becomes a victim of her time, when her dear Richard succumbs to AIDS, a disease that appears in the late 70's and early 80's. She lives in New York, as a modern woman and as an editor. We see her life unfold in the trappings of modern day life - work, parties, flowers, movie stars. Cunningham also depicts homosexuality in modern day life. Some of the characters are either homosexual or bisexual for example Clarissa Vaughan and Richard. Death profoundly affects the women thus: Virginia commits suicide because of the fear that she will descend into madness, Laura's suicidal thoughts eventually compel her to leave her family in order to save herself; and Richard's death causes Clarissa to reexamine her own and to ultimately find a sense of peace.

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