Distinction between Clarissa & Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway

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      The difference between Clarissa and Septimus - between sanity and madness - is that Clarissa does not lose her awareness of the outside world as something external to herself even while she responds to it at a physical level. The physical response does not, in her case, become so overwhelming that it subsumes the reality which induced it. She hears Big Ben, and her thoughts about it are translated into a physical response: she feels the sound as leaden circles dissolving or as a bar of gold fiat on the sea, or as a finger falling into the midst of ordinary things. But Clarissa does not hearing the sound, appropriate and respond to its qualities without understanding what the sound means, nor does she think Big Ben is speaking to her. She retains her awareness of reality while she responds to it. Septimus, by contrast, is not always able to distinguish between his personal response and the indifferent, universal nature of external reality. He struggles to do so; in Regent’s Park he keeps trying to remind himself that the shocks of sound which assault him come from a motor horn down the street or ‘an old man playing a penny whistle’ and she is capable of sane, indeed satirical comments on reality: ‘The upkeep of that motor car alone must cost him quite a lot’, he says of Sir William. But, in his madness, he feels that if the birds sing they must be signaling to him. The distinction between self and external reality is as blurred, in his mind, as the distinction between different forms of physical response: sight, sound, touch. In an attempt to sort this out as: happens to him, Septimus, the victim of Science and Proportion, tries to be ‘scientific’, but the universe he inhabits, in which the us al categories are merged beyond recognition, defies analysis.

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