Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall” Virginia Woolf’s “The mark on the wall’’ is about a mark which the narrator sees on the wall as she sits smoking cigarettes after tea and what goes on in her mind as she tries to discover what the mark actually is. The story is told in the first person narrative and the writer employs the stream of consciousness narrative technique, which allows us to go into the mind of the character.
The plot of the story is neither linear like in Allen Poe’s “The Black Cat’’, where there is a sequential arrangement of events in the story, nor like the non-linear plot as in Nadine Godimer’s “The Moment before The Gun Went Off’’, where the story starts in media res, then goes to the beginning, tells us what occurred before the story began using narrative flashbacks, then the resolution in a flash-forward. In “The Mark on the Wall‘’ the plot of the story follows a different pattern. There is a shift from one event to the other.
These sequences of events are not interrelated, that is, they are arranged according to how they emotionally affect the narrator. For example, in the third paragraph, the narrator tries to figure out what causes that mark to be formed on the wall: “I don’t believe it was made by a nail after all; it’s too big, too round, for that”. Then, concluding she cannot tell how the mark was formed, she starts talking about the mysteries and uncertainties of life and man’s powerlessness over life.
In Nadine Godimer’s “The Moment before The Gun Went Off”, she uses techniques such as contrast, irony, suspense, narrative flash-forward, flashback for example, to tell us what happened on the hunting trip Marais went on with Lucas, and to heighten tension, increase anxiety and bring out the conflicts between the Black society and that of the whites at the time; between the society and women, apart from the conflict that is between Marais and himself.
The plot in “The Mark on The Wall” has an exposition (the narrator tells us when she first saw the mark on the wall), and a resolution (we get to know at the end of the story that the mark on the wall is a snail). There are no complications, and less suspense in the story. Further, with the exception of the mark on the wall, the narrator tells us, interrupts her fancy about “the crimson flag flapping from the castle tower” and draws her attention to other events, arousing the train of thoughts.
The subsequent events the narrator talks about are neither the cause nor the consequences of other events but rather they are arranged based on the emotional effects they have on the narrator. The thought about Shakespeare, to her for instance, is unpleasant: “it doesn’t interest me at all. I wish I could hit upon a pleasant track of thoughts…” and this prompts her to think about how people like to praise their own selves (in their minds) but pretend to dislike hearing their own praises from others.
However, the writer uses a lot of imagery for example, the tree outside her window that “taps gently on the pane”; and also, she contrasts and compares the mark on the wall to the series of thoughts that come into her mind to help bring out the conflict in the story. For instance, the narrator compares the dust on the mantelpiece to “the dust that which … buried Troy three times over”.
The conflict that arises in the story is between the narrator and her thoughts. The narrator alternates between vivid consciousness and the abstract. That is, she tries to predict what the mark is but her thought keeps on shifting to other things like what life really is-“if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour… Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked!
Tumbling head over heels in the asphodel meadows”. Also, the narrator struggles between staying in her thoughts and what is actually going on around her in reality. This is seen when she tries to take her attention off the tree outside her window and sink into subconciousness, she says “I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts. ” There are no physical movements in the story.
Unlike in the story “The Moment Before The Gun Went Off” where the characters move from one location to the other, which includes movement of parts of the body, for example, during the hunting, Lucas “thumped his fist on the cab roof three time to signal” Marais; and movement from one geographical location to another, example Marias is seen at the police station after the accident, on his farm and at the funeral of Lucas. In “The Mark on The Wall”, the movement that take place is in the mind of the narrator as she shifts from one thought to the other and also as she moves from the consciousness of her physical nvironment into her subconscious environment that is, her mind. For instance, when she talks about her dislike for men “of action”, she ends this thought when she says “Still, there is no harm in putting a full stop to one’s disagreeable thoughts by looking at the mark on the wall”. Little is known about the characters in the story. There is no background information about who they are, what they do or about their names and their gender.
We get to know who these characters are by what happens in the mind of the narrator. Through the use of the stream of consciousness technique, we are allowed to enter into the thought of the character and this helps us to find out more background information from how the character perceives things. For example, we get to know that the narrator is a woman when she confesses that she is not “a vigilant housekeeper” and also when she talks about how she admires the figure of herself in her mind.
We also get to know that the story was set during a period of war from the second character when he says “Nothing ever happens. Curse this war…” and we assume that the second character is a man from the fact that he goes out to buy a newspaper. In conclusion, Virginia Woolf does not follow thoroughly the tradition of the short story, which says for example, that the short story should have a plot which is made up of an exposition, rising action, climax, a falling action and a resolution.
The story “The Mark on The Wall” is plotless, has little suspense, little tension and no complications. However, Woolf employs other techniques such as the use of imagery, contrast and the stream of consciousness which it arouses by the narrator’s contemplation on what the mark is and the shift between reality and what happens in the mind to tell the story and bring out the conflict in the story.
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