Time Passes

“Time Passes” is an appropriate title for this section of Woolf’s novel.  The first section of the novel felt as if time were standing still.  Mr. Ramsey’s thoughts, for example, take up substantial space within the novel while progressing very little of the plot.  As he walks around thinking on how Shakespeare is irrelevant, he slows the plot down to a mere crawl.  This contrasts greatly with the form of “Time Passes” say many important things in a short amount of time.  Late in the passage, Woolf writes “So she was dead; and Mr.  Andrew killed, and Miss Prue dead too, they said, with her first baby; but everyone had lost some one these years”(77).  The twenty year time-travel is evident in this passage through its simulation of the effect of a whiplash speed of time; one only has time to see brief important things and repeat them later as a representation of the whole.  Furthermore, Miss Prue’s death in childbirth represents the inability to reproduce and continue time through human’s own ability, as if time continues while leaving humanity behind.  The irrelevance of man in the riptide of time is evident again through the observation of the cook.   Woolf writes of “The cook now, Mildred, Marian, some such name as that”(77).  The phrasing implies that the cook is a replacement whose name is not worth memorizing, possibly referencing how soon she will be gone too and thus replaced by another nameless cook.

The passage connects with World War I in its confusing and quick movements characterized fewer insights into the characters themselves.  “The Window” contained multiple passages that delved deep into the psyche of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey, while “Time Passes” implies that the replacement cook, who will soon be replaced herself, is not worth the time taken to memorize her name. In addition, Woolf juxtaposes stillness and chaos with day and night as she says “the stillness and brightness of the day were as confusing as the chaos and tumult of the night” (76). Historians characterize World War I as an unusually uniform war.  Two trenches: one side attacks, the other attacks subsequently, and it goes on. The war dragged on for such a monotonous stalemate that any sort of stillness in the constant fighting would be alien and disorienting.  The passage as a whole uses the speed of time, which was proven to be relative in the early 1900’s, to bring out a meaning of the War’s ability to warp time.  Nature continues on, patient as usual, while humanity gets caught in its own storm, getting left behind in the night.

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One thought on “Time Passes

  1. In accordance with what you have said, I think this passage largely has to do with the nihilistic feelings post-war. The feeling of insignificance in relation with eternity, “time,” or the “void” is something I find reflected throughout this passage specifically on page 127 where Woolfe wrote, “Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store… They lengthen; they darken.” This specific paragraph expresses the passage of time, but at the same time the notion that time is not really moving forward, such as you said above referring to the relativity of time. What this paragraph appears to show in the lack of significance any moment of time truly has. Time will drag on meaninglessly and one moment is not really any different from the rest.

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