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Decoding Virginia Woolf's "Kew Gardens" using archetypal theory

Critical analysis

Essay 2019 9 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur










“Kew Gardens” is a short story written by Virginia Woolf. Critics assert that Woolf utilizes stream of consciousness as a technique in writing her literary work. The “stream” is an analogy of flow of ideas under the consciousness and subconscious minds of the author (Nawale, 2019). In fact, this story centers on delineating the four groups of people who venture subsequently in the botanic garden where flowers are planted to attract individuals (Craps, 2009). The four groups signify different phases of life. They witness the beauty of the garden that makes them reminisce their past and appreciates their present. This literary study theorizes that Woolf’s “Kew Garden” portrays symbolic archetypes. The study is focused on the archetypes in order to reveal the hidden signification of the text. The distinctive concept of the author is the reason why this study is conceived. The prominence of the author is another motive why this literary critique is regarded. This is indeed worthy to be studied because it will help literary critics, scholars, and short story enthusiasts in determining and decoding the meaning of her work. More so, this study will bring a remarkable contribution to the field of literary studies that will help clarify and shape the matters behind her masterpiece.


Archetypal theory refers to a set of ideas regarding the collection of motifs, symbols, images, or characters that induce responses to the individuals in the society (Gillespie, n.d). In fact, this approach is part of formalistic theory; however, this is somehow wide-ranging. Symbolism, which is under in the two aforementioned literary criticisms, refers to the use of an object, an action, or an event that represents a specific idea. Dobson concludes that the affinity between the archetypes-to-archetypal image and myth-to-ideology must be emphasized in comprehending and analyzing a literary piece (Dobson, 2005). “Kew Garden” is a masterpiece that is full of archetypal standpoints making the whole story more fascinating. Signifier is the object, an action, or an event; whereas, the signified is the representation, the symbolism, the image, the character, and the motif (Parsa, n.d). The table below summarizes the details of the symbolic archetypes in the story under a thorough critical analysis.

Table 1: Symbolic Archetypes

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Square silver shoe buckle in the story symbolizes the vivid memory of the unnamed character that appears earlier part of the narration (Shmoop Editorial Team, 2008). He recollects his former sweetheart, Lily, and recalls the square silver shoe buckle when he begs to marry her. The man keeps on seeing the shoe of his former lover: “The whole of her seemed to be in her shoe” (Woolf, 1921). The shoe gives inkling of what might be the girl's response towards his proposal. In addition to symbolism is the dragonfly which also appears during the man's proffer. The dragonfly, in addition, is associated with his own persistence and passion towards his lover (Shmoop Editorial Team, 2008); as Woolf puts it: “And my love, my desire, were in the dragonfly; for some reason I thought that if it settled there, on that leaf, the broad one with the red flower in the middle of it, she would have said “Yes”at once. But the dragonfly went round and round: it never settled anywhere” (1921). The man’s persistence and passion are like a dragonfly that goes round and round and never makes a final disposition. He, however, is already satisfied to spend the rest of his life together with his wife Eleanor and his children: “It never settled anywhere--of course not, happily not, or I shouldn’t be walking here with Eleanor and the children” (Woolf, 1921).

In addition to object symbols, the parasol that is mentioned in later part of the story signifies intimacy and love. This is evident on this passage: “The action and the fact that his hand rested on the top of hers expressed their feelings in a strange way, as these short insignificant words also expressed something, words with short wings for their heavy body of meaning, inadequate to carry them far and thus alighting awkwardly upon the very common objects that surrounded them, and were to their inexperienced touch so massive” (Woolf, 1921).

Moreover, flower in the story symbolizes beauty of nature or natural beauty (Shmoop Editorial Team, 2008). It appears at the earlier part of the story, as vividly described: “From the oval-shaped flower-bed there rose perhaps a hundred stalks spreading into the heart-shaped or tongue-shaped leaves half way up and unfurling at the tip red or blue or yellow petals marked with sports of color raised upon the surface; and from red, blue and yellow gloom of the throat emerged a straight bar, rough with gold dust and slightly clubbed at the end” (Woolf, 1921).

The flower offers positive energy to those individuals who drop in on the garden because of its beauty and complexity. For instance, Trissie, who refuses to go with her boyfriend to have tea, is diverted by the aesthetic quality of the things in the garden, particularly with the flower-bed which is composed and embellished with diverse colors.

Critics point out that Trissie jubilate the beauty of the garden. She even looks vaguely around the garden and lets herself be distracted by the stuff around it. In addition, the garden emblematizes utopia to every person living in the city. In fact, Kew Garden, the setting and title of the story, exists in London which is situated at the very heart of the city. It serves as the people's utopia (Shmoop Editorial Team, 2008). The beauty of the garden gives them relaxation and peace of mind, for instance, the married man reminisces his past upon visiting the garden, and the young couple awaken to their contemplation of the future. They deem the garden as a utopia wherein they are distant from the genuine happenings of the world. The garden serves as a paradise for everyone who visits there. It temporarily brings the characters to their emotional states and takes them to the world that exists only in their imagination. Their ideations are composed of vibrant colors, scents, and beauty of nature: “Yellow and black, pink and snow white, shapes of all these colors, men, women, and children were spotted for a second upon the horizon, and then seeing the breadth of yellow that lay upon the grass, they wavered and sought shade beneath the trees, dissolving like drops of water in the yellow and green atmosphere, staining it faintly with red and blue” (Woolf, 1921). The garden is, in fact, carefully created and cultivated for the sole purpose of giving pleasure to the visitors who are far from the reality of life: “There was no silence; all the time the motor omnibuses were turning their wheels and changing their gear; like a vast nest of the Chinese boxes all of wrought steel turning ceaselessly one within another city murmured” (Woolf, 1921).



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English literature Virginia Woolf Kew Gardens



Titel: Decoding Virginia Woolf's "Kew Gardens" using archetypal theory