Literary theoretical analysis of Virginia Woolf’s To the Light House

Culler also alludes to complex interrelations of the text.  This is a key quality of literature, for often it is the most complex of compositions that are most profound and beautiful.  This is true of the complex contrapuntal musical compositions of JS Bach or the multilayered personal musings by the characters of To the Lighthouse.  In the music of JS Bach, iterations (also called developments) are brought out through the application of variation on themes and motifs.  One could see similar manifestations in the novel in question as well.  Herein, iterations of words and phrases are not detracting, but rather enhancing, the aural appeal of the text when read.  For example, “To want and not to have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain. And then to want and not to have- to want and want- how that wrung the heart, and wrung it again and again!” (p.75). Another good example from the text where literature is produced through the integration of various elements of language is this: “A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her.” (p.44) The sentence deals with abstract concepts and is subject to broad interpretation.

The third of Culler’s observations on Literature is its fictional quality.  He writes,

“The reason why readers attend to literature differently is that its utterances have a special relation to the world – a relation we call ‘fictional’.  The literary work is a linguistic event which projects a fictional world… that takes shape through the work’s decisions about what must be explained and what the audience is presumed to know. Literary works refer to imaginary rather than historical individuals, but fictionality is not limited to characters and events.  Deictics, as they are called, orientational features of language that relate to the situation of utterance, such as pronouns (I, you) or adverbians of place and time (here, there, now, then, yesterday, tomorrow), function in special ways in literature.” (p.31)

The crux of Culler’s third point is that literary works are fictional and not real. What Culler’s fictionality stands for is the lack of factuality in the persons, events, situations and settings portrayed in the work.  One must not take it to mean that literature is ‘unrealistic’. To the contrary, literature can be more real than reality itself. In other words, by capturing the essence of a dramatic human experience or event, literature serves to highlight or accentuate the same.  Hence literature can be fictional while also managing to be realistic, surrealistic, impressionistic or modernist in its approach.  When cursorily looked at this may appear paradoxical, but in effect there is none such.

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