Ask the Expert Tutor: IB English Literature (Mrs. Dalloway)

Clients often come to BartyED looking for IB English tutors to help with the  SL/ HL Literature and Lit/Lang courses. In this edition of "Ask the Expert Tutor," we examine Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway which is often studied by IB students in Hong Kong and consider which elements of the text can be used in an exam-style response. Woolf’s work is a challenging subject for literary analysis: so if you can pull off an effective, comparative essay on her work in your final exam the examiner will reward you accordingly.  

IB Paper 2 Examination questions are always deliberately broad because candidates all over the world study different texts. The key to revising effectively is to revise the works themes but most importantly how these connect to the author’s purpose. Consequently, in your essay’s introduction you must communicate an account of what you believe is Woolf’s intention in the work. 

This purpose is open to interpretation so don’t worry about being wrong: what the examiner wants to see is well-reasoned and evidenced argument. Consider the following:  

This paper suggests that Woolf’s intention is to satirize the conventions and customs of upper-middle class Britain post-war demonstrating its inabilitity to evolve to changing times. We rarely see this criticism outright. Rather through Woolf’s observational narrative style which allows her to navigate amongst multiple perspectives, she shows us such critique through interior monologue. Clarissa has some awareness of what she has had to give up to maintain her social status. She recognizes that being married to a politician means she herself is “invisible; unseen; unknown.” Her sole role in life now is “being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.” Yet, she is unable to understand fully the implication of this disempowerment. We also see this critique through Peter Walsh. A minor but important character, after returning to Britain from abroad, reflects that “things stand out as if one had never seen them before.” Walsh represents the literary trope of the stranger-in-his-own-land, yet through his narrative we see the extent to which British society is indeed changing. To Walsh it is obvious that “people looked different. Newspapers seemed different.” Yet through Dalloway, Woolf shows the reader a ruling class which seems determined to continue on as ever before.

This is by no means the only way in which you might analyse Woolf’s use of interior monologue -- and there are many other quotations that you could present in evidence. The strength of what we have above is that it helps you establish clearly at the start of an essay the author’s purpose and see the writer’s craft through that lens. This is what allows the examiner to award higher marks in the bands for Criterion A through E.

That's it for today's "Ask the Expert Tutor." If you have any questions about what you've read, do ask it via one of the channels below - we will be happy to help.

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