The Hour by Michael Cunningham Essay
Updated: Sep 19th, 2018
Written by Michael Cunningham, the hour is a novel that focuses on the lifestyle, attitude, personality, and reputation of women. Although there are many characters in the novel, the author explicitly majors on three of them especially women who include, Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown, and Clarrisa Vaughn. Through description of their daily errands and activities, Cunningham describes vividly the characters of the three women.
Virginia Woolf is a writer and at the same time married while Laura Brown is a mother and a wife. Although the daily lives of the two seem to be smooth, none of them is happy in her marriage and therefore struggles to escape from the reality of life. In addition, the sexual life of the women in the novel is refutable. Despite being married, the women have relationship with fellow women while others take comfort in kissing their female friends. Therefore, Woolf and Brown have many similarities in their characters with a few differences.
Through analytical description of the daily events and behavior of Woolf and Brown, Cunningham is able to draw a number of similarities in their characters.
The attitude and feelings of Brown and Woolf describes their character as extremely sensitive. For instance, when Mrs. Woolf wakes up in the morning she is reluctant to look herself in the mirror because she thinks her reflection will remind her of her failures and discourage her from writing. Her sensitivity propels her to refuse speaking to Nelly because she thinks she might be a bad omen.
Although her husband loves and appreciates her, Mrs. Woolf believes she is not well and her cure lies in London. Furthermore, she decides not to eat to keep her mind alert but her decision is not a remedy to her because her husband can foresee her anguish. Therefore, Virginia is sensitive to very tiny events that another person might not even notice. She thinks the only way to focus her mind on writing is by detaching herself from the surrounding environment unfortunately her decision characterize her as a sensitive person.
Likewise, it is in the morning and Mrs. Brown is not yet up but she is reading a novel from her bed. She feels guilty for not being up as early as her husband who is making breakfast for the family. If her husband is not complaining, why is she being so sensitive about the issue? The day is still young but she already foresees the difficulties during the daytime. Her sensitiveness makes her to prepare a cake to make up for the breakfast. Moreover, the sight of her husband and son automatically annoys because she views them as a burden to her.
Her indecision to accept the situation at hand especially as a mother and wife detaches her from her immediate family members. To escape from her daily routine she decides to read Virginia Woolf’s novel. Therefore, Brown’s extreme sensitiveness always puts her in guilt and she tries to compare herself with other women like Virginia. Brown’s sensitive nature is similar to Virginia because their ability to notice or consider unnoticeable issues separates them from their immediate environment.
Cunningham is able to describe the character of Virginia and Laura as incompetent especially in their role as mothers or wives. In the morning, Virginia is unable to wake up early and serve breakfast for husband. Furthermore, she reverses the roles of a husband and wife in the family.
Contemporarily, the woman ensures her family members eat healthy but in the novel, her husband monitors her to ensure she feeds well. When her husband and his employee (Ralph) fall out, she is unable to shield and nurture a healthy relationship between the two but rather calls plainly for peace.
The issue of her acting as a mother in the family irritates her. In addition, she is unable to maintain a good relationship with her servants, especially Nelly. In the morning, she refuses to speak to her and therefore does not instruct her on how to plan for other meals, which should not be the case with mothers. She decides to give her the plans for the day when it is too late, which not only annoys Nelly but also creates a quarrel between them. Due to her incompetency as a mother, she is unable to love and maintain peace in her family.
Similarly, Laura’s incompetency comes out when she refuses to prepare breakfast for her family but rather leaves the work to her husband. Though not complaining the role of cooking in the family belongs to the mother. As a mother the society expects her to love yet she hates her husband and son. She dislikes their company and thinks that Virginia’s Woolf novels might be her perfect companion.
Instead of spending quality time with her son, she leaves him under the care of a babysitter and decides to spend her time alone in a hotel. The responsibility of being a wife and a mother annoys and she plans to run away from her family. When her son becomes angry, she feels like deserting him and not comforting him as a mother should. Through the comparison of the two characters, the author describes the failures of motherhood, as both of them are unable to fulfill their roles as wives and mothers in their families.
Laura and Virginia are always emotional, which makes them fall under depression. Laura’s thought always give her two options; either to commit suicide or ran away from her family. When she remembers the responsibility ahead of her as a mother and wife, she becomes unhappy. Due to her unhappiness, she decides to kiss a fellow woman and feels attached to her. Moreover, she leaves her home and checks into her hotel to read a novel.
As she reads the novel, she compares the subjects of the writer with her personal life. Because the author of her novel talks of suicide, she also thinks that committing suicide might be the only way for her to achieve freedom. Finally, Laura attempts to commit suicide, which backfires. Therefore, she decides to leave her family and live alone in Canada. Laura’s emotions drive her to think that the duty of being a wife or mother takes away ones happiness.
In the same way, Virginia is not happy with her career as a writer, she thinks that she has not done enough yet she is intelligent. Her emotions make her to detach herself from the people surrounding her and drive her to stop eating especially when she is writing. She always experiences a consistent headache due to her mental illness.
Additionally, she hypothecates about committing suicide but concludes for one to be self-destructive he/she must be brainiac. Ultimately, her emotional turmoil drives her to commit suicide by drowning in the river (King 15). Therefore, due to their emotional character both Virginia and Laura commit suicide. Although Laura does not die, she eventually leaves her husband and son.
On the other hand, Laura and Virginia have contrasting characters. Although Virginia dislikes all the people in her house, she only loves her husband and her sister, Vanessa. In the morning, she refuses to communicate with Nelly but communicates happily with her husband.
When her sister visits her, she is happy and chats with them. According to the author of the novel, it is Virginia’s mental problem that makes her sad and not marriage life (Cunningham 73). While in the house, she constantly checks on her husband and even settles his scores when he disagrees with Ralph.
Before she commits suicide, she writes a letter to her husband thanking him for his love and kindness. On the other hand, Laura hates her husband and son because she dislikes their company. She is tired of being a mother to Richie and decides to leave him under the care of a babysitter. Due to hatred, she does not want to make love to her husband and therefore, decides to commit suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. When the suicide attempt fails, she leaves her matrimonial home and starts to live in Canada.
Comparison of the two characters reveals that Virginia loves her relatives while Laura hates her family members. Additionally, it is the mental instability or frequent headaches that Virginia was suffering from, that propelled her to separate from her husband. While for Laura, her irresponsible behavior separates her from her family.
Since high school, Laura was always antisocial. In high school, she spends most of her time reading books because she calls herself a ‘bookworm’. When she compares herself with her husband, she describes him as a social man who loved sports. Similarly, after getting married she is still antisocial because she stays in bed while her husband and son are preparing breakfast. Moreover, she is happy to read a novel rather than joining the family for a meal and decides to read more novels during her free time.
Instead of taking care of her son, she employs someone to take care of him and a room in a hotel to spend her day away from people. She regrets being with her family and dreams of the day, she will start living alone. Eventually, her antisocial behavior motivates her to desert her family. On the contrary, Virginia is social and she becomes unhappy when nobody greets her on the streets. While in her house, she is in constant touch with her husband who is working indoors.
She invites her sister Vanessa to the house with her niece and prepares tea for them .The two of them chat and go for a walk in the garden. Finally, although she is reluctant to commit suicide, she writes a letter to her husband and her sister Vanessa explaining why she has to die.
Virginia is observant and notices everything that is in her immediate environment. On her way to the river, she passes a farmer and concludes that he is happy. While at the river, she picks a stone and carefully studies its beauty before putting it into her pocket (Cunningham 200).
As she was wading through the river, she notices the current and the sun’s reflection on the water surface. While drowning, she sees an angler with a red jacket but ignores him. At the bottom of the river, Virginia can hear vehicles passing and people talking, she watches as cars or trucks driving over the river. Therefore, Virginia is alert yet she is dying because is able to describe the environment while at the bottom of the river.
Virginia character as observant contributes to her writing skills and intelligence. On the other hand, Laura is not as observant as Virginia is, but rather always plans on how to solve her problems. For instance, when she takes her son to his caretaker she does not even notice the people or vehicles passing in the streets. Her mind detaches her from environment therefore, making her not to have any career skills because she ends up as a homemaker.
Virginia is a professional who has written several books. She has excellent writing skills and her husband describes her as an intelligent woman. Her character as rational and intelligent makes her to defy the headaches and concentrate on writing.
Due to her mental instability, she loses her concentration thus, it becomes unable to read or write another novel (Quentin 14). The inability to fulfill her writing skills saddens her because she calls herself lazy and decides to kill herself to take away the shame.
On the other hand, Laura is irrational because she is not only a homemaker but also decides to desert her loving and caring family. Laura’s husband and son always strive to make the family happy but on the contrary, she does not appreciate any of them. Mr. Brown always works hard to ensure he meets the family’s needs but Laura is blind to notice her husband’s love.
Finally, Laura is too secretive that she does not reveal to anyone about her plans. She secretly plans to commit suicide and does not share with her husband or friends about her emotional turmoil.
The responsibilities as a wife and mother seem to her as a burden making her to suffer silently. When her suicide attempt fails, she moves away from her family and starts living a lonely life. Contrarily, Virginia is open-minded; she tells her husband about her headaches and writes down what is in her mind. Before, committing suicide, she writes a note to her husband and sister to explain why she did so.
The sexual character of Virginia and Laura can neither be described as straight nor lesbianism but rather bisexual. Virginia is in matrimony with a loving and caring husband. Sadly, when she kisses her sister Vanessa, her mind keeps thinking about the incidence (Hermione 18). She likes her kiss and fantasizes about describing it as complex and mysterious. What is more is that in her books, she describes some of her characters as either lesbians or bisexual.
For instance, she comments that Clarissa one of the characters in the book had a woman lover whom she had ever kissed. Through out her marriage Virginia does not give her husband a child but the author does not describe whether it is a medical condition or her personal choice. In conclusion, the author describes the sexuality of Virginia as bisexual because besides being married, she dreams of kissing fellow women.
In a similar way, Laura’s sexuality is questionable. Although she is married, she dislikes her husband and declines making love to him. She hates her husband and considers him a burden to her life, which should not be the case for a straight person. On one occasion, she kisses her fellow woman, Kitty and immediately starts to like her.
She notices Kitty’s personality and promises to herself to kiss her again. Additionally, Kitty’s kiss renders not only emotion but also confused because she is unable to prepare a cake. Therefore, she moves to a secluded place like a hotel to fight her emotions. Cunningham highlights her sexuality as bisexual, which propels her to kiss a woman and motivate her to initiate an intimate relationship in future.
In summary, through describing Virginia and Laura’s daily events, Cunningham is able to compare and contrast their characters. They have similar characters in that both of them are incompetent in as mothers, always sensitive to any event and emotional. Nevertheless, each of them has contrasting personalities because while Laura is secretive, hateful, and unintelligent, Virginia loves, communicatory, intelligent, and observant.
Unfortunately, none of the two women is happy with their daily routine because they try to commit suicide, which leads to the death of Virginia. Laura deserts her marriage and begins to live in London in a secluded place. Finally, the author also describes the dynamic sexual lives of Laura and Virginia in that despite being married they dream of having relationships with other women.
Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. United States: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998.
Hermione, Lee. Virginia Woolf. New York: Vintage, 1996.
King, James. Virginia Woolf. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.
Quentin, Bell. Virginia Woolf. New York: Harvest books, 1974.
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