Understanding the Illustration of Passive Aggressive Behavior in, a Room Of One’s Own, By Virginia Woolf
If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say, Say It Passive Aggressively
Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own, discusses the importance of money, food, and privacy when it comes to an individual’s success. More importantly, she shines a light on the idea that a woman can have the same talent and intelligence as a man, but points out that her circumstances have made it almost impossible to have successful career as a writer. Although Woolf’s ideas are very straight forward, the tone of her essay is what strengthens her argument the most. A Room of One’s Own contains a passive aggressive attitude, which allows Woolf to indirectly criticize the reasons behind the unfortunate conditions with which many women are faced to deal with, and allows her to use sarcasm to add a sense of humor to her writing. Speaking passive aggressively allows her to hide her anger, and expresses her hostility through indirect methods. This cautious and reserved attitude is what allows her to fully explore all aspects of her argument, and makes her case more effective than if she were to go on a rant about how men have access to better opportunities than women.
There are several instances in which Woolf says something profound, but then quickly diverts attention away from her point, which allows the idea to sit with the reader. When Woolf says, “If through their incapacity to play football women are not going to be allowed to practice medicine – Happily my thoughts were now given another turn” (78), she brings up a startling fact, and then quickly cuts herself off before she ventures into dangerous territory and makes a claim that would seem like an attack towards men. Woolf seems to coyly suggest that it is foolish to associate physical capacity with intellectual ability, but then changes the topic. This allows to readers to draw their own conclusions about the attitude towards women, which is ultimately what Woolf wants.
Woolf does not advocate for forcing her ideas onto others, which is a point that she makes clear. Woolf says, “I find myself saying briefly and prosaically that it is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people, I would say, if I knew how to make it sound exalted. Think of things in themselves” (111). By not forcing her opinion on others, Woolf employs an effective tactic, because it causes the reader to think about the words she’s saying and formulate his/her own ideas. This allows her opinions to have more of an effect than if she were to just tell people what to think. On the same note, Woolf also mentions two great female writers, Emily Bronte and Jane Austen, and says “Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue – write this, think that” (74-75). Clearly, these women did exactly what Woolf advocated for, which means that they wrote without letting others influence them or tell them what to think. Woolf admires that these women were original and thought for themselves, and she seems to be advocating this quality to her audience. Although Woolf is complimenting these two women, at the same time she has some hidden judgment in her comment. On the surface it seems as if she is merely complimenting the two women writers, but a closer analysis reveals that she is commenting on a flaw in the writings of other women during that time period since they were not able to overcome the criticism that they faced. She blames this on the patriarchal society (74), but at the same time she is still emphasizing what the other female writers failed to accomplish. Woolf once again has that passive aggressive tone, in which she uses a compliment to bring attention towards an underlying problem.
Two other tactics that are passive aggressive that Woolf uses effectively are sarcasm and irony. When Woolf says, “We burst out in scorn at the reprehensible poverty of our sex. What had our mothers been doing then that they had no wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses? Looking in at shop windows? Flaunting in the sun at Monte Carlo” (21), she tucks in both sarcasm and irony into her outburst. The sarcastic rhetorical questions about what women were doing are actually a statement of stereotypical ladylike actions, and help emphasize the anger that is experienced by the narrator. These sarcastic questions portray women as vain creatures who only care about beauty and shopping, and it is this shallow misconception that seems to anger Woolf. If women are told that these are the only things that they can amount to, then how will they be expected to accomplish anything worthwhile? Woolf explores this idea further when she says, “Young women, . . . you are, in my opinion, disgracefully ignorant. You have never made a discovery of any sort of importance. You have never shaken an empire or led an army into battle. The plays of Shakespeare are not by you, and you have never made introduced a barbarous race to the blessings of civilization. What is your excuse” (112)? Although these comments seem a little bit too harsh to be entirely sarcastic, it would be foolish to assume that Virginia Woolf is trying to tell women that they are inferior. In fact, it seems as if Woolf is belittling the accomplishments of men. If there is anything that should be taken away from Woolf’s advice, it is that women need to pave their own path to success, instead of trying to follow in the footsteps of men. Woolf actually proposes a similar idea when she says, “It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be women-manly or man-womanly” (104). The sarcasm that Woolf tucks into her writing provokes the reader to think critically about what her actual message is, and also adds a flare to her writing.
Although there are moments when Virginia Woolf reveals how passionate she feels about her topic, she does a pretty good job at keeping an aloof and calm attitude. This attitude, combined with the assertiveness of her ideas, is what creates the passive aggressive tone in Woolf’s essay. Although passive aggressiveness can sometimes be viewed as a negative quality, it brings life to A Room of One’s Own. This attitude allows Woolf to get her point across without her stuffing her ideas down the reader’s throat. Clearly, Woolf has mastered the art of passive aggressiveness and uses it to her advantage to create a radical and revolutionary essay.
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