by Virginia Woolf
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
Third Person Omniscient
Strictly defined, the point of view in Mrs Dalloway is third person omniscient; that means there’s an overarching narrator who knows everything and who has access to everyone’s thoughts. (Shmoop is working on becoming omniscient, too. Sounds kind of awesome to us.)
The point of view changes many times during the course of the novel, as we weave in and out of the minds of Clarissa, Septimus, Lucrezia, Peter, Richard, Elizabeth, and Miss Kilman. We have access to their thoughts and memories, which among the literary set is called "free indirect discourse." (See our section on "Writing Style" for a little more on this.)
The omniscient narrator, on the other hand, remains anonymous – we’re not talking Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. At times the omniscient narrator can be quite prominent and critical – as in discussions of Sir William Bradshaw and even Miss Kilman – but other times will simply relate the thoughts of the characters themselves. Suffice it to say we have a lot of opinions coming our way in this story.
This narrative technique is perfect for Mrs Dalloway. It allows us to focus on the little things that people think about, things that might seem silly for a narrator to comment on (like the major people-watching that all the characters do). At the same time, it can get a little confusing. Sometimes the shift between characters – and between the present and the past – are so subtle that we don’t even notice. So be warned: read carefully!