Study Guide

Kew Gardens What's Up With the Ending?

By Virginia Woolf

What's Up With the Ending?

The last paragraph of "Kew Gardens" is where Woolf gives us a vision of the whole. The narrative "zooms out" from the descriptions of individuals, flowers, and snails to draw all these different elements together into a single, encompassing scene. There is a sense in this last paragraph of assorted chaos: people pass with "irregular and aimless movement" (29); a thrush hops; butterflies dance; an "aeroplane" (British for airplane) drones overhead; "wordless voices" (29) waver through the hot summer air; the omnibuses of the city churn ceaselessly past; and flower petals "flash their colours into the air" (29). Remember, this is in addition to all the characters (plus the snail) we 've already been introduced to—so we're talking about quite the heap of activity.

The narrative overwhelms us with everything that is going on in the gardens during a random summer afternoon. If it seems chaotic, remember that this vision also contains an underlying order: all the unrelated characters, activities, animals, flowers, and colors are integrated into one unified scene. The characters' movements mimic those of the butterflies and the various human figures even dissolve into "a dash of colour" (29), not unlike the flowers. Take a look at the last paragraph:

Yellow and black, pink and snow white, shapes of all these colours, men, women, and children were spotted for a second upon the horizon, and then, seeing the breadth of yellow that lay upon the grass, they wavered and sought shade beneath the trees, dissolving like drops of water in the yellow and green atmosphere, staining it faintly with red and blue. (29)

All the activity and individuality merges into something like an impressionist painting.

Woolf is also careful to not let us forget that this lovely garden scene occurs in the midst of city life. Take a look at the final sentence of the story:

But there was no silence; all the time the motor omnibuses were turning their wheels and changing their gears; like a vast nest of Chinese boxes all of wrought steel turning ceaselessly one within another the city murmured; on the top of which the voices cried aloud and the petals of myriads of flowers flashed their colours into the air. (29)

The "ceaseless" turning stands in contrast particularly with the "aimless" meandering of people in the garden. Is this reminder of city life ominous, then? Or simply another element in the composition of the whole scene? What do you make of the final tone of the story?