Study Guide

Orlando Identity

By Virginia Woolf


Orlando ages, travels, and changes gender. So what makes this a novel about one person? It isn't about just one person: Orlando reflects herself in Chapter 6, there are thousands of selves presented on the written page. People change from moment to moment. But there is a core, to both Orlando and to Orlando. The core is "The Oak Tree" − Orlando's dreams and reflections. It is the inner life of the character that gives Orlando her identity, not the social trappings of her clothing or her body.

Even though Orlando is a novel about shifting identities, Woolf acknowledges that you can't entirely throw off what you're born with. Orlando's changing gender creates restrictions: it changes her sexual desire, and forces her to deal with discrimination that she never encountered as a man.

Questions About Identity

  1. To what extent does Orlando have an essential self, and to what extent is that self constructed by the society Orlando is living in at the time? For example, the "biographer" sees Orlando’s desire to marry as a product of the Victorian era, rather than a desire innate to Orlando.
  2. In Orlando, how important is one’s gender identity to one’s overall identity?
  3. Does Orlando have one true self by the end of the novel? How can we tell?

Chew on This

Orlando’s sex change allows him (or her) to come to a greater understanding of his (or her) essential identity.