In 1923 the traffic signal

In 1923 the traffic signal, bulldozer, instant camera and the automatic watch was invented, but more importantly, 1923 was the year the novel, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf was set in. World War I ended in 1918 which would be five years before the story line. Although the war has been over by the beginning of the novel, the traumatic event of war still terrorizes the nation and its shell shock disorder that affected about 80,000 in just the British Army. World War I is a dominant theme in this novel and the aftermath it had on London is constantly present. The residue of paranoia and shell shock shape the character, Septimu’s psychology, and how we, the reader and other characters in the story shape how one would interact with their/our thought processes throughout the novel. Many countries worldwide, especially England, tried to erase the memory of it all and move forward onto new and better things, such as modernity. For some it was a thrilling and a promising time, but for others in London, airplanes flew high in the sky, cars scurried on the road, and industries were growing big. The upper class was still rich, the working class working and earning higher wages and better conditions, the women had more rights and it was even possible for them to have careers. There had been many developments toward the works of modernism and other movements that were affecting the traditional English lifestyle that challenged these norms, Woolf’s novel would be one of those. The expansion of the study of psychology pushed for a sense of urgency that privileged psychologists to transform and revolutionize society and the world. At the same time, trouble lurked in the background and many implications started to occur after the World War. Though there was full employment during the war, after the war there was much unemployment; countless immigrants, thousands of veterans returning home with broken limbs and mind, unemployment began to rise. With massive unemployment, food shortages and other factors, these hardships would lead to unrest and then for the next 15 years England would be stuck in deep depression, shell shock being the root of it all and the only way of liberating oneself of this condition was committing suicide, at least Septimus viewed it as an act of resistance against Psychiatric control and he was right.
At the beginning of World War I, veterans were already being returned home wounded physically and mentally. The symptoms they were sowing were like nothing the doctors had seen before; a sort of solipsism that took the soldiers ability to communicate and express. In a study done by an English physician named Charles Myers, he produced a theory that Shell Shock was actually a physical injury. He hypothesized that being exposed to a war like environment could create brain trauma that in symptoms these soldiers were showing. When tested, his hypothesis was not accurate. There were many soldiers who took part in the behind the scene part of war and for that they would not have Shell shock, yet they were still experiencing the symptoms. Not only that, but some veterans who had been exposed to war did not come back with Shell Shock. Compared to what was studied then, we now known that these veterans were experiencing what we call today as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Not only are we able to identify what it is and treatments have advanced to somewhat “cure” it, we are still unable to truly pin point where it roots from. Anyone who had suffered from Shell Shock during WWI had different cases and not everyone had brain injuries. The British Medical Journal provided another explanation to why Shell Shock was happening to combat soldiers. It went from being a physical injury to being a sign of weakness. This was an action presented also in the novel. Many people watched Septimus and questioned why could not just move on, easier said than done. At least 20 percent of men developed Shell Shock and Psychiatrists practiced that once soldiers came home and were unable to speak, walk, or act “normal” for no apparent reason, the only thing to explain it was weakness. The only cure was to have the veterans snap out of this coward state and back to reality. In one study, some soldiers were even electrocuted in thought that that WOULD cure them. Lewis Yealland conducted a 9 month study, were a patient was “electrocuted to the neck, cigarettes were placed on his tongue and hot plates were placed at the back of the throat.” Yealland would later tell this patient that, “you will not leave this room until you are talking as well as you ever did; no, not before…you must behave as the hero I expect you to be.” He continued to shock this patient and when it came to the point that the patient could not handle it anymore, he asked for water and for that, Yealland took this as a victory and a sign that electric shock worked. Shell Shock was never fully cured nor were they able to identify what caused it, other than the cowardness of the veterans. The electric shock method would continue onto WWII and would later be studied more and more and it still is today.
One of many effects after WWI was shell shock, a term created during the first world war and continued being used to describe many soldier’s mental health, but today it is now known as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. Some symptoms present are mainly based off of a person’s mentally, such as, “depression, excessive irritability, guilt (for having survived while others died), recurrent nightmares, flashbacks to the traumatic scene, and overreactions to sudden noises”. At the time, shell shock was considered to be something that would go away with rest, but as time would tell, it was more of a mysterious process that required a lot of research to identify a cause and a resolution. While it might have seemed obvious that those who suffered from shell shock had taken part in the war those obvious signs were paranoia and anything else different then the social norm, for example talking to one’s self. At the time and still to this day, there is slim to none evidence of any damage or trauma to the brain that can cause these specific actions. This made or makes those who are trying to recuperate from this disorder rather difficult because Psychiatrists and other types of doctors do not know how to cure these people. As of 2017, John Hopkins research on PTSD has progressively found physical evidence of shell shock in war veterans brains. This means that some, “show a distinctive honeycomb pattern of broken and swollen nerve fibers throughout critical brain regions, including those that control executive function.” This research has helped to further and discover more about shell shock. WWI became a horrific experience to those who predicted that they would come home as a combat hero, but instead came home with damaged mental health and constant paranoia.
Septimus is a prime example and character of having taken part and fought in WWI. He witnessed the war first hand, experienced the wet and deadly trenches, saw dead soldiers and generals and witnessed his own friend and possible love, Evans die. For other characters in this novel, such as Clarissa Dalloway or other people on the street, were still affected and are suffering from what the war brought with it, but overall no one was affected on the same level as those veterans who had shell shock. One example of how both Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus experience some sort of paranoia is after a car backfires in the street. From this point on we get two reactions, the first one is from Mrs. Dalloway who describes the backfire as, “a pistol shot in the street outside” (Woolf 13). Her fear is quickly diminished and she precedes on. The second reaction is from Septimus as the sound takes him back to a fearful memory and his mind is taken over by these paranoid thoughts. As a symptom of PTSD, Septimus experiences, “the world wavering and quivering and threatening to burst into flames. It is I who am blocking the way … was he not being looked at and pointed at…” (15). Two different reactions from two different characters can clarify the difference from paranoia and Shell Shock in a realistic setting during that time period. Clarissa Dalloway, who did not participate in the war but experienced the aftermath and knowledge of its horrors, is able to distinguish and separate the fear that grows within her brain and turn it around into curiosity. She is able to remove herself from the sound of a car back firing to going on with her daily life and worrying about flowers and her party. While Septimus is overwhelmed and taken over by the sound. He is always in constant fear and is unable to remove himself from war and the terrifying atmosphere it presented. That is why in the end to “save” himself from the Shell Shock, he throws his body out a window and at the time that was the best solution. Rather than being tortured or stripped of their heroic title they deserved, the only answer to their misery was to take one’s life.
Today, people can develop Shell Shock or PTSD for many different reasons, not just being a soldier or veteran. Being assaulted, losing someone, being in an accident can all lead to PTSD. Currently, about 14% of veterans have PTSD and of those veterans about 22 of them commit suicide every day. These are alarming numbers to consider and it is troubling to know that even after all this time we are still unable to discover how to help those in need. We have progressed in the sense that we no longer torture these men and women, nor do we look at them as cowards, but committing suicide is still a form of escape one might use. Therapy for PTSD is hit or miss. Within the system, there are two different types of therapy, cognitive and exposure. Exposure therapy, “reduces the physical or emotional distress you feel when confronted with a particular object, situation, or distressing thought or memory” ( To reduce this, the therapist exposes the patient to what is causing the trauma until it no longer has the same affect. “Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a common type of talk therapy that for some people can work as well or better than medication to treat depression” ( Through this process you can find personal ways on how to cope. Most often, the military tends to lean more towards mindfulness therapy as a method to help soldiers with PTSD. Mindfulness therapy is more of a mental solution for the patient. Rather than being told what to think or to not think about the trauma, you are advised to accept them and process them and talk to a therapist about it. Talking through the problems and coming up with solutions to resolve and put the trauma to rest. Drugs can also be prescribed but very rarely can they resolve the problem. Patients have shown better results when given the option of what method they prefer to use. Though there are many options to choose from, that does not take away from the fact that we are still in search for why people experience this trauma and response after combat. The military continues to provide a lot of funding towards the study of PTSD and new innovative methods on how to “cure” it.
While the WWI aftermath included many soldiers with Shell Shock, rather than being looked at and cared for, they were punished for their “weakness” and for that the only solution they were able to resort to was to commit suicide. The suicide rate during that time varied; during the time of the war it was reported to be about 25% of men committing suicide. Whereas after the war it was said to have raised almost to double that percentage, resulting to 50% of veterans taking their life. These numbers are not able to be calculated or proven true due to not enough contextual information but many believed and reported high numbers of suicide and over the years as war continued on, suicide was a constant issue that resulted in just soldiers or veterans.
In the novel, Mrs. Dalloway, Dr. Holmes, a psychiatrist, is “treating” Septimus. Dr. Holmes is a fraud and does not take any of his patient’s illnesses seriously. Along with that, Septimus does not have any respect or time for Dr. Holmes and his pompous and ignorant attitude. It is no surprise that there is something wrong with Septimus, Sir William Bradshaw is able to identify this too. At that time, the thought process for Shell Shock was very different and for that Bradshaw suggests, no demands, that he be put in a mental hospital and away from everyone and everything. Being “cared” for by these doctors leads Septimus to think that these people are the ones who controlled and master minded the war. And to the doctors, Septimus is dangerous because his actions and reactions remind people what war really is. He must be stopped so that people could continue to believe in the goodness of the British kingdom. Septimus’s madness is rooted from many different factors, being a part of the war, feeling as though no one can understand what he is going through, and no empathetic closure, except from his wife. He feels as though everyone is against him, which is partially true, because at the end of the day, his wife wishes that everything could go back to normal. Septimus fells as though he is being attacked over and over and over again. If it was not during the war, it is at home, and if it’s not at home it was from the doctors Holmes and Bradshaw. To escape it all and preserve what was left of him, the solution, death. Septimuss’ last words were, “I’ll give it you.” This is ironic because Holmes has showed up at his house to take him away and yet, he gives himself. His body is what is taken away, but his soul cannot be taken from him. That is the one thing he refuses to let society or the doctors take away from him. Rather than caving into the norm and doing what is expected from him, he leaps out the window to preserve whatever is left of himself. Even after this act, Homles accuses Septimus of being a coward, like he was not considered that before. Septimus would have never been able to explain what he saw or felt nor could they have helped him in that time. Holmes was unaware of why he did what he did but through this action he was able to explain to his wife, Rezia, why he did what he did. Septimus, along with many other soldiers, faced more hardships once they came home from war. They were unable to recuperate from Shell Shock, they were unable to speak of what they saw, and they were unable to go back to what was normal.
Woolf’s novel makes few direct references to certain events, but the most detrimental focus I was drawn to was the battle many veterans faced once they came home, Shell Shock. With the constant commotion and indescribable memories these soldiers faced many suffered from what we now know as post-traumatic depression. Signs of troubling times were beginning to be evident in these soldiers as they roamed around the city in shell-shock and haunted the very remembrance that somehow the war continued and was burned into the mental mind of those who experienced firsthand. A middle-aged man, eager to learn more about poetry and become a young poet was eager to prove himself of being a man. He fought bravely in World War I and would later find out that he did not have the capability to feel. The nightmares, visions and hallucinations made him act very different and he was no longer that young easy-going poet. Though two different doctors attempted to help him, ultimately no one could and he would later commit suicide. From a clinical perspective and from ordinary people as well, Septimus suffers from the Shell Shock affect and under that falls, delusions (him talking to dead people and trees), and utter insanity. People saw him as nothing and thought he should get over the “casualties” and be the good man they once all knew. Septimus was the sane one who saw post-war Britain society for what it truly was, an animal for power. The historical issue, World War I, helped me identify with the literary text because it gave me a better sense as to why hardships were occurring, why people were infatuated with their image, why religion was prominent, and the main focus as to why mental health was such a major problem in more than one character. Though Septimus actions can be seen as madness, I believe it was an expression to help himself describe and communicate what happened during war because for him, no ordinary words could do that, that terror and agony and attempt to “save” him was useless and so to protect his soul he committed suicide and I believe that was the best solution at the time for those who suffered from Shell Shock.