The Failures of Life in a Modern Society.
A common theme in many novels is for the protagonist to come to some sort of realization about life, therefore enriching and fulfilling some goal or desire in his own life. Most of the time he will learn a lesson, realize some truth, or derive some meaning through the events of the novel. Despite this common thread throughout contemporary fiction, both Virginia Woolf and Michael Cunningham choose to add a twist to this common theme in modern literature. In Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf chooses to have the successful character, Septimus, kill himself, while in The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Richard, one of the successful characters of the novel, kills himself too. It is a very strange twist that both authors have added to modern literature, because suicide is generally seen as a negative thing, while in these two novels it is seen as a positive thing; an escape from the tortures of everyday life. Western society teaches us, through religion and custom, that suicide is a negative thing, while in these two novels the protagonists" suicides are positive for them themselves and for readers because it highlights the negative elements of their society. Thus, it seems that both authors are making a point about the faults of contemporary society. Both Virginia Woolf and Michael Cunningham construct life as a shallow and menial pursuit for something that is lacking in society, and they show this lacking nature of society through the successful release from this pursuit in the suicides of Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway and Richard in The Hours.
In Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, Septimus is viewed as one of the only, if not the only, successful characters in the novel. Yet at the end of the novel he kills himself, which is generally viewed as a character's demise or downfall. However, in this novel, Septimus" suicide is a symbol of him taking power over the society that seeks to keep him miserable.