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Death in the Hours

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Death in the Hours

The men and women of The Hours view death as an escape from an ordinary lifestyle which lacks anything truly extraordinary or exhilarating. Laura Brown considers death as an alternative to the constraints of her role as a mother and a wife. Both Richard Brown and Virginia Woolf ultimately commit suicide in order to escape their illnesses and their failures to live up to society’s expectations. Though Laura does not end her life, she does die symbolically to her family.

Over the period of a day, Laura Brown gradually succumbs to her overwhelming desire to liberate herself from her mundane life. Her life has taken a very different direction from what she ever thought it would, and she finds herself completing commonplace household chores she does not want to do; she feels that she has no control over her own existence. Her whole life seems like a failure to her, and neither her husband nor her child can fill the void of true meaning present in it. At first, Laura views the possibility of suicide to abscond from her troubles as a farfetched idea reserved only for those who lack the sanity to stay alive; all the while, she deceives herself into believing that she is sane. As her day unfolds, she loses herself in her desperation to free herself from the fetters of family life and society’s lack of understanding of her tenuous condition. Suicide then becomes a more seductive option: “She could decide to die. It is an abstract, shimmering notion, not particularly morbid . . . . It could, she thinks, be deeply comforting; it might feel so free: to simply go away” (Cunningham 151). She no longer views suicide as some extravagant act of temporarily inflamed passions, but rather as a basic, and possibly very satisfying choice. Laura finds comfort in the finality of death; she wants to embrace it as a way to redeem her failures as a woman. Alas, she opts not to die because of the physical tie (her baby) that still bonds her to her family. However, once she relieves herself of that bond, she essentially decides to kill her housewife status by leaving her family in order to discover sanity and fulfillment. Through this symbolic death, she is reborn and ironically outlives her entire nuclear family. Virginia and Richard kill themselves to experience this same rebirth of conscience.

Richard elects for a physical death as a means to free himself and Clarissa from his illness. Like Laura, he views the sum of his life’s work as completely unsuccessful. He feels as if he has wasted precious time writing about things that are not important to his society. Suicide is never far from his mind, because for him death represents the chance to finally make a decision that will have the significant benefit of ending both his and Clarissa’s suffering. Really, his suicide signifies an end to a death that has been occurring for along period time. In his death, Richard finds ultimate freedom: “He seems so certain, so serene . . . . He lies where he fell, face down, the robe thrown up over his head and his bare legs exposed, white against the dark concrete” (200). Finally, Richard exposes all of his inner feelings and thoughts through this act; he no longer masquerades them in the guise of a literary work. Now, others can understand the magnitude of his interior conflicts, and that he does not merely manifest the stereotypical homosexual man with AIDS. In a way, his death is his greatest accomplishment, because he no longer has to judge himself and his work by society’s standards;

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