Mrs Dalloway

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The Prime Minister Symbol Analysis

The Prime Minister Symbol Icon
Mrs. Dalloway began as two different short stories, and one of them was called “The Prime Minister.” In the novel the Prime Minister acts as a symbol of England’s traditional values and social hierarchy, which have begun to decline as a result of World War I. When Peter Walsh wanted to insult Clarissa and suggest she would give up her ideals to become a “perfect hostess,” he said that she will marry a prime minister. Lady Bruton, on the other hand, uses “Prime Minister” as a compliment to Hugh Whitbread, another figure of English tradition. The car that is possibly bearing the prime minister is a spectacle in the street, but then people turn away from it to look at the airplane advertisement. At Clarissa’s party the Prime Minister’s arrival is greatly anticipated, but when he actually shows up he is a disappointment. Throughout the novel people cling to their ideas of “greatness” in English society, while the reality becomes more and more sobering and pathetic.

The Prime Minister Quotes in Mrs Dalloway

The Mrs Dalloway quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Prime Minister. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harcourt edition of Mrs Dalloway published in 1990.
Section 1 Quotes

How he scolded her! How they argued! She would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase; the perfect hostess he called her (she had cried over it in her bedroom), she had the makings of the perfect hostess, he said.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), Peter Walsh (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Prime Minister
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Clarissa is recalling her early relationship with Peter Walsh, who once asked her to marry him, but also grew frustrated with her and critiqued her with words that Clarissa recalls in this passage. Marrying a Prime Minister is, in Peter's consideration, a grave insult: he associates such leaders with the stuffy, antiquated past of the English empire, a past that can only be embarrassing to continue to prop up. "Perfect hostess" is also an accusatory insult, suggesting a lack of depth and a contentment with superficial things in life. Ironically, Clarissa is remembering these words as she rushes around London, doing all she can to be an ideal hostess for her party that evening (which the Prime Minister will attend). But her recollections also underline just how little Peter was able to express how he really felt for Clarissa without descending into frustrated insults, even if they had a real social basis.

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Section 9 Quotes

Nobody looked at him. They just went on talking, yet it was perfectly plain that they all knew, felt to the marrow of their bones, this majesty passing; this symbol of what they stood for, English society. Old Lady Bruton… swam up, and they withdrew into a little room which at once became spied upon, guarded, and a sort of stir and rustle rippled through every one, openly: the Prime Minister!
Lord, lord, the snobbery of the English! thought Peter Walsh, standing in the corner. How they loved dressing up in gold lace and doing homage!

Related Characters: Peter Walsh (speaker), Lady Bruton
Related Symbols: The Prime Minister
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

The Prime Minister has arrived at Clarissa's party, and here we see the guests' reactions, filtered through the perspective of Peter, who looks on from afar quite skeptically. Although the Prime Minister has been mentioned with awe earlier in the book, here Peter sees him as a small, plump, unassuming-looking man, unworthy of all that attention - and indeed, representative of a bygone age. Peter is already feeling alone and isolated, so he is inclined to view everything he sees around him rather negatively. However, his isolation also allows him to become acutely attuned to the hypocrisy that can be seen in the way everyone acts, trying to be casual but actually over-excited by their mere proximity to this important figure.

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The Prime Minister Symbol Timeline in Mrs Dalloway

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Prime Minister appears in Mrs Dalloway. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 1
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
...life, and remembers him bringing her to tears by saying that she would marry a Prime Minister and become a “perfect hostess” someday. Peter had once asked Clarissa to marry him, but... (full context)
Section 2
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
...going by in the street. Passersby wonder if the car contains the Queen or the Prime Minister behind its curtains. Septimus Warren Smith, a young veteran of World War I, also hears... (full context)
Section 6
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...over. The voices he hears tell him that he must reveal his secrets to the Prime Minister . Then he sees a dog that seems to turn into a man, and Septimus... (full context)
Section 7
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...it. She puts Hugh’s carnations in the front of her dress and calls him “My Prime Minister !” (full context)
Section 9
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...other Dalloway servants hurry about, making last-minute preparations for the party. They hear that the Prime Minister will be there, but the cook says that this makes no difference for her work.... (full context)
Social Criticism Theme Icon
The Prime Minister arrives, interrupting Clarissa and Sally’s reunion. In his appearance he looks ordinary and almost laughable,... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Clarissa shows the Prime Minister out. She feels the intoxication and pleasure of the party now, but it all seems... (full context)