The Mark on the Wall

by

Virginia Woolf

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The Narrator Character Analysis

The only substantial character in this story is the narrator; everything that occurs is filtered heavily through her thoughts and stream of consciousness reflections. Though never named, the story heavily implies that the narrator is a woman sitting in her living room with someone, likely her husband. She is well-educated, thoughtful, and very introspective, although she also self-describes as a neglectful housekeeper. These descriptions of her housekeeping and ambivalent need to take the London metro (the “Tube”) suggests that the narrator is someone who comes from an affluent household, but no longer has access to or the desire for such extravagant resources. She may be a writer, and she is critical of religion, masculine authority, warfare, and modern civilization.

The Narrator Quotes in The Mark on the Wall

The The Mark on the Wall quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator. 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:
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of The Mark on the Wall published in 1997.
The Mark on the Wall Quotes

How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mark/Snail
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

“…the mystery of life; The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity! To show how very little control of our possessions we have—what an accidental affair this living is after all our civilization—let me just count over a few of the things lost in one lifetime, beginning, for that seems always the most mysterious of losses—what cat would gnaw, what rat would nibble—three pale blue canisters of book-binding tools? Then there were the bird cages, the iron hoops, the steel skates, the Queen Anne coalscuttle, the bagatelle board, the hand organ—all gone, and jewels, too. Opals and emeralds, they lie about the roots of turnips. What a scraping paring affair it is to be sure! The wonder is that I’ve any clothes on my back, that I sit surrounded by solid furniture at this moment…”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Why, if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour—landing at the other end without a single hairpin in one’s hair! Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked! Tumbling head over heels in the asphodel meadows like brown paper parcels pitched down a shoot in the post office! With one's hair flying back like the tail of a race-horse. Yes, that seems to express the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard.. . .

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

The tree outside the window taps very gently on the pane… I want to think quietly, calmly, spaciously, never to be interrupted, never to have to rise from my chair, to slip easily from one thing to another, without any sense of hostility, or obstacle; I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tree
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

All the time I’m dressing up the figure of myself in my own mind, lovingly, stealthily, not openly adoring it, for if I did that, I should catch myself out, and stretch my hand at once for a book in self-protection. Indeed, it is curious how instinctively one protects the image of oneself from idolatry or any other handling that could make it ridiculous…Suppose the looking glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people—what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in. As we face each other in omnibuses and underground railways we are looking into the mirror; that accounts for the vagueness, the gleam of glassiness, in our eyes.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

…but these generalizations are very worthless. The military sound of the word is enough. It recalls leading articles, cabinet ministers—a whole class of things indeed which as a child one thought the thing itself, the standard thing, the real thing, from which one could not depart save at the risk of nameless damnation.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

How shocking, and yet how wonderful it was to discover that these real things, Sunday luncheons, Sunday walks, country houses, and tablecloths were not entirely real, were indeed half phantoms, and the damnation which visited the disbeliever in them was only a sense of illegitimate freedom. What now takes the place of those things I wonder, those real standard things? Men perhaps, should you be a woman; the masculine point of view which governs our lives, which sets the standard, which establishes Whitaker’s Table of Precedency, which has become, I suppose, since the war half a phantom to many men and women, which soon, one may hope, will be laughed into the dustbin where the phantoms go, the mahogany sideboards and the Landseer prints, Gods and Devils, Hell and so forth, leaving us all with an intoxicating sense of illegitimate freedom—if freedom exists…

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 50-51
Explanation and Analysis:

No, no, nothing is proved, nothing is known. And if I were to get up at this very moment…what should I gain?—Knowledge? Matter for further speculation?...what is knowledge? What are our learned men save the descendants of witches and hermits who crouched in caves and in woods brewing herbs, interrogating shrew-mice and writing down the language of the stars? And the less we honour them as our superstitions dwindle and our respect for beauty and health of mind increases.. . .

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Yes, one could imagine a very pleasant world. A quiet, spacious world, with the flowers so red and blue in the open fields. A world without professors or specialists or house-keepers with the profiles of policemen, a world which one could slice with one’s thought as a fish slices the water with his fin, grazing the stems of the water-lilies, hanging suspended over nests of white sea eggs…How peaceful it is down here, rooted in the centre of the world and gazing up through the grey waters, with their sudden gleams of light, and their reflections—if it were not for Whitaker’s Almanack—if it were not for the Table of Precedency!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Here is nature once more at her old game of self-preservation. This train of thought, she perceives, is threatening mere waste of energy, even some collision with reality, for who will ever be able to lift a finger against Whitaker’s Table of Precedency? The Archbishop of Canterbury is followed by the Lord High Chancellor… Everybody follows somebody, such is the philosophy of Whitaker; and the great thing is to know who follows whom. Whitaker knows, and let that, so Nature counsels, comfort you, instead of enraging you; and if you can’t be comforted, if you must shatter this hour of peace, think of the mark on the wall.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mark/Snail
Page Number: 52/53
Explanation and Analysis:

Indeed, now that I have fixed my eyes upon it, I feel that I have grasped a plank in the sea; I feel a satisfying sense of reality which at once turns the two Archbishops and the Lord High Chancellor to the shadows of shades. Here is something definite, something real. Thus, waking from a midnight dream of horror, one hastily turns on the light and lies quiescent, worshipping the chest of drawers, worshipping solidity, worshipping reality, worshipping the impersonal world which is a proof of some existence other than ours

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mark/Snail
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Wood is a pleasant thing to think about. It comes from a tree; and trees grow, and we don’t know how they grow. For years and years they grow, without paying any attention to us, in meadows, in forests, and by the side of rivers—all things one likes to think about.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tree
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Even so, life isn’t done with; there are a million patient, watchful lives still for a tree, all over the world, in bedrooms, in ships, on the pavement, lining rooms, where men and women sit after tea, smoking cigarettes. It is full of peaceful thoughts, happy thoughts, this tree. I should like to take each one separately—but something is getting in the way. . . . Where was I? What has it all been about? A tree? A river? The Downs? Whitaker’s Almanack? The fields of asphodel? I can’t remember a thing. Everything’s moving, falling, slipping, vanishing.. . . There is a vast upheaval of matter.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Someone
Related Symbols: The Tree
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’m going out to buy a newspaper.”

“Yes?”

“Though it’s no good buying newspapers. . . . Nothing ever happens. Curse this war; God damn this war! . . . All the same, I don’t see why we should have a snail on our wall.”

Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Someone (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mark/Snail
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Narrator Character Timeline in The Mark on the Wall

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator appears in The Mark on the Wall. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Mark on the Wall
War Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self and the Other Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
On an unknown day in January, the narrator sits in her living room after tea, smoking a cigarette and reading. She reflects that... (full context)
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Deciding that the mark was too large to have been left by a nail, the narrator ponders the mystery of life and the inaccuracy of thought. She compiles a list of... (full context)
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self and the Other Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
The narrator realizes the mark isn’t a hole and wonders if it is a rose leaf. She... (full context)
War Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self and the Other Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
The narrator dwells on the notion of self-image. One constantly “dresses up” the figure of herself in... (full context)
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self and the Other Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
The narrator notices that the mark projects from the wall, which leads her to believe it might... (full context)
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
The narrator decides that nothing would change were she to stand up and identify the mark, as... (full context)
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self and the Other Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
The narrator realizes that her preoccupation with the mark is an act of self-preservation. She cannot take... (full context)
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self and the Other Theme Icon
A voice interrupts the narrator’s train of thought and drags her back to the living room. Someone stands over her... (full context)