The Mark on the Wall

Themes and Colors
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self and the Other Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Mark on the Wall, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In the final moments of Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall,” the unnamed narrator discovers that the black speck on the wall of her home—a mark that has prompted her musings about everything from war to the meaning of life—is just a snail. This mundane realization at the end of such deep introspection reflects the tension between nature (represented by the snail) and civilization. Nature, in Woolf’s rendering, is indifferent to the whims…

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War

Woolf wrote and published “The Mark on the Wall” while World War I was sweeping across Europe. The war had a drastic impact on life in London—Germany began strategically bombing the city in 1915, and Woolf writes extensively in her diaries and other stories about the unprecedented architectural and social destruction caused by the fighting. The narrator of this story attempts to have a normal day “smoking a cigarette” after tea, but allusions to the…

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The UK saw the birth of social movements around women’s rights during the Victorian Period, but many major victories occurred during or after Woolf’s lifetime. The first law on women’s suffrage, for instance, was passed in the UK in 1918, one year after “The Mark on the Wall” was originally published. Virginia Woolf wrote most of her fictional work about female protagonists and often addressed the inequalities between men and women—for example, UK universities like…

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Although the story’s narrative occurs solely in the mind of its narrator, her thoughts turn consistently towards those of other individuals and the possibility of knowing their minds. She reflects with interest on the impossibility of following another’s life, yet her mind circles back to figures as diverse as the former tenants of her house, the people she sees outside a train window, and Shakespeare. These mental forays reveal some hope of encounter between…

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The narrator fixates on the passage of time and discusses the objects and habits that disappear as time passes. Fragments of the past remain both in the form of memories and objects, like shards of pottery, but time still ultimately emerges victorious in its destructive force. Though people try to hold onto the past, the story suggests, life remains a “scraping paring affair” that is indifferent to individual desires. However, some of the changes that…

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