Flying North: A Search for Self through Nature, Poetry, and Avian Imagery in Orlando
This paper identifies a correlation between Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, and the use of avian imagery incorporated into the novel. The unique purpose of this paper is to acknowledge avian imagery as symbolic and mandatory to the main character’s [Orlando’s] journey towards uniting with his/her true identity. This paper also acknowledges the importance of nature and poetry to Orlando’s search for a true identity, but emphasizes the significance of avian imagery due to the connection birds have to freedom—especially freedom from oppression. This paper illustrates that Orlando is not only a novel dedicated to its main character’s journey towards self-identification, but also a novel concerned with the connection between self-identification and the freedom that avian imagery establishes. By close textual analysis and the inclusion of researched analytical critiques concerned with an array of Virginia Woolf’s novels, I demonstrate how Orlando is dedicated to its main character’s search for, and discovery of, true identity.
Virginia Woolf’s distinguished character development and peculiar allusions to death are characteristics of many of her novels. In Woolf’s novel, Orlando, protagonist Orlando notably references death through a stream of consciousness as he transitions from male to female. Many critics claim that Virginia Woolf’s intertextual references to death and suicide coincide with her personal battle of suicidal thoughts, and eventual suicide. However, critics typically skip over an important theme that Woolf intertwines throughout Orlando. Few critics have acknowledged an underlying theme of the oppression of one’s self and the journey to be united with it, in Orlando. I will focus on Orlando’s search for self, which begins in the Elizabethan time period and finally ends in the year 1928.I will refer to the self or selves as a character’s innermost and truest identity, which makes each human different from the next, and often is oppressed in order to exist ordinarily in society. In order to pinpoint the oppression of Orlando’s “self,” Woolf demands from her reader the acknowledgement of her deliberate use of avian imagery within Orlando, which very few critics have identified and researched. Woolf’s avian imagery has been frequently overlooked by many of her readers as a simple component of nature within her novels. In “Yeats’s Bird-Soul Symbolism,” James Allen focuses on William Butler Yeats’s incorporation of avian imagery and claims that birds typically symbolize a human soul, “because of [their] ability to rise above the earth” (117). In Orlando, instead of arguing that avian imagery symbolizes a “human soul,” I claim that avian imagery relates to the search for self. Woolf directly links avian imagery to her protagonists, specifically in Orlando, to show her reader that the protagonist, Orlando, will eventually free his self. By analyzing Woolf’s arduous avian imagery in Orlando, I will argue that Orlando represents a caged bird, in which his “self” is caged—or rather oppressed—and demands to be freed.
Orlando is introduced to the reader as a sixteen-year-old boy and nobleman who is interested in poetry, nature, and women. However, it is important to acknowledge the magnitude of value Orlando places in each of his interests. As Orlando self-reflects and reunites with his self throughout the novel, the value he places in each interest will begin to change. At first glance, Orlando’s interest in poetry is acknowledged as a hobby: “He was describing, as all young poets are forever describing, nature, and in order to match the shade of green precisely he looked… After that, of course, he could write no more” (Woolf 13-14). Orlando carefully uses the best “descriptions]” for “nature” as he writes poetry, but he is also sidetracked by the time passing as he writes. Orlando stops writing to venture into nature, which shows that he has not yet developed the obsessive attachment to his poetry that will eventually manifest as he finds his self.
Orlando’s love for writing poetry is connected to his interest in nature. Orlando finds solitude and refuge in nature and deems it a safe haven. Orlando seems closest to uncovering his “self” when he is in the forest: “He loved, beneath all this summer transiency, to feel the earth’s spine beneath him…so long as it was hard, for he felt the need of something which he could attach his floating heart” (15). It is important to state that Orlando has not yet found his true identity, but he is aware that he is in “need of something.” At the moment, Orlando uses his favorite oak tree as an anchor for his heart. Woolf writes, “To the oak tree he tied it [his heart] and as he lay there, gradually the flutter in and about him stilled itself….the swallows dipped and circled and the dragonflies shot past him” (15). Although Orlando’s heart seems to “still itself” and he finds peace in nature, specifically birds around him, which “dip” and “shoot past him.” Because Woolf uses the word “flutter,” which corresponds with avian imagery, to describe Orlando’s uneasy heart, she is foreshadowing Orlando’s changing self. In “Ornithological Knowledge and Literary Understanding” John Rowlett claims that there is a connection between nature and birds within poems (626). I agree with Rowlett’s claim that the incorporation of nature and birds in poetry is significant, but I would also enhance the argument by stating that nature and birds are connected to the poetry that Orlando writes. Woolf’s use of foreshadowing through avian imagery, I believe, shows that Orlando will begin a journey to free his self through poetry and nature. However, before Orlando can begin his journey, he must fall in love—which will change the previous value he placed in each of his interests. Orlando will value a woman over his true personal interests. Then, Orlando will experience heartbreak, in order to realize that he has devalued his true interests in poetry and nature, and is much further away from his true identity.
When Orlando meets Princess Sasha, their relationship seems to push him further away from nature and poetry. Orlando spends time with Sasha, and as a result, spends less time dabbling in his interests. As Orlando dines with Sasha, he believes that he has found his true happiness, which ultimately hinders his search for self. If Orlando does not experience heartbreak through his relationship with Sasha, he will never realize that he is unhappy with his life. When Orlando does find happiness in his relationship with Sasha, it is happiness brought on by Sasha, not his inner self: “For as he looked the thickness of his blood melted; the ice turned to wine in his veins; he heard the water flowing and the birds singing; spring broke over the hard wintry landscape; his manhood woke” (Woolf 30). Orlando’s previously known identity suddenly changes when he meets Sasha. Orlando acknowledges the freedom of nature around him as the “water flows” and “birds sing.” Woolf’s use of avian imagery as Orlando watches Sasha is specifically important because it represents Orlando’s happiness. Osten Hallberg claims that the bird is, “a symbol of human soul and it represents goodness, joy, wisdom and intelligence” (n.p.). The bird-like joy that Sasha gives Orlando awakens his “manhood.” However, the awakening of manhood should not be confused with the awakening of self. Orlando’s transition into manhood offers a false sense of newly found self. Orlando’s transition from boyhood to manhood is only an illusion that allows Orlando to believe he has transformed into his true self because of the happiness it brings. Orlando’s manhood, which is achieved through Sasha, is actually harmful to him because he is not his truest self as a man.
During Orlando’s brief romance with Sasha, Woolf describes a scene in which the couple are skating. Orlando and Sasha take on avian adjectives as Woolf writes:
They seemed to be skating on fathomless depths of air, so blue the ice had become; and so glassy and smooth was it that they sped quicker and quicker to the city with the white gulls circling about them, and cutting in the air with their wings the very same sweeps that they cut on the ice with their skates. (39)
Woolf uses avian imagery like “wings,” “sweeps,” and the frozen water which turns into “fathomless depths of air,” to describe Orlando and Sasha’s experience as they skate together. Woolf’s imagery reveals the freedom Orlando feels which is that of a bird that soars through the sky as he skates with Sasha. However, one may question whether Orlando’s sense of freedom in his scenes with Sasha is actually true freedom. In “Misperceiving Virginia Woolf” James Harker claims, “One of the most curious and pervasive features of Woolf’s oeuvre is that characters are so frequently wrong in their perceptions” (2). I agree with Harker: this is especially true when Orlando believes Sasha offers freedom. Sasha is the subject that Orlando spontaneously “attach[es] his floating heart [to],” which he had expressed a longing to do while relaxing in the forest. Like “manhood,” which oppresses Orlando’s will to search for self, Sasha’s influential false freedom hinders Orlando’s ability to realize that he still has not found his self, nor has he begun the journey.
Orlando and Sasha’s relationship is ill-fated from the beginning. Orlando plans to flee to Russia with Sasha in order to evade marrying his fiancé: “On the first dark night they would fly north; thence to Russia. So [Orlando] pondered; so he plotted as he walked up and down the deck” (Woolf 37). Orlando’s plan to “fly north” resembles that of a bird “flying” towards refuge. In the context of Orlando, “flying” may be compared with the false freedom Sasha has introduced Orlando to. Orlando is absolutely devoted to leaving the country with Sasha, but Sasha seems to have an ulterior motive. As Orlando waits for Sasha to meet him to begin their “flight” to Russia, he notices that their journey may be impeded by road conditions: “The roads, pitted as they were with great holes, would be under water and perhaps unpassable. But what effect would this have upon their flight he scarcely thought” (45). Again Woolf uses “flight” in a manner that would typically be referred to birds taking flight, though she is referencing Orlando and Sasha’s plan to flee to Russia.
Devastatingly for Orlando, Sasha never shows to begin their “flight” to Russia. Orlando experiences heartbreak, which causes him to shut out society. Although Orlando’s relationship with Sasha ends, it marks the beginning of his search for self. Orlando chooses to live in solitude after his friendship with Sasha crumbles. Because Orlando lives in seclusion, he no longer has to follow societal norms. Orlando is free to embrace moments of thoughtfulness and former passions without the resistance of society.
There are two awakenings within Orlando that I claim are crucial to Orlando’s ability to find his self. After falling asleep one night and refusing to wake up, Orlando “lay as if in a trance…he did not wake, take food, or show any sign of life for seven whole days” (50). Many readers may argue that Orlando’s “trance” is depression caused by his break-up with Princess Sasha. However the trance Orlando is in cannot be depression because Orlando does not remember anything from his past life, including his relationship with Sasha. It seems as though Orlando’s trance has caused him to suffer from a bout of amnesia:
Yet some change, it was suspected, must have taken place in the chambers of his brain, for though he was perfectly rational and seemed graver and more sedate in his ways than before, he appeared to have an imperfect recollection of his past life. (50)
Unlike critics who argue that Orlando is experiencing depression, I would argue instead, that Orlando’s trance is benign because he forgets “his past life” and seems “graver and more sedate.” During his trance, Orlando becomes completely aware of his present inner self as a man. For seven days Orlando is given the ability to self-reflect without memories of his past life—memories of Sasha. The trance that Orlando experiences is what I call his first awakening. The second awakening, which I will explain in further detail later on, identifies the importance of Orlando’s transformation into a woman.
The first awakening allows Orlando to begin his search for his true self without the constant onslaught of past memories. Without Sasha to influence Orlando’s happiness, he is capable of finding what makes him truly happy and closest to his true self. The first awakening gives Orlando a clean slate, which allows him to reflect on his true interests without remembering his past. The fogginess that enveloped Orlando’s mind, caused by Sasha, has come to an end. Orlando, instead of finding another lover, chooses to “g[ive] himself up to a life of extreme solitude” (51). In “extreme solitude,” Orlando relies on his inner freedom to explore his thoughtful creativity. The type of freedom Orlando is experiencing is true and pure, unlike Sasha’s false freedom. Orlando is free to explore thoughts that would have disgusted outsiders: “Orlando now took a strange delight in thoughts of death and decay” (53). Orlando’s “thoughts of death and decay” lead him to the crypt where he connects materialism to nobility, and ultimately, his own life. Orlando’s strange thoughts could lead some critics to argue that this is an area where Woolf is referencing her own thoughts of death—as she did suffer from depression. However, Orlando is actually using his thoughts of death and decay to improve his identity. Orlando realizes and comes to terms with the fact that he has not been in touch with his true self, but rather a false self.
For the first time after his trance, Orlando begins to write poetry again: “He was a nobleman afflicted with a love of literature” (55). Because the type of literature Orlando specifically loves to write is poetry, Woolf uses binaries as she identifies Orlando as a “nobleman with a love of literature.” In the world of Woolf’s novel, a “nobleman” who “love[s] literature,” especially poetry, during the Elizabethan time period is an unlikely combination, because typically nobility were considered too highly ranked in the social classes to write poetry. Orlando is aware of his curse of being a nobleman and his love for writing poetry. Even to the narrator of Orlando, poetry takes the allusion of an illness: “Many of his time, still more of his rank, escaped the infection and were thus free to run or ride or make love at their own sweet will” (55). The narrator acknowledges that what sets Orlando apart from other nobleman is not that he loves to write poetry, but that Orlando embraces his ability to write, while others in his social class “escape the infection.”
However, unlike the young Orlando who is introduced at the beginning of the novel and writes poetry during his spare time in his room, the semi-new Orlando, who has awoken from his trance, spends an exuberant amount of time reading and writing all genres of literature. Orlando chooses to continue to work on his previous stories, “Xenophila a Tragedy” and “The Oak Tree.” The awakened Orlando experiences a new freedom that was not perceived when his former self began working on these stories: “Instead of being a single, downright, bluff piece of work of which no man need feel ashamed, our commonest deeds are set about with a fluttering of wings, a rising of lights” (58). Woolf combines the art of writing literature with avian imagery such as “a fluttering of wings.” I would argue that because Woolf uses avian imagery to describe Orlando as he writes literature, as readers, we are to understand that literature represents Orlando’s freedom. Once again, the freedom that Orlando is experiencing as he is writing is not the same type of freedom he experienced with Sasha. The freedom that Orlando is experiencing as he writes is freedom from societal norms; he is reunited with the literature he wrote as a boy. The literature Orlando is reunited with is the same literature that was locked in, “a great inlaid cabinet which stood in the corner” while Orlando and Sasha were still together (57). Because Orlando lives in solitude, closest to his self, he is free to keep his manuscripts unlocked. Orlando’s ability to unlock his manuscripts seems to bring freedom and happiness to his self.
Orlando seems to ignore the social norm of writing poetry for his class. His ability to reunite with poetry is very important in his search for self because he is no longer forced to suppress his contributions to literature: “So it was, and Orlando would sit by himself, reading, a naked man” (55). Orlando’s reunion with poetry is a metaphor for his rebirth as he “reads” “naked” like he came into the world, “naked.” Orlando’s “nakedness” and rebirth directly correspond to his first awakening which has given him the ability to realize he has lived with a false sense of self, and that he can now find his true self because he has reconnected with nature and poetry.
Orlando finally decides to open his doors to outsiders, or rather Nicholas Greene, a poet. Woolf writes: “It was to settle this last question that he decided, after several months of such feverish labour, to break a solitude of many years and communicate with the outer world” (61). At this point, it must be reiterated that Orlando had lived in solitude for “many years,” during which he had been writing literature and becoming closer to uncovering his self. Greene and Orlando freely chat about literature and famous writers. However, Orlando does not necessarily know whether he likes Greene. A certain confidence in Orlando is perceivable: “So time passed, and Orlando felt for his guest a strange mixture of liking and contempt, of admiration and pity, as well as something too indefinite to be called by any one name, but had something of fear in it and something of fascination” (67). Orlando and Greene are quite obviously intellectuals who appreciate literature, but Orlando seems to “pity” Greene. I claim that Orlando’s “pity” for Greene resides in his inferiority to Orlando and shows that Orlando has a new confidence in his own writing. Though Greene is famous, at least by Orlando’s standards, he still chooses to dress like a commoner. Perhaps Greene is not willing to dress as nobility and write poetry, for fear of backlash. Orlando both maintains his title of nobility and writes poetry and other literature. It is as if Orlando pities Greene for wearing the chains of society and for not freely doing as he wants, as Orlando now has seemed able to do since his first awakening.
Woolf also chooses to use foreshadowing when she writes: “Orlando felt for his guest a strange mixture of liking and contempt… something too indefinite to be called by any one name, but had something of fear in it and something of fascination.” Orlando’s “fear” towards Greene is important to identify because Greene will betray Orlando by writing a poem, which does not portray Orlando well. Because Greene writes a terrible poem portraying Orlando, “[Orlando] murmured, scarcely above his breath as he turned to his books, ‘I have done with men’” (70). Orlando’s instant distrust in all men and ability to restore himself as soon as Greene betrays him, shows that he no longer allows his self to be manipulated by outsiders, especially men. However, one may question whether Orlando still accepts himself as a man. When Woolf describes Nicholas Greene with avian imagery, “the head with its rounded forehead and beaked nose was fine,” a connection between birds, Orlando, and his self should be made (63). As I have claimed, avian imagery is also connected to Orlando’s self, and I believe that Greene’s “beaked nose” is connected to Orlando’s self. Through Orlando’s interaction with Greene, it becomes apparent that Orlando realizes that he does not relate to the male identity when he chooses to be “done with men.”
Orlando also comes to a conclusion about the obscure, which I would argue, is his way of coming to terms with his true self; Woolf writes:
Obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded. Over the obscure man is poured the merciful suffusion of darkness. None knows where he goes or comes. He may seek the truth and speak it; he alone is free; he alone is truthful; he alone is at peace. (77)
Orlando realizes that as he has lived alone, unknown from much of society, he has allowed his “mind” to go “unimpeded.” Orlando has been free to believe and think as he wishes without the pressure of society. There is a “darkness” that envelops him, but this “darkness,” I claim, is benign, because it is a way of showing that he is self-reflecting, he is finally understanding his mind, and what needs to happen in order to attain his true self. If Orlando’s “darkness” was actually malignant, he would not be “free” or “speak the truth” or even be “at peace.”
Before he is united with his self, Orlando is met with another obstacle, which has the capability of impeding his journey. When the Archduchess Harriet Griselda visits Orlando, he seems to feel attracted to her: “When the Archduchess Harriet Griselda stooped to fasten the buckle, Orlando heard, suddenly and unaccountably, far off the beating of Love’s wings” (86). If “the beating of Love’s wings” represents the beating of Orlando’s heart because he is falling in love with the Archduchess, this could be problematic. Like Sasha hindered Orlando’s search for self by representing false happiness, the Archduchess may also cause Orlando to lose sight of his true self. Woolf writes: “The sound came nearer; and he blushed and trembled; and he was moved as he had thought never to be moved again; and he was ready to raise his hands and let the bird of beauty alight upon his shoulders” (86). Orlando experiences the same feelings he experienced with Sasha, he “was moved as he had thought never to be moved again.” So soon is Orlando ready to fall in love with the Archduchess that he is “ready to raise his hands and let the bird of beauty” come upon him. “The bird of beauty” is how Orlando describes the Archduchess, but the “bird” represents the same false freedom Sasha gave to Orlando.
Orlando refrains from falling in love with the Archduchess when he realizes what she truly is. The Archduchess begins to transform into her true identity:
…horror!—a creaking sound like that the crows make tumbling over the trees began to reverberate; the air seemed dark with coarse black wings; voices croaked; bits of straw, twigs, and feathers dropped; and there pitched down upon his shoulders the heaviest and foulest of the birds; which is the vulture. (86)
Before his eyes, the Archduchess changes from woman to “vulture.” The transformation of the Archduchess is Orlando’s way of realizing that she does not truly represent freedom. The Archduchess’ “coarse black wings” and “feathers” represent oppressed freedom, and her transition to a “foul bird,” relates to a bird without freedom. The “foul bird” does not fly about, she is not free, nor does she represent freedom. Orlando is repulsed by the Archduchess’ appearance and realizes that he does not love her. Orlando’s ability to come to this realization instead of becoming trapped in a relationship with the Archduchess—as he was with Sasha—allows his self to remain attainable and allows him to continue his journey without the distraction of the Archduchess.
Orlando’s choice to stay away from the Archduchess proves to be an appropriate choice, which leads him to freeing his self. When Orlando experiences his second awakening, it is an awakening that physically transforms him. Again, Orlando falls into a trance for seven days and awakes to a significantly different version of himself:
But here, alas, Truth, Candour, and Honesty, the austere Gods who keep watch and ward by the inkpot of the biographer cry No! Putting their silver trumpets to their lips they demand in one blast, Truth! And again they cry Truth! And sounding yet a third time in concert they peal forth, The Truth and nothing but the Truth. (99)
As Orlando sleeps in his trance, the biographer foreshadows Orlando’s achievement of “The Truth” once he awakes. Woolf’s obvious repetition of the word “Truth” must not be dismissed by her reader. Orlando’s “Truth” is related to his search for self, the truth he finds will be the final transition he makes in order to achieve his true self. As Orlando remains in a trance, three women: Our Lady of Purity, Our Lady Chastity, and Our Lady of Modesty, circle around him and chant. The women, “ranging themselves side by side in order, blow one terrific blast:— ‘The Truth!’ at which Orlando woke” (102). “The Truth” which Orlando achieves is a transformation to the body of a woman, much like a transgendered person finally transitioning into the body he or she identifies with. For Orlando, the gender he, or now she relates to, is female.
Critics like Christy L. Burns, who refer to Orlando as an “(auto)biographical narrative,” connect Orlando’s second awakening with Virginia Woolf’s own “sexuality”: “In the act of writing the (auto)biographical narrative of Orlando, Woolf can address questions about her own (and women’s) sexuality” (357). In identifying Woolf’s sexuality within Orlando’s own journey, Burns undermines Woolf’s ability to create the character of Orlando from imagination, instead of from her personal life experiences. Although Woolf may indeed have identified with her character, it is imperative that Orlando is read without interpreting Woolf’s personal sexuality. Instead of outsourcing to connect Woolf with her character, I choose to interpret Orlando intertextually in order to identify the importance of Orlando’s transition.
Not only is Orlando’s transition from male to female of importance, but her reaction to the transition she makes is deeply connected to the achievement of her self. I claim that Orlando knowingly transforms into a woman as a significant phase of finding her self. Orlando’s reaction is noted when Woof writes: “Orlando looked himself up and down in a long looking-glass, without showing any signs of discomposure, and went, presumably, to his bath” (102). Orlando’s ability, after changing from male to female, to refrain from “any signs of discomposure,” I would argue, denotes any surprise Orlando may have had from transitioning. In “Power and Sexual Ambiguity: The ‘Dreadnought Hoax,’ The Voyage Out, Mrs. Dalloway, and Orlando,” Jean Kennard claims: “[Orlando] appears to change sex so readily in the latter half of the biography” (162). I agree with Kennard when she writes that Orlando “readily” transitions, because I believe Orlando is actually aware of the transformation he makes, even before he falls into his second trance. Even Orlando’s narrator states, “All her actions were deliberate in the extreme, and might indeed have been thought to show tokens of premeditation” (Woolf 103). If Orlando’s transition is in fact, “deliberate” and “premeditate[ed]” as the narrator contemplates, Orlando transitioned from male to female in order to come closer to achieving her true identity.
After Orlando’s transition into a woman, she embraces nature. As Orlando reunited with poetry after her break-up with Sasha, she now is reunited with nature after her transition into a female. Like poetry, I claim that nature is one of Orlando’s most valued interests that brings her closest to achieving her self and freedom. Orlando’s happiness after achieving her transformation is specifically apparent when Woolf writes:
Then, looking down, the red hyacinth, the purple iris wrought her to cry out in ecstasy at the goodness, the beauty of nature; raising her eyes again, she beheld the eagle soaring, and imagined its raptures and made them her own. (107)
Unlike the false happiness Princess Sasha presented to Orlando, Orlando’s true happiness is apparent as she “cr[ies] out in ecstasy” at the nature around her. Orlando’s transformation to woman gives her freedom, but does not release her true self. The freedom Orlando experiences is apparent through Woolf’s avian imagery as Orlando perceives the “eagle soaring” and makes “its raptures… her own.” Like the eagle who freely soars in the sky, Orlando becomes free as she embraces her identity as a woman.
Even numerous years after her transition from man to woman, Orlando continues to feel a sense of freedom through avian imagery. As Orlando rides in the elevator, she reflects on her life, “The very fabric of life now, she thought as she rose, is magic. In the eighteenth century, we knew how everything was done; but here I rise through the air; I listen to voices in America; I see men flying—” (220). Though Orlando is only “rising through the air” in an elevator, and not actually flying, she feels free as if she were flying. Orlando sees “men flying,” but they are also in elevators. So long as Orlando feels free, Woolf continues her use of avian imagery to describe the world around her.
However, to a portion of Woolf’s readers, Orlando’s freedom may seem hindered as she is driving alone in a car. I do not believe Orlando is mad, but instead, I claim that she is actually extremely close to achieving her true self. Woolf writes: “‘Haunted!’ she cried, suddenly pressing the accelerator: “‘Haunted!’ ever since I was a child. There flies the wild goose. It flies past the window out to sea. Up I jumped…and stretched after it. But the goose flies too fast” (229). Orlando’s repetition of “‘Haunted!’,” is a flashback to the unhappiness she experienced as a boy. As a boy, Orlando was unhappy and unable to find true happiness through his own self. He had attempted to find happiness and freedom through his relationship with Princess Sasha, but the relationship proved to be an obstacle to Orlando’s search for self.
Although Orlando has yet to find her self, she is closer now to finding it then when she was a male. I claim that Orlando is extremely close to finding her self because she sees “the wild goose.” The wild goose, which is also present in the final pages of Orlando, is the symbol of Orlando’s complete self. Woolf’s avian imagery is represented through the goose Orlando tries to capture, “but the goose flies too fast,” and she is unable to capture it. Woolf continues: “Always it flies fast out to sea and always I fling after it words like nets…which shrivel as I’ve seen nets shrivel drawn on deck with only seaweed in them. And sometimes there’s an inch of silver” (229). I believe when Orlando “fling[s] after” the goose “words like nets,” she reveals that she has been attempting to achieve her self for a considerable time. The “inch of silver” Orlando finds in the nets is a glimmer of hope that she is close to achieving her self. These inches of silver, I believe, are symbols of Orlando’s first and second awakening. The final stage Orlando must complete is to actually achieve her complete self, the elusive goose.
In the final paragraphs of Orlando, Orlando is reunited with her husband, Shelmerdine, whom she met not long after transitioning into a woman. Shelmerdine brandishes Orlando’s self, “And as Shelmerdine, now grown a fine sea captain, hale, fresh-coloured, and alert, leapt to the ground, there sprang up over his head a single wild bird” (241). The bird that “sprang up over his head” is actually the wild goose Orlando tried to attain while she was driving, but failed in doing so. Orlando’s reaction and the closing statement of Orlando, I believe proves that Orlando has finally achieved her self. Woolf writes: “‘It is the goose!’ Orlando cried. ‘The wild goose….’ And the twelfth stroke of midnight sounded; the twelfth stroke of midnight, Thursday, the eleventh of October, Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-eight” (241). Orlando’s statement, “The wild goose….,” is specifically important because it is an unfinished sentence with ellipses. Orlando’s unfinished sentence actually contains her achievement and attainment of her self because of Woolf’s inclusion of the ellipses. The ellipses show that Orlando has found her self after proclaiming “The wild goose,” and as a result, nothing more needs to be stated. Because I believe that Orlando is a novel dedicated to Orlando’s search for self, the novel appropriately ends with Orlando’s final accomplishment of achieving the wild goose, her self.
Though Orlando’s search for self is enduring and presents many obstacles, she is finally able to achieve it through stages. Poetry and nature are important interests, which always bring Orlando closer to achieving her self, though they don’t actually allow her to attain it. Orlando’s journey to free her true identity is presented throughout the text by Woolf’s use of avian imagery. Orlando’s first awakening, which allows him to come closer to his interests, leads to his realization that another awakening is necessary in order to achieve his true identity. After Orlando’s final awakening, she transitions into a woman which is the gender she relates to. Orlando does not fully attain her self until she captures the wild goose. Woolf’s story Orlando documents Orlando’s journey to attain her self, therefore, when the final page ends with Orlando’s exclamation towards the goose, she has finally attained her self, because as the journey comes to an end, so does the story.
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