Mrs. Dalloway comments on society by showing the dichotomy between the wealthy and the poor, through the eyes of Miss Kilman. Miss Kilman provides a canvas of thought for the protagonist– Clarissa Dalloway– who thinks of her as a villain, with “hooves” who threatens her eternal soul, “never to be content quite, or quite secure, for at any moment the brute would be stirring” (Woolf 9). Clarissa Dalloway represents a collective interpretation of the poor, exemplified by, “ it was not her one hated, but the idea of her” (Woolf 9).
Miss Kilman defends herself from the effects of alienation by shielding herself in her macintosh coat, a weapon to arrogantly distinguish herself as being poor, in order to deflect the judgement from the poor onto the rich– the poor weren’t at fault for their status, but rather it was the rich who were evil, vain, and immoral. Miss Kilman uses her coat as a symbol of her suffering, “year in year out she wore that coat; she perspired; she was never in the room five minutes without making you feel her superiority, your inferiority; how poor she was, how rich you were” (Woolf 9). However, despite Miss Kilman’s attempts to use her coat as a weapon against the Dalloways, or more broadly, the upper class, she is still looked down on and seen as lesser. The macintosh coat’s political statement is lost to the public due to its price tag.
Miss Kilman reveres what the Dalloways have and thinks that she deserves it more than them; “She came from the most worthless of all the classes- the rich… She considered that she had a perfect right to anything that the Dalloways did” (90). Thus, Miss Kilman acts out against her in an attempt to steal approval from Elizabeth, who ultimately rejects her as well; “She had gone. Mrs. Dalloway had triumphed . Elizabeth had gone. Beauty had gone; youth had gone,” resulting in Miss Kilman isolating herself in addition to the isolation from society due to her low social class (Woolf 97). Miss Kilman’s attempts show a desperate need to gain something over the Dalloways, as well as a need for a companion. Miss Kilman’s distress over Elizabeth’s departure and her denial of Miss Kilman’s disapproval of her parents allows Miss Kilman’s absolute isolation and desperate need for attention to be boldly apparent.
Miss Kilman seeks solace from society by being a pious woman, however she often feels rejected by her religion as well. She feels isolated even in her worship, “She seemed to struggle. Yet to others God was so accessible and the path to Him so smooth” ( Woolf 97). Miss Kilman sees her hate as God’s will, “If only she could make her weep… But this God’s will, not Miss Kilman’s” thus, her isolation from her employers is blamed on God, not her own views (Woolf 91). God’s rejection of Miss Kilman provides a layer of interpretation for why the poor are discriminated against and set apart from society– perhaps it is God’s rejection as well. The bias in society against the lower class is expressed so prominently that it results in the feeling of rejection past societal. Disapproval of the poor is so ingrained in post World War One England, that it becomes a shared ideology that becomes a part of religious beliefs– the poor are unworthy of God’s sympathy.
The Dalloway’s distrust of Miss Kilman, while remaining dependent on her services for Elizabeth’s education symbolizes the overall feeling of England after World War One. Proven in Miss Kilman, as well as Septimus Warren, the societal “problems” are overlooked by the public, in order to try and portray England as distinguished, patriotic, and moral. Meanwhile, the underbelly of high English society stirs, in quiet distress, watching being forgotten by those in influential economic positions.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co, 1925. Print.