Robinson's first words are: "my name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille, under the care of my grandmother, Mrs. Sylvia Foster, and when she died, of her sisters-in-law, Misses Lily and Nona Foster, and when they fled, of her daughter, Mrs. Sylvia Fisher" (Robinson, p. 3). The choice of introductory sentence is extremely telling as, apart from establishing this work as a female-centric narrative, it draws up a picture of a female-dominated world. Its blatant and explicit exclusion of reference to any males may be interpreted as a direct challenge to dominant patriarchal systems. Indeed, it is even reminiscent of the exclusively-male genealogies outlined in the Bible, starting with the Book of Genesis. Within the context of the stated, the opening line may be interpreted as the narrative's own genesis, the genesis of a matriarchal, as opposed to patriarchal, world.
Patriarchy versus matriarchy is carried through in the novel's expression of the themes of grief and loss. The protagonist, Ruth, has evidently lost both mother and father but the loss of the father and his absence is passed over as inconsequential, while the loss of the mother gives the novel its impetus. Ruth is aware of the extent to which her mother's loss has affected her and refers to the resultant grief as a "predatory thing," a feeling which gnaws at her and deprives her of her very sense of self (p. 198). Her grandmother's death, her "drowning in air" (p. 164) is recalled and with it her mother's physical drowning; her abandonment by Misses Lily and Nona are told; and her sister's departure/abandonment, cuts through her very soul like a knife but, never is her father's death/abandonment/loss touched upon. This clearly indicates that the world of this novel is a solidly matriarchal one in which males are, if granted any place at all, marginalized, semi-invisible and inconsequential beings.
Just as a woman's abandonment thrusts her into a dream world from which she finds refuge from her grief-stricken reality, a woman's intervention puts her on the path to self-discovery and reclamation of identity. Following Lucille's departure, her aunt Sylvia takes her across the lake to the wilderness and leaves her to her own self-reflections. Isolation in nature's solitude, force Ruth to engage in self-reflection, leading to an eventual realization of self-hood and identity. It is interesting to note that water symbolizes both the womb and abandonment, just as it does birth. The lake/water took her mother away but the lake, with her aunt's help, leads to the birth of her own self.
In sum, the selection of the theme of the feminist reworking of the patriarchal world as the dominant one in this narrative is appropriate. The narrative does not just unfold within a female-centric world but draws its impetus from the protagonist's relationship with the women in her life. This theme is not only central to the novel but contains within it the themes of human relationships, the dream world, self-identity and grief.
Virginia Woolf's deeply moving and somewhat disturbing Mrs Dalloway is a subtle study in the fine line between sanity and insanity. Unfolding from within the depths of Mrs. Dalloway's very self, it calls into question many of society's prevailing assumptions and values. The social system, with its dictates on male-female/female-female relationships and its rules pertaining, not just to proper