Short Story #14: The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf

Title:  The Mark on the Wall

Author:  Virginia Woolf

Short Story #14 out of 365

Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)

Book cover: Worlds Greatest Short Stories - Dover Thrift Ed
Date Read:1/7/2014
Source:  The World's Greatest Short Stories, Dover Thrift Edition, edited by James Daley.  The story can also be found on this website.


A woman sees a mark on her wall and contemplates what it could be.  Each new idea about the mark generates a train of thought about the complexities and challenges of life.  She refrains from actually looking at the mark but prefers to observe and contemplate its meaning and origins.  Eventually, another person reveals to her that it is a snail.  


I haven't read nearly as much Woolf as I probably should.   This story uses the stream of consciousness writing wherein the reader become privy to the winding and twisting thoughts of the protagonist and the goal is to reflect what thinking (and thus existing) really looks like.  In this story, I found it fascinating her fixation on something like a "mark on the wall" as it is a very normal thing for people to do; get fixated upon something and give it serious contemplation for a long duration without actually investigating what it is.  Of course, to the narrator, to actually determine what is there (rather than what she has determined is there in her head) seems an almost desperate act--as if we were in Plato's cave and the goal was not to find out that our shadows were not the real.  

That it at different times she perceives it to be a small leaf, a hole, or a nail seem to also be good symbols for different parts of life: growth/life/birth: leaf, loss: hole, and death: nail.  But that the answer is thrust upon her and it is snail is also intriguing as snail in so many ways can resemble the act the story is committing.  A snail moves slowly and it takes a while to arrive at its destination.  Even if it goes straight from point A to Point B, it will be deliberate.  This story tells you at the beginning about the mark but takes its time in telling you what the mark is.
For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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