The Hours | Study Guide

Michael Cunningham

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The Hours | Motifs


Domesticity and Identity

In the novel domesticity is largely presented through the detailing of the many objects accumulated by characters, particularly Clarissa Vaughn and Sally, her partner. The author sometimes provides entire paragraphs listing the many, supposedly cherished, objects that Clarissa has in her home. Both she and Virginia Woolf occasionally realize how tethered they are to these objects. Thus domesticity is like a trap that shapes their identity as an owner of "stuff."

Domesticity may also be reflected in mundanity. The detailed descriptions of the things outside the home that the characters observe and feel connected to may be an external form of domesticity that also defines and binds them.

Discontent and Doubt

Throughout the novel several characters express their discontent with their lives, usually in their thoughts. This discontent relates to the superficiality of their lives, their unsatisfying relationships, or other aspects of life related to their social role and status. Laura Brown, in particular, lives a wholly discontented suburban life.

Doubt takes the form of questioning actions and choices the characters have made that have set the trajectory of their lives. Both Clarissa Vaughn and Laura Brown doubt the wisdom of the choices they have made in life, particularly as they relate to personal relationships and self-identity. Clarissa is most plagued by doubt surrounding her rejection of Richard Brown when they were both young.


Several significant kisses add meaning to the novel. In some cases a kiss may elicit feelings of regret. This is especially true for Clarissa Vaughn, who deeply regrets not returning Richard Brown's proffered kiss decades ago. Had she returned the kiss her life might have been spent with him and been completely different and, supposedly, far more satisfying.

Other kisses reveal honesty and openness, as when Laura Brown kisses Kitty after Kitty stops performing her role as a suburban housewife. When Virginia Woolf kisses her sister, Vanessa Bell, the kiss reveals to her a transcendent love. Kisses are also a way the author incorporates homosexual love into the novel.

Kisses may also indicate emotional aridity and lack of love. When Laura Brown kisses her son or her husband, the kiss is an empty gesture devoid of love or emotion. Laura's kisses are pro forma and wholly without feeling. When she kissed her family, she is performing an action expected of someone in her social role.

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