A Woman’s College from Outside by Virginia Woolf
In A Woman’s College from Outside by Virginia Woolf we have the theme of independence, class, equality, struggle, acceptance and confusion. Taken from her The Complete Shorter Fiction collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Woolf may be exploring the theme of independence. Angela’s parents want her to do well in life. They don’t wish for her to be a housewife like Angela’s mother but rather they hope that she will become an independent woman who is also self-sufficient. Though this is admirable the reality may be very different as Angela feels as though the best that she might manage to do is to become an upper class housewife. Angela is acutely aware that she lives in a patriarchal society with very little or no options available to women. The fact that Angela is compared to her mother at the beginning of the story further suggests that Angela will not make the transition or progress that her parent’s wish for her. It is a not as though there is anything wrong with Angela’s parents desires for Angela. It is just that the circumstances are not there for the progression to independence and self-sufficiency to be made.
Which may be the point that Woolf is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that what needs to change is the fact that women are not treated as equals to men nor are they taken seriously by men or society in general. It is also possible the Angela’s classmates are not in college for the same reasons as Angela. To them college is a place to have fun. Something that is noticeable by the continued laughing of some of the girls in Angela’s dormitory. It might also be a case that Woolf is suggesting that Angela’s classmates lack discipline. Something that is required for an individual to be independent of others. Where Angela and her parents want her to progress in life the other girls appear to accept that they will not achieve the independence that Angela is seeking. They will become housewives to rich men. If anything Angela may dislike her classmates because she knows that they are wasting their time. Their lives have been mapped out and they are assured of having a comfortable life. Whereas Angela on the other hand has to work hard to reach her goal.
Angela knows that her parents have placed their hopes and expectations in her hands and she does not wish to let them down. She knows her parents are hard-working and that they struggle to get by. Nonetheless they pay for Angela’s education in the hope that she will have a better life. There is also a sense that Angela is confused. On one hand she wants to better herself and progress in life however she also knows that the reality is that due to the patriarchal system that exists she will never progress as her parents would like her to. It is as though Angela feels that her life is pointless. She is striving for independence yet may never get it. Something that is a concern to Angela alone as her other classmates have already accepted the lives they will live. If anything Angela can’t fully understand the goals of the upper class girls in her class. To them the college is a place to have fun and not to learn. They do not see their place in the college as being a stepping stone to independence.
Angela also appears to be confused with regard to her views on chastity. Woolf uses the colour white at the being of the story to suggest that Angela may be pure. That she is driven by one thing and that is to succeed in college. Yet as the story progresses things get a little darker for Angela. Woolf refrains from using colour to describe any of the girls in the dormitory. Something which might suggest that the girls are not as pure as Angela. If anything the girls might view their attendance in college as being a matter of finding a man to marry rather than seek out an independent life. At no stage of the story does the reader suspect that Angela is like any of her classmates. For them their life is mapped out while Angela is in conflict with herself. Knowing that she wishes to be independent yet may never be. Angela knows that she is unhappy but also feels trapped as she does not know what she can do. If she leaves college she will only upset her parents and lose any chance she has of being independent. Yet Angela also knows that should she remain in college she is only being groomed for marriage. The best that Angela can achieve is to marry somebody of a higher social class. However by doing so she also loses her voice.