Three Pictures by Virginia Woolf
In Three Pictures by Virginia Woolf we have the theme of connection, desperation, mortality, change, struggle and control. Taken from her The Complete Shorter Fiction collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Woolf may be exploring the theme of connection. There is a sense that the narrator is trying to connect with Rodgers and his family. Though as readers we do not know of the relationship between the narrator and Rodgers one is left to assume that they may be neighbours. This might explain as to how the narrator heard Mrs Rodgers screaming. What is interesting about Mrs Rodgers’ scream is the fact that Woolf describes it as being sexless. This could be important as the narrator is lost as to who might have made the scream man or woman. The narrator does not know. All they know is that the scream came with a sense of desperation. It is as though the narrator does not have a full picture of what is happening. Something that is clearer to the reader at the end of the story when we realise that Rodgers is dead. The fact that it is the night time when the narrator hears the scream heightens the sense of desperation that is felt. There is nothing to take away from the pain of the scream. Which may be the point that Woolf is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that with death comes an immeasurable pain.
It is also interesting that Woolf moves from an image of happiness in the first picture to an image of uncertainty in the second picture and then finally an image of sadness. This transition may be important as Woolf may be mirroring the stages of grief and how an individual can shift from happiness (when the person is alive) to uncertainty (when the person dies) to finally the sadness that comes with the inevitable fact that the person is no longer alive. It is as though an individual is forced to accept death rather than having a choice in the matter. Though death comes to everybody it can still nonetheless be a shock for many people. Particularly when it comes unexpectantly. From what should have been a happy occasion for Rodgers and his family turns into tragedy for those that Rodgers leaves behind. Though a person can have an image of someone as the narrator does with the first picture of Rodgers and his family inevitably the image will change. Things do not remain the same no matter how much one would like them to.
It might also be important that the narrator keeps their focus on Rodgers. It is as though he is the one who has a story to tell. He is after all just back from China. However the real story that needs to be told is that of Rodgers’ wife. She is the one who has been left behind. It is possible that by focusing on Rodgers throughout the story that Woolf is suggesting that at times people can be deceived by what they see. True Rodgers has met with an unfortunate death. However the real story is what is left behind and that story begins with the screaming of Mrs Rodgers. It is an unpleasant picture but it still remains the most honest of all the pictures that the narrator discusses in the story. With death comes reality and struggle. The reader aware that life for Mrs Rodgers will now be a struggle. She is a young widow, she is pregnant and she has to continue with her life to the best of her ability.
It might also be a case that Woolf is exploring the theme of control. In many ways the narrator is in control of the images that they are picturing in their mind. They have a visual that they believe they can trust and for most part of it they are not wrong. They see Rodgers returning home to a happy wife. They hear a scream and then they are by Rodgers’ grave. That in itself will give the reader the outline of the story. However though the narrator has control over the processing of each image or picture. Mrs Rodgers on the other hand has no control. She cannot stop Rodgers from dying nor can she change the direction that her life is about to take. As an observer the narrator is at a safe distance from Mrs Rodgers misfortune. It is not as though she is able to feel the pain that Mrs Rodgers is enduring. If anything Woolf may be highlighting how fragile life can be and no matter what a person thinks they can see they will never see the full picture. The narrator will not know what it is like for Mrs Rodgers apart from hearing her scream. She has no idea of the pain the Mrs Rodgers is going through. There may be no picture for pain.