Viriginia Woolf's Orlando

Evaluate the extent to which the text Orlando
explores and challenges gender roles and values.

Virginia Woolf, a ‘first-wave’ feminist, uses her ability with language to construct literature, reflective of social constraints, values, and power. In the novel Orlando, Woolf deconstructs the socially and biologically identified concepts of man and woman. At a time when psychoanalytical studies were taking off, and the female debate was first being shaped, Woolf criticised the material advantages of males compared to females. Many believe that this modernist novel was induced by her sexual frustrations towards Vita Sackville-West, others, that it was influenced by the sexual tolerance of The Bloomsbury Group, of which Woolf was a member.

The character Orlando was used as a means to explore the power and possibilities of gender and time. By separating the biological and the psychological implications of gender, Woolf is able to use the concept of androgyny to “achieve a balance between a ‘male’ self-realization and ‘female’ self-annihilation.” She challenges these constructions by showing an imbalance of values and roles in regards to masculinity and femininity.

The hegemonic definition of masculinity, what Virginia Woolf explains as the “quintessence of virility”, is “constructed in relation to various subordinate masculinities, as well as in relation to women.” (R.W. Connell). Woolf explores this belief by commenting on the nature of the patriarchy and by depicting men as aggressive and chivalrous.

“In the act of slicing at the head of a moor.” (Chapter 1)
In the beginning, Orlando is described as a young man, imitating the actions of his noble fathers. “The act” is clearly reflective of the role of men in the patriarch at this time. This ideology is then juxtaposed against the biographer’s depiction of Orlando as being feminine in appearance through hyperbolic descriptive detail. “The red of the cheeks… The lips themselves were short and slightly drawn...