The Mark on the Wall

Virginia Woolf

Stop and Think

Question 1: What is the string of varied thoughts that the mark on the wall stimulates in the author’s mind?

Answer: The mark on the wall stimulates various thoughts in the author’s mind. Some of these thoughts are about the civilisation, futility of knowledge, war, and beauty and permanence of nature, etc.

Question 2: What change in the depiction of reality does the author foresee for future novelists?

Answer: The author foresees that the future novelists would write less about reality and more about what is beyond reality or hidden behind reality. The author thinks that reality is ephemeral, but surreal is permanent. So, she advocates writing about surreal things, about the depths and phantoms of things we see in real life.

Question 3: What is the author’s perception of the limitations of knowledge and learning?

Answer: The author is of the view that knowledge and learning limit our perspective. The moment knowledge defines something, we tend to keep everything in watertight compartments. But nature is boundless, it cannot be defined by a boundary. To understand the beauty and miracles of nature we need to have a boundless curiosity which knowledge cannot impart in us.

Question 4: Describe the unbroken flow of thoughts and perceptions of the narrator’s mind, using the example of the colonel and the clergy.

Answer: When the narrator talks about the colonel and the clergy, she begins with one topic and veers towards other unrelated topics. Colonel’s endeavour is to explore objects of apparent historic significance, while colonel’s wife is engrossed in mundane activity of making jam. The colonel meets the clergy because he is hopeful of getting some semblance of importance at clergy’s table. It is quite amazing to see how easily the narrator’s thoughts flow from a topic of high intellectual importance to one of the least intellectual importance.

Understanding the Text

Question 1: An account of reflections is more important than a description of reality according to the author. Why?

Answer: The author thinks that reality is not going to last forever, but reflections are permanent in nature. So, while describing the beauty of a flower, it is important to think beyond the obvious. So, the author thinks that an account of reflections is more important than a description of reality.

Question 2: Looking back at objects and habits of a bygone era can give one a feeling of phantom-like unreality. What examples does the author give to bring out this idea?

Answer: The author thinks that objects and habits of a bygone era prove nothing. She thinks that we are not going to draw a concrete conclusion after seeing and analysing the nails of a past queen, or foot of a Chinese murderess, or ornate wine jar of a famous person from the past. Whatever conclusion one is going to make shall be based on perceptions which are the result of his mental conditioning in the modern times. So, the author says that looking back at objects and habits of a bygone era can give one a feeling of phantom-like unreality.

Question 3: How does the imagergy of (i) the fish (ii) the tree, used almost poetically by the author, emphasise the idea of stillness of living, breathing thought?

Answer: The author has beautifully used the imagery of fish and tree to emphasise the idea of stillness of living, breathing thought. She thinks that men of actin do not bring peace to the world. On the other hand, a fish slices through water effortlessly. The author wants to slice through the world with similar ease, and it could be possible only in a world which is peaceful and still, devoid of all the cacophony which knowledge brings.

While citing the example of tree, the author talks about the permanent nature of tree. A tree grows oblivious to the happenings in surroundings. The tree provides plenty of bounties to other living beings yet it never bothers about them. Even after its death, the tree creates many objects which become permanent fixtures in our homes, like doors, furniture, bookshelf, etc.

Question 4: How does the author pin her reflections on a variety of subjects on the ‘mark on the wall’? What does this tell us about the way the human mind functions?

Answer: The author does not immediately jump on the conclusion after seeing the mark on the wall. Instead, her thoughts take an unknown trajectory, veering from one thought to another. Her restless mind goes on an endless journey to think about various topics, mundane and not so mundane.

This tells that human mind is highly fertile, and given a chance it can soar to unchartered territories as if flying on wings.

Question 5: Not seeing the obvious could lead a perceptive mind to reflect upon more philosophical issues. Discuss this with reference to the ‘snail on the wall’.

Answer: Most of us have a tendency to see the obvious. But if we try to see beyond the obvious, we can reflect upon more philosophical issues. The author begins to think about the futility of getting immediate knowledge about the mark on the wall. For her, that is a trivial issue. So, she begins to think about more philosophical issues.

Talking About the Text

Question 1: ‘In order to fix a date, it is necessary to remember what one saw’. Have your experienced this at any time? Describe one such incident, and the non-chronological details that helped you remember a particular date.

Answer: There can be numerous examples. We can remember the happenings through 2020 to 2022 through pandemic which engulfed the whole world. Let us assume your cousin started her B. Tech course from a prominent engineergin college in India. The moment classes began, she had to come back home because all the classes became online. She not only finished her degree sitting at home but also got a job in a big company. By correlating it with those two years, you can easily recall the date of this incident.

Question 2: ‘Tablecloths of a different kind were not real tablecloths’. Does this sentence embody the idea of blind adherence to rules and tradition? Discuss with reference to ‘Understanding Freedom and Discipline’ by J Krishnamurti that you have already read.

Answer: J Krishnamurti talks about futility of tradition and its suffocating effect on knowledge. Sticking to a set pattern of tablecloth is akin to idolating a tradition. Nothing is indelible, and everyone should explore newer ways to understand and do a particular thing. A good designer can only become a good designer through innovations, and not by beating the trodden path.

Question 3: According to the author, nature prompts action as a way of ending thought. Do we tacitly assume that ‘men of action are men who don’t think’?

Answer: It is true that men of action are men who don’t think. Let us take the example of a cricket batsman to understand this. When the batsman is facing a fast bowler, he does not have the luxury of time to think about the trajectory of the ball. The moment the ball is released by the bowler, the batsman gets a fraction of second to react. His timely reaction can make or mar a game.


Question 1: Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of narration: one, when the reader would remain aware of some outside voice telling him/her what’s going on; two, a narration that seeks to reproduce, without the narrator’s intervention, the full spectrum and continuous flow of a character’s mental process. Which of these is exemplified in this essay? Illustrate.

Answer: This essay exemplifies the secod kind of narration, which seeks to reproduce, without the narrator’s intervention, the full spectrum and continuous flow of a character’s mental process.

In this essay, the author does not jump to the conclusion. Instead, she takes the reader through various thought processes which reveal various hidden meanings in the seemingly innocuous mark on the wall.

Question 2: This essay frequently uses the non-periodic or loose sentence structure: the component members are continuous, but so loosely joined, that the sentence could have easily been broken without damage to or break in thought. Locate a few such sentences, and discuss how they contribute to the relaxed conversational effect of the narration.

Answer: Example: What are our learned men save the descendents of witches and hermits who crouched in caves and in woods brewing herbs, interrogating shrew-mice and writing down the language of stars?

Elaboration: This sentence talks about the futility of knowledge. It says that learned men are nothing more than descendents of our forefathers who were ignorant as per our perceptions. But the reality is, they were masters of their craft and knowledge. They could brew herbs, the way we brew tea. They were intelligent enough to understand the language of mice. They could decipher seasons and eclipses by looking at stars.

Explanation: The author has successfully compressed so much information in a single sentence. This makes the sentence interesting and easier to understand because it becomes more of conversational in nature.

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