"Plot" Guideline for The Waves

Updated December 12, 2000
Created August 15, 1997

I. The sun rises.

Childhood. Bernard, Rhoda, Neville, Susan, Louis and Jinny awake and reveal, in a stream of conscience perceptive mode, what they see and hear. Susan sees Jinny kiss Louis from behind the bush, begins to cry and is comforted by Bernard.

II. Midmorning.

Early adolescence. Bernard leaves for school, as do Louis and Neville. Susan, Rhoda and Jinny do the same. Louis and Neville reveal character traits; in the chapel, Louis is willingly submissive to the minister’s authority, while Neville is cynical and suspicious of authority. Percival appears for the first time (35). To Louis, Percival inspires poetry (40). Louis wishes for night to come, while Jinny reveals her aversion to darkness, sleep and night (52; 54).

III. Late morning.

Adulthood. Bernard and Neville are at Cambridge. Louis is a London office clerk. Susan has returned to her beloved countryside. Jinny lives in her plastic world and never sees darkness. Rhoda is fearful of life.

IV. The sun approaches midday position.

The group reunites at Hampton Court to send Percival of to India. Each appears alone. Neville arrives first and awaits Percival’s arrival with "morbid pleasure" (118). Louis enters. Susan enters with "stealthy, yet assured movements . . . of a wild beast" (119). Rhoda appears hesitant and timid. Jinny enters. To Susan, Jinny seems to "center everything" while bringing in new tides of sensation" (120-21). Susan compares her course hands to Jinny’s manicured ones and hides them under the tablecloth. Bernard, who is now engaged, enters. Percival finally enters. Bernard refers to Percival as a hero. Percival sits down next to Susan, whom he loves. The atmosphere, previously tense and discordant, is now harmonized by Percival’s presence; he is the silent force around which the group gravitates and rotates. At last they can issue from the "darkness of solitude" (123). At end of the episode Percival departs: "He is gone" (147).

V. Noon: The sun lies straight above casting no shadows.

Percival is dead. Neville expresses his grief through physical suffering: "Come pain feed on me. Bury your fangs in my flesh. Tear me asunder" (152). The now married Bernard is torn between the joy of his son’s birth and the death of Percival: " . . . but which is sorrow, which is joy?" (153). Percival’s death has liberated Rhoda, who soon becomes Louis’ lover.

VI. The sun’s rays are slanted.

Life is monotonous and begins to have no meaning. Louis begins the section: "I have signed my name twenty times . . . I, and again I, and again I" (171). Susan finds her days mechanical: "Summer comes and winter, the seasons pass" (171). Neville observes the clock ticking on the mantelpiece (177).

VII. Late afternoon.

Bernard reveals he must submit to solitude in order to realize his creative art and that this submission is an "altogether unidentified and terrifying act" (189). Susan is not altogether sated with her farm life. Jinny has aged and realizes that she is "no longer part of the procession" (193). She does, however, continue to live on ever powdered and groomed. Neville decides that life can be lived with the pleasures of poetry instead of needing a firelit room and intimacy. However, he still yearns for the company of a male companion. Louis keeps a cockney mistress since Rhoda left him. Though successful, he feels empty. Louis wonders if death will provide the stability he longs for, but fears: "perhaps I shall never die, shall never attain even that continuity and permanence . . ."(203). Rhoda is in Spain and increasingly parts with the real world since Percival’s death: "There is only a thin sheet between me now and the infinite depths" (205). Rhoda approaches her death.

VIII. Evening.

Group reunites for the second and final time. Neville, a famed poet, realizes fame is not a panacea. Susan is unfulfilled. Bernard thinks solitude is his undoing (217). Louis is still unsure; he is ambivalent. Like his childhood days, Louis prefers to cloister himself in his attic in order to protect himself from ridicule. He is "marmoreal" on the outside, but intrinsically weak (219). Jinny is the courageous one. Though she suffers the same as the others, she finds affirmation in the smallest encounters: "Sometimes only by the touch of a finger under the tablecloth as we sit dining" (221). Rhoda comments on the wave-like motion of life, how it breaks down only to build back up again (232). Bernard concludes by affirming the continuity of life, the "happy concatenation of one event following another" (334).

IX. Night.

Bernard is last to speak. Spends the remainder the text summing up his life and those of the others. Bernard takes on Death and the waves crash on the shore.

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