"I love," said Susan, "and I hate. I desire one thing only. My eyes are hard. Jinny's eyes break into a thousand lights. Rhoda's are like those pale flowers to which moths come in the evening. [Bernard's] grow full and brim and never break."

Source: The Waves (Virginia Woolf)

This describes Susan's emotional breakdown when seeing Jinny kissing Bernard. Critics have noted that this is describing what the children are seeing, and not the appearance of the eyes. But I am having trouble understanding the imagery of the eyes here. Why are Susan's eyes being described as "hard", Jinny's as "breaking into a thousand lights", and so on?

  • 1
    as far as I can tell, this is a description of how the eyes of each of those characters look when they cry.
    – user111
    Aug 7, 2017 at 17:32

1 Answer 1


I haven't read the book and this is pure speculation on my part. But when I'm having what TVtropes calls a "BSOD" or blue screen of death, my facial expressions just aren't there. It's like I'm lifeless and made of stone.

I've seen it in others who just seem to be drained of emotions. No tears, no smile or frown, just a complete shutdown while the brain works overtime to process the big upsetting thing that has just happened. In others words, our eyes have gone hard. Not soft and lifelike.

This could be Virginia's way of describing such a feeling. As it is a line of dialogue, Susan might just be trying to say, "I don't want to advertise my distress. I hope Jinny's a good distraction."

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