Postmodernism and Irony within Sally Potter's appropriation of Virginia Woolf's "Orlando"

Essay by Michael_B89High School, 12th gradeA, May 2007

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In Postmodernist literature, irony is used when revisiting the past. This allows postmodern authors to comment upon present and past societies, social systems of rank, upon the human condition, and also the "development" of the concept of self and humanisation. In the film "Orlando", directed by Sally Potter and originally composed by Virginia Woolf, postmodernist irony is used to emphasise and comment on various aspects of the social/metaphysical state, or development, of society and humans. These concepts are communicated through the following themes and techniques: gender identity, transformation of the self, the idiocy of war, the will to power, and the concept of "the gaze".

The theme of gender identity is one of the most predominant themes within "Orlando". This is the concept of being either man or woman, as depicted by ones genitalia. The postmodernist perception of this is that if these distinguishing features were removed, then all human beings are ultimately the same; all human beings possess characteristics such as greed, jealousy, love, compassion, and fear all to certain degrees.

It is these physicalities that catergorise and even labels ones destiny and fate, as demonstrated in the film when Orlando "transforms" into a woman and is not allowed to possess "her" estate due to the fact that she is a woman. There are several ironies in relation to gender identity within the film; the first of these is the femininity of Orlando when he is male. The society of the 17th century compounded the authority and leadership of the male, as being the "breadwinner" and the "man of the house". Not only does Orlando physically look feminine, but he also has a natural disposition for possessing female characteristics such as being fragile and emotional, caring for the beautiful things in life, and also showing unfounded...