One particular aspect of Kew Gardens that I was curious about was the distinction made between two very different worlds: namely, the world of the snail versus the world of the people wandering about the flower bed.
Woolf used a snail as the catalyst for her story in The Mark on the Wall, and once again, a snail plays a role in her prose. In Kew Gardens, Woolf leads the reader through the conversations and behaviors of various couples passing the flower bed as well as the progress of a snail within that same flower bed. While the people pass by with the same, “irregular and aimless movement,” (89) the snail appears to, “have a definite goal in front of it... objects lay across the snail’s progress between one stalk and another to his goal.” (86) In fact, it seems like the only character in the story who has any direction is the snail itself, plodding along in a flower bed surrounded by couples who are caught up by past memories and pointless conversations.
I was left to ponder the purpose behind telling the story from these two different perspectives, and I cannot say that I’ve reached a definite conclusion. By the end of the story, Woolf has brought together the two worlds of nature and people into a churning, swirling mixture of voices and colors and sounds. In the end, the two worlds are not separate entities, but a single—rather chaotic—mass. I am not really sure what to make of the story’s finish, and I was particularly stunned by the fact that my first reaction to the ending was, “But what happened to the snail?!” when obviously, I should be more concerned about the fact that the people in the story are lead astray by their own banalities and their struggle to sort out the implications of past decisions and present absurdities. I suppose the only contribution I have to offer are a few meager questions: What does it say about people if a snail in a flower bed seems to have more purpose and determination in a story than the humans? Was Woolf even considering that point, or have I missed an essential part of her message? Why does she seem to have such an affinity for snails?
Conclusively, all I can say is that whether it was Woolf’s intention or not, Kew Gardens made me wonder about the human condition to revel in the past, to say things that don’t really say anything at all, and to put great stake in things that are not worth much more than sixpence anyway.