Cunningham’s The Hours

“She is always afraid of getting trapped between floors in this elevator — she can all too easily imagine the long, long wait; the cries for help to tenants who might or not might not speak English and who might or might not care to intervene; the strange numbing deathlike fear of standing there, alone, for a considerable time, in the brilliant, stale-smelling emptiness, either looking or not looking at her distorted reflection in the dim circular mirror fastened to the upper right-hand corner.”

You might want to take the stairs today…

In Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours, he intertwines the stories of three women including Virginia Woolf. In this sentence, he repeats “might or might not” to emphasize that whether the neighbors speak English or you choose to look in the mirror, it will still be a frightening experience. His description makes the elevator tomb-like. Just as with this character, our imagination is often a scarier place than reality.


  • JP
    March 31, 2008 - 10:59 am | Permalink

    First off, this woman needs a Valium or a glass of merlot. Maybe both.

    I loved his use of might or might not and looking or not looking. This type of repetition is a very powerful rhetorical device. I’ve heard Obama use it many times in his speeches; Cunningham uses it to great effect as well. Good post!

  • Anonymous
    March 31, 2008 - 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I may never get in an elevator again! This writing is so graphic the reader can feel the woman’s fear about being trapped and no one coming to help her. I wonder how many people think about this when getting in an elevator? This is writing I won’t forget.

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