To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf’s to the Lighthouse. Interpretation of Beauty and Morality
To The Lighthouse Digest
When New Woman Lilly Briscoe is introduced in To the Lighthouse, she is seen painting a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay and her son James. Though the painting could be interpreted as one of the classical types of religious paintings—the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus—Lilly tries interpreting what she sees when looking at Mrs. Ramsay and James; not going for any realism, but looking at shapes similar to the style of Picasso. However, she’s reminded of an incident where academic Charles Tansely tells her that women cannot write nor paint. In the beginning, Lilly thinks of her painting as being remarkably bad. As the novel progresses, Lilly’s interpretation of beauty comes from her realization how they are many ways beauty can be seen, even if the interpretation can be from things not normally harmonious with each other.
Throughout the novel, the themes of morality and whether or not one will have a legacy are seen through Mr. Ramsay’s worry of not being an accomplished philosopher, as well as Lilly as she paints rather than following the advice of Mrs. Ramsay to get married. What further fuels her worry, along with anger, is Charles Tansely. Lilly hopes to connect elements that have no necessary relation in the world—nature and humanity. In the beginning, Lilly paints a mother and child; a classic form of painting dating back to the Renaissance. However, she has trouble trying to interpret the beauty Mrs. Ramsay exudes. Lilly’s impression of Mrs. Ramsay is compromised by a need to view her without densities and faults. Mrs. Ramsay is a mother, but she is discovered by the reader to question life—similarly to her husband—and her duty as a woman to comfort him when he needs to be; things that cannot be easily portrayed in a painting.
Lilly’s uneasiness of showing her painting in the first part of To the Lighthouse reveals a dedication to a more feminine artistic vision in a man’s world. She is modest about her work, a feminine trait, as the men along the yard interrupt her and nearly knock over her easel on more than one occasion. Lilly is entering a masculine role by partaking in an activity which could provide her own income, yet she struggles to find her voice when trying to replicate the way of famous artists of the time: Monet and Picasso. Yet, when she finishes her painting, she distinguishes herself away from a “man’s world” by declaring indifference if her painting will be praised in the future or kept in storage to never be seen again.
By the end of the novel, set after Mrs. Ramsay’s death, Lily is able to finish the painting she started before—her moment of clarity amidst her former confusion. No longer concerning herself over the declaration of Tansely, Lily decides to create her own artistic voice. In the end, she decides that her vision depends on balance of bringing together unrelated things into harmony. Art possibly stands as the only hope in a world destined for trying times, disappointment, loss, and change. While mourning Mrs. Ramsay’s death and painting on the lawn, Lily reflects that though everything creates, paint and art do not.
Love Theme in the Great Gatsby and to the Lighthouse
Both the novels The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald and To the Lighthouse by Woolf explore the theme of love in great depth. This is most clearly seen through the various marriages within the books. While both authors presents marriages which are not perfect, they differ in their idea of love as Fitzgerald hints to a more free approach to love, suggesting that you can love more than one person. Whereas Woolf seems to express the idea that you commit yourself to one person and work through the issues.
Both authors presents marriages which have some form of distance however remain constant and give stability to the characters. In The Great Gatsby, Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s marriage is full of distance made abundantly clear when Daisy seemingly reveals the cracks in her marriage to Nick when she mentions that her daughter “ was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where.” This therefore would seem to suggest that despite Daisy’s outward happiness and luxurious lifestyle she is actually quite depressed by her current situation. Saying this, Fitzgerald chooses to follow up her serious complaint with “an absolute smirk” which “asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.” Fitzgerald does this to indicate that despite Daisy’s performance, she is somehow content to remain with Tom as part of the “secret society” of the extremely wealthy. Therefore, this shows how Daisy is willing to look past some of Tom ‘indiscretions’ as he provides her with the stability of high status and a good image.
Similarly, in To the Lighthouse, Woolf presents a distant and stable marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. This distance can be seen due to Mr. Ramsay’s pursuit or intellectual success and truth and Mrs. Ramsay’s nature to sooth others. This conflict is seen when Woolf mentions that Mr. Ramsay was enraged by the “folly of women’s minds” as Mrs. Ramsay “made his children hope what was utterly out of the question, in effect, told lies.” This suggests that it is Mr. Ramsay’s belief that everyone, especially his children, should be given the truth no matter what. In contrast, Woolf writes that Mrs. Ramsay found that the pursuit of truth with “such astonishing lack of consideration for other people’s feelings…was…an outrage of human decency.” Therefore, this major difference in personalities created a distance between the two characters. Saying this, Woolf still presents the relationship as being unquestionably stable. She does this by showing the mutual support they both provide for each other in some way. For instance, Mrs. Ramsay gives Mr. Ramsay the sympathy he craves, seen when Woolf writes that “[i]t was sympathy he wanted, to be assured of his genius.” For Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay saves her from the fear of isolation and loneliness. This is seen when Mrs. Ramsay thinks about the men at the lighthouse and states “how would you like to be shut up for a whole month at a time.” Woolf writes this to serve as a kind of immediate threat Mrs. Ramsay is giving her daughters which suggests her own fears of unmarried solitude.
Where the novels diverge in their treatment of love is the idea of the ability or acceptance that someone is capable of loving more than one person. Fitzgerald has free approach to love, seen in how the character Daisy clearly loves both Tom and Gatsby. This is exemplified clearly when Daisy states that “I did love him once—but I loved you too” when Gatsby tries to get her to tell Tom that she never loved him. Fitzgerald also shows how Tom loves Daisy as, despite all his various affairs including the one he had with Myrtle, Tom also goes back to Daisy. This is seen when Tom says himself that he goes “off on a spree and makes a fool of [himself], but..always come[s] back” as in his heart he “love[s] her all the time.” Therefore, Fitzgerald presents his readers with two characters who have affairs and unfaithful yet come together in the end, their marriage constant while everything is ephemeral.
While Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s relationship is also constant, there is never a suggestion or idea of infidelity in the minds of either characters. This is seen when Woolf discusses how Mrs. Ramsay seeks “something more, though she did not know, could not think what it was that she wanted” from her husband. This shows that Mrs. Ramsay’s feminine ambiguity about her needs from her spouse results in her being unable to forcefully demand companionship and connection from her husband, however Mrs. Ramsay is content with their marriage.
Another great example of this is the marriage between Paul and Minta Rayley in To the Lighthouse. Their relationship is not a very intimate one at all as both characters are distinctively different. Woolf makes this clear when she mentions that Paul “was withered, drawn; she flamboyant, careless.” The distance in their marriage is made apparent when Woolf discusses how they “were “in love” no longer; no, he had taken up with another woman” but also how “Minta had described her gratefully, almost admiringly.” This indicates that Paul’s infidelity did not upset Minta, in fact she was almost pleased about it as it got him out of her hair. Therefore, Woolf is showing the reader a marriage which is lacking passion but yet still strong. This is supported when she writes that their marriage was “[f]ar from breaking up” as they were “excellent friends, obviously.” This once again hints at Woolf’s belief that marriage is an alliance rather than an act of passionate love, and that love itself is not as passionate as one would expect in strong stabile relationships.
Fitzgerald has a slightly different opinion on love as his characters Tom and Daisy can be seen to be driven by passion. Both characters have affairs during the course of the novel yet still remain constant. This is made most obvious at the Plaza Hotel when Gatsby forces the two to confront their feelings where Daisy says that she “never loved [Tom].” Fitzgerald uses this scene to show that despite the dysfunction of their marriage, Tom and Daisy seem to both seek solace in happy early memories. This is exemplified when Tom remembers how he “carried [Daisy] from the Punch Bowl to keep [her] shoes dry” with a “husky tenderness in his tone.” Fitzgerald chooses to mention the “husky tenderness” of Tom’s voice as it contrasts from the usually brutish and unkind man he presents for most of the novel to show the sincerity of the moment. Furthermore, Fitzgerald shows the reckless passion between the two once again when he describes them as “conspiring” and “careless” despite the recent deaths of their lovers. This also shows that despite causing disasters and “[smashing] up things” Tom and Daisy stayed together. This reiterates that fact that, despite all the passion they have resulting in reckless behaviour, their marriage is still important to both of them, since it reassures their status as old money aristocracy and brings stability to their lives. This is seen when Nick observes that they “weren’t happy…and yet they weren’t unhappy either.”
Thus, it can be seen how both Fitzgerald and Woolf explore the theme of love in their novels The Great Gatsby and To the Lighthouse. Both authors present marriages which have distance in them however remain constant. This is seen in the case of Tom and Daisy in The Great Gatsby and Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse as both provide stability for each other. Their treatment of love differs, however, when it comes to passion as Fitzgerald has a more free approach to love and imbues passion into his characters and their relationships. Whereas Woolf presents marriages as almost business-like alliances which lack passion yet remain strong. This contrast is clearly seen with Tom and Daisy in The Great Gatsby and Paul and Minta in To the Lighthouse, however both marriages are long-lasting.
Death Theme in the Great Gatsby and to the Lighthouse
Treatment of Death in Any Two Novel
Both Fitzgerald and Woolf deal with death in their novels ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘To the Lighthouse.’ The novels present two main characters which die, this being Gatsby from ‘The Great Gatsby’ and Mrs. Ramsay in ‘To the Lighthouse.’ While both characters go out of their way to cater to other people and at the beginning are the most universally liked, the reactions to their deaths are completely different. In ‘The Great Gatsby.’ the death of Gatsby is met with a lack of grief, excluding the narrator Nick, while in ‘To the Lighthouse’ Mrs. Ramsay’s death results in the other character becoming adrift. As well as this, both authors use minor characters to highlight themes within their novels. This is seen with Myrtle Wilson from ‘The Great Gatsby’ and Andrew Ramsay from ‘To the Lighthouse.”
In The Great Gatsby, when Gatsby dies Nick immediately refers to it as a holocaust, stating that “after we started with Gatsby…the gardener saw Wilson’s body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete.” Fitzgerald uses the word “holocaust” to suggest that Gatsby’s death was equivalent to a mass destruction. However, on closer analysis it becomes obvious that while, to Nick it felt like a mass destruction, it did not greatly impact anyone else. This is seen clearly at Gatsby’s funeral when “[n]obody came.” This therefore indicates that, while Gatsby seemed to be loved by everyone around him, their love for him was actually superficial as they loved to come to his parties. Now that he was died, he was not important to them anymore. Fitzgerald emphasises the fact that Gatsby’s death did not greatly impact his world as he states that even to Nick Gatsby “was already too far away” when he tried to think about him. The shows that even Nick, the person who described his death as being like a “holocaust” was beginning to forget about him and was not that grief stricken only a little while after his death.
As mentioned before, this reaction could be seen as being fairly ironic as, at the beginning of the novel Fitzgerald suggested that his character Gatsby was universally liked as he catered to others needs and make people feel important. This is most clearly seen when Nick states that Gatsby smiled “understandingly – much more than understandingly” and that his smile was one of those “rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it.” This not only shows that Gatsby makes Nick feel as if, even after just meeting him, he was important to Gatsby. Fitzgerald develops this warm feeling Gatsby brings to others further by mentioning how he made people feel as if he “believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
Similarly, Woolf presents the character of Mrs. Ramsay as having similar qualities, expect to an ever bigger extreme. This is seen when she writes that “[indeed, Mrs. Ramsay] had the whole of the other sex under her protection.” This indicates that Mrs. Ramsay felt as indeed was a care giver to the men in her life and she was successful in being so. The result of this is that she is very much liked by everyone in her life, especially men which is exemplified when Mr. Tansley states that “she made him feel better pleased with himself.” This is significant as Woolf describes Mr. Tansley as being misogynistic so for him to acknowledge that a woman has made him feel good about himself is a big deal.
When Mrs. Ramsay dies in To the Lighthouse, however, it can been that it destroys the flow of everyone’s lives around her. This is especially seen with Mr. Ramsay, exemplified in Time Passes when Woolf writes:
“[Mr. Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.]”
This clearly shows that Mr. Ramsay is completely lost without Mrs. Ramsay as he now has no-one to get sympathy from. What is interesting is that this is the first mention of Mrs. Ramsay’s death and Woolf describers to tell the reader in a subordinate clause as a way of explaining why Mr. Ramsay’s arms were not filled in their usual way. This is different from Fitzgerald who exaggerates and almost romanticises Gatsby’s death to then show the stark contrast in people’s reactions. Instead, Woolf choses to spring the death on the readers to make it all the more arresting and shocking. Thus, this emphasises how destructive her death was to those around her. This is supported when Woolf writes that it was like “the link that usually bound things together had been cut, and they floated up here, down there, off, anyhow,” indicating how lost everyone felt without Mrs. Ramsay’s love and guidance in life. This is because Woolf presents Mrs. Ramsay as a mother figure or guardian to most characters in the novel so without her there structuring their lives and giving them the reassurance and sympathy they need, they feel aimless. As well as this, Woolf decides to refer to Mrs. Ramsay as a “link that usually bound things together” to indicate that Mrs. Ramsay also connected everyone together and without her the characters remaining felt disconnected to the people around them.
In The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald uses Gatsby’s death to symbolise the death of the American Dream. This is because he himself was a symbol of the American Dream as he built himself from the ground up into something massive in a short period of time. Therefore, when he dies, the dream dies with him. Fitzgerald shows this brilliantly through his description of the scene of Gatsby’s death when he describes him dying in a pool with “a thin red circle in the water.” Fitzgerald chooses to have Gatsby die in a pool as water has been a transformative medium through Gatsby’s life. Young James seized control of his destroy by diving into water and boarding Dan Cody’s yacht. However, the vast watery expanse of his youth has symbolically shrunken into a recreational contrivance, a swimming pool. As well as this, it is like he has come full circle, swimming backwards in time and development and returning to the same person he was back then without the riches. This therefore shows that the American Dream has not worked as, as Gatsby lies in his pool, the wealth he made for himself diminishes in worth. Thus, any chance of the old American Dream of surviving is lost.
In To the Lighthouse, Woolf uses Mrs. Ramsay’s death to emphasise the transience of life. While Mrs. Ramsay dies and physically leaves the world, however her legacy continues and lives though the other characters in the novel. This can be seen when Woolf discusses how in the “midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing” which can be seen to be alluding to the fact that despite the emotional turmoil the characters were going through due to physically losing Mrs. Ramsay, she was still alive somehow in their minds. Therefore, Woolf is using Mrs. Ramsay as an example to deal with the idea of the transience of life in term of, yes mortal life can be fleeting, but a legacy can continue.
Both authors use the death of minor characters to highlight themes within their novels. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses the death of Myrtle Wilson to once again show the futility of the American Dream as, when she dies he describes her “thick dark blood [mixed] with the dust.” This shows that despite her efforts to climb the social ladder through her affair with Tom, she dies in The Valley of Ashes where she started, symbolising that no one really achieves their goals or at least die trying. As well as this Fitzgerald choses to go into graphic detail about Myrtle’s corpse to once again highlight that her life, despite the frequent glimpses she had, was not glamorous like the Buchanan’s but instead dirty and harsh. This is seen when he writes:
“They saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap…[t]he mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners, as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long.”
Thus, this shows, much like Gatsby, that in death Myrtle is brought back down to the bottom were she started despite trying to climb to the heights of the wealthy during her life. Fitzgerald chooses to add that her “left great was swinging loose like a flap” as throughout the novel he had associated her to beauty and exoticness so therefore in her death he destroys her sexuality to show that her efforts had been futile.
In To the Lighthouse, Woolf uses the death of Andrew Ramsay to link to the idea of the futility of success. This is seen when she mentions that “when [Mr. Carmichael] had heard of Andrew Ramsay’s death…[he] had “lost all interest in life.”” This shows that, despite the fact that Mr. Carmichael had become famous due to his work, he had no happiness in his life without his friend Andrew Ramsay. Woolf uses this to show that someone can reach heights of success and still be miserable without meaningful emotional connection in their life.
Thus, it can be seen that both Fitzgerald and Woolf deal with death in their novels The Great Gatsby and To the Lighthouse. Both authors choose to have their characters, which are seemingly the most universally liked and the most caring, die. This is seen in the case of Gatsby and Mrs. Ramsay. Where they differ, however, is the reaction the deaths have on the ones around the characters as Gatsby’s death as no affect on anyone whereas Mrs. Ramsay’s is destructive to all those who knew her. As well as this, both authors use these characters and the minor character Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby and Andrew Ramsay in To the Lighthouse to highlight themes in their novel.
An Analysis of Chapter 17 in To The Lighthouse
Chapter 17 sees all members of the Ramsay family and their guests at dinner. The interaction of these characters in this chapter allows for themes such as challenging expectations and, more importantly, the theme of communication to be explored. These themes in particular are concerns of the novel as a whole, meaning that Chapter 17 can be explored as a reflection of the entire novel. The nature of the event occurring within the chapter also allows Woolf to exercise the stream of consciousness style, making each character extremely realistic as the reader follows a constant flow of one thought going onto the next.
There is a definite lack of communication in Chapter 17, made particularly evident through the internal thoughts of the individuals at the dinner table. As the chapter opens, the lack of communication in the relationship between Mrs Ramsay and the rest of the family is immediately brought into the mind of the reader. The dinner party shows Mrs Ramsay make the most sincere effort to get people speaking, to involved them and create something of the time they have together. This shows that communication is important to her and this seen also in other areas of the novel in her desire to match people together for marriage. She believes that communicating with another is essential. However, there are definite moments within chapter 17 that show a lack of successful communication with others. Tansley in particular does not communicate with the others present at the dinner party. He intentionally distances himself from the rest of the company as he feels incredibly out of place, meaning that he does everything he can to avoid communicating with the others. He is established as an outsider as a result of this, with the effects of being from a different social background becoming evident. The importance of class and social position are featured throughout the book, mainly through Tansley and Mrs MacNab who appears during the second section of the novel, Time Passes.
There is a certain amount of telepathic communication between Mrs Ramsay and other characters within the novel. Mr and Mrs Ramsay do at points appear to understand each other despite there being no dialogue between them. Mr Ramsay is angered by Carmichael’s second helping of soup and Mrs Ramsay is able to observe this reaction without any exchange between them. There are many points throughout the novel as whole that the couple are able to understand and mirror the others emotions or thoughts, such as in chapter 12 of The Window where Mr Ramsay ‘pretended to admire the flowers’ in an attempt to please his wife. However, she ‘knew quite well that he did not admire them, or even realise they were there. It was only to please her…’ Their ability to communicate in this way, particularly the ease at which they do it, captivates Lily. Despite being a study of contrasts, Mr and Mrs Ramsay are considered ‘the symbols of marriage, husband and wife’ by Lily Briscoe. Their strength as a couple stems from this undeniable ability to understand one another so naturally. There is also a sense of telepathic understanding between Lily and Mrs Ramsay, seen in chapter 17 mainly through Mrs Ramsay’s wordless appeal to Lily to engage Charles Tansley in conversation. Not wanting to disappoint, Lily does as Mrs Ramsay silently asks for. Their communication is also seen in their references to the sea. It is first Mrs Ramsay who’s mind we see compare William Bankes to ‘the ship’ and its ‘sail’. Only a few lines onward does Lily repeat this imagery of the ‘ship…and its sails again’. This connection between Lily and Mrs Ramsay in chapter 17 is extremely evident throughout the entirety of To The Lighthouse as Lily progresses from the position of the outside at the start of the novel, to standing at the centre of a ‘vision’ and therefore taking over the central role from Mrs Ramsay.
There is no doubt that there is a sense of expectations being followed and also challenged in this chapter. Mrs Ramsay and Lily Briscoe are seen to do both in the dinner party setting. Mrs Ramsay opens the chapter by pushing aside her own emotions in order to successfully create a ‘merging and flowing’ atmosphere at the table. She does so as ‘if she did not do it nobody would do it’. It was expected that a woman should be responsible for putting together an event such as a dinner party and Mrs Ramsay can be seen conforming to that belief. Lily Briscoe is seen to also follow expectations at a point within the chapter as she becomes increasingly repelled by Charles Tansley’s attitudes to women’s abilities and yet continues to engage him in conversation, ‘quickly, kindly’ purely as it is expected of her. The two women are later forced out of the conversation happening at the table as the men ‘argued about politics’, leaving Mrs Ramsay and Lily to fall silent and watch the male figures around the table speak – ‘Lily was listening; Mrs Ramsay was listening…but already bored’. Tansley is also seen to be following the exceptions of the period as he feels uncomfortable in the setting of the dinner party, resenting the social conventions to which he must defer. He is seen to blame women for forcing men to conform to social trivia – ‘he was not going to be condescended to by these silly women’. Social expectations are important in Woolf’s novel as it contributes a great deal to the character of Mrs Ramsay. She continuously strives to fulfil the expectations that come with being a mother, wife and hostess and tries to force others to do the same. This is evident particularly in her encouraging Lily Briscoe to marry, believing that becoming a traditional woman of the period is where true happiness lies.
However, following Woolf’s desire to portray realistic characters, there are definite points within chapter 17 where Lily and Mrs Ramsay defy expectations. Mrs Ramsay takes ‘her place at the head of the table’ opposite Mr Ramsay sitting at the ‘far end’. The couple are shown as equals in this moment with Mrs Ramsay taking a place at the table with dominant connotations as she rules over the domestic home. Lily defies the expected attitude of young women during the period as she initially interacts with Tansley. She remains irritated by his earlier comments concerning women and their achievements and begins to ‘tease’ and ‘annoy him’. It is clear that Lily does not have any of the expected desire to impress men, shown throughout the novel in her struggles with no wanting to marry. She only speaks to him at the dinner party in order to satisfy Mrs Ramsay who is trying to create the atmosphere of the setting. The women at the table going against the ways they are expected to behave is present throughout the entire novel, particularly in Mrs Ramsay’s ability to control ‘the opposite sex’ and the daughters beginning to defy their mother’s wishes of marriage.
Disagreeing with the static way in which characters were commonly written, Woolf creates a new type of character in To The Lighthouse. Each individual within the novel is seen to follow the true thought process of a person, constantly changing focus and their opinion on the people around them. This makes To The Lighthouse a study of the ways and means by which satisfactory human relationship might be established with those around them. This is highlighted particularly in chapter 17 as it allows the reader into the minds of Mrs Ramsay, Lily Briscoe and Charles Tansley as they sit around the table. The chapter opens with Mrs Ramsay’s internal thoughts of the dissatisfaction of her marriage being overshadowed by her needing to create a comfortable atmosphere at the dinner party. The way in which her thoughts sharply turn from one thing to the next creates an extremely realistic sense to her character, with the stream of consciousness style continuing throughout the novel. The characters are observed in action, or reflected in consciousness of themselves and others and their perspective on reality serves to define them. Woolf therefore makes it difficult to make a clear cut distinction between the characters in the novel and the narrative mode. This effect is an important aspect of To The Lighthouse in both chapter 17 and in its entirety.
Men and Women in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse
In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf bases her exploration of consciousness on the premise that men and women perceive the world in vastly different ways. However, Woolf believes that creativity can (and must) transcend the boundaries of gender. Life and work are incredibly fragile, but art, she believes, is the means of making one’s life significant in a world without order or meaning. “Nothing stays, all changes,” Lily Briscoe reflects when mourning for Mrs. Ramsay. “But not words, not paint.” (264) The climax of the novel depends upon the primary artist figures, Lily and Augustus Carmichael, to bring together male and female creativity, thus uniting intellect and emotion. As Vivian Gornick would later advocate in The End of the Novel of Love, Woolf has replaced romantic love with a more powerful force: creative drive. While Woolf holds great affection for the novel’s primary female characters, Lily Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay, they are symbolic of the changing role of women in light of this departure from romantic love.
The adult male characters in To the Lighthouse are strictly analytical men, philosophers and scientists (with the exception of Mr. Carmichael, the poet). Mr. Ramsay, who plots out knowledge like the letters of the alphabet, is so obsessed with his own insecurities and the transient nature of his work that he has become insufferable. (He wanted something wanted the thing she always found it so difficult to give him; wanted her to tell him that she loved him. And that, no, she could not do…A heartless woman he called her; she never told him that she loved him. But it was not so it was not so. It was only that she never could say what she felt. [123-124]) Charles Tansley (a student of Mr. Ramsay) and William Bankes (a botanist) are both immovable in their opinions and critical of Lily’s painting (And it would never be seen; never be hung even, and there was Mr. Tansley whispering in her ear, “Women can’t paint, women can’t write… ). The male characters attempt to create order from life in the most reductive ways possible: Tansley’s cynical declarations, Mr. Ramsay’s disconnected poetics, or impersonal images (frequently in reference to abstract concepts like Mr. Ramsay’s work). Woolf’s female characters, however, have a more intuitive view of life. Mrs. Ramsay is honored, above all things, as the ultimate mother figure: beautiful, selfless and nurturing. Her greatest desire is to bring people together: to see her children and friends marry (to create more mothers and children!) or to soothe her guests with the perfect dinner party. Lily Briscoe, on the other hand, is a “free spirit”: an artist who will not marry, whose life’s work is to transform her private vision into art. For Lily, as it is for Virginia Woolf, art is a means of creating order in an undependable world.
It would be easy to immediately label Mrs. Ramsay simply as old fashioned and Lily Briscoe the new woman, but they are both extremely complex characters. Mrs. Ramsay’s maternal aspect does not necessarily make her a submissive woman, indeed, her assurance that her husband has need of her has a gently superior tone to it she believes that men are useless without women (Indeed, she had the whole of the other sex under her protection ). And while this belief echoes Mr. Ramsey’s philosophy, there is a suggestion in To the Lighthouse that the cold, often brutal behavior of the men is based in their insecurities and constant need for reassurance. However, it is obvious Woolf (while meaning no malice to Mrs. Ramsey, who bears a striking resemblance to her own mother) believes that women are destined for something greater. The Ramsay’s daughters cannot see themselves living life as their mother has lived it (Prue, Nancy, Rose could sport with infidel ideas which they had brewed for themselves of a life different from hers; in Paris, perhaps; a wilder life; not always taking care of some man or other… ), and Lily Briscoe’s fierce independence and refusal to marry are central to her character, and the novel itself. Lily rejects the conventional feminity that Mrs. Ramsey represents, though, like everyone else in the novel, cannot help but love her dearly: her much-agonized over portrait of Mrs. Ramsay is, after all, the apex of her artistic vision.
Lily Briscoe is, perhaps, what Mrs. Ramsay would have been, had she been offered something more than the conventional role of a woman. Like Lily, Mrs. Ramsay places a great amount of value on making her life meaningful, though she uses simple human interaction as her medium, rather than art. ([A]nd that all this desire of hers to give, to help, was vanity. For her own self-satisfaction was it that she wished so instinctively to help, to give, that people might say of her, O Mrs. Ramsay! dear Mrs. Ramsay . . .Mrs. Ramsay, of course! And need her and send for her and admire her? Was it not secretly this that she wanted…) And both have a similar view of life as made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach. (47)
But while Lily will end the novel with a triumphant brushstroke, Mrs. Ramsay is frequently associate with images of closed doors. It is in this contrast that one can see the relevance of Vivian Gornick’s The End of the Novel of Love. Mrs. Ramsay is from the tradition of women who have missed the opportunity for a real life for the sake of marriage and a misconception of romantic love. Lily Briscoe, however, has arrived at an awful, implicit knowledge that the effort of soul-making is a solitary one, more akin to the act of making art than of making family. It acknowledges, even courts, loneliness. Love, on the other hand, fears loneliness, turns sharply away from it. In To the Lighthouse, Lily rejects the prospect of marriage for the literal need to create art. It is suggested that she and Augusts Carmichael, as they contemplate the trip to the lighthouse in the closing scene of the novel, have the higher goal Woolf writes about in A Room of One’s Own: the artistic visions of androgynous minds, which, free from gender prejudice, are far more creatively active and expressive.
Who is the “Model” Mother?
In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf portrays Mrs. Ramsay as the “model” mother. Loved by her children, depended upon by her husband and admired by her neighbors Mr. Bankes and Lily Briscoe, Woolf creates a seemingly amorphous character made up of a collection of descriptions from the people who surround her. Through this fluid character, Woolf systematically synthesizes the “model” mother’s identity. With a structured precision, Woolf divides her synthesis into three parts. She poses her question regarding the “model” mother’s identity in “The Window” through Mr. Ramsay’s philosophical work, presents an example of the mother in “Time Passes” through creating the parallel of a house and a mother, and reaches a conclusion about the “model” mother’s true identity in “The Lighthouse” through Lily Briscoe’s completed painting.
Before delving into her synthesis, Woolf introduces her subject of study, Mrs. Ramsay, through the eyes of her son who finds her optimism and caring spirit as a source of “extraordinary joy” (The Window, Part 1). She cements Mrs. Ramsay’s position of nurturer by juxtaposing her optimism with Mr. Ramsay’s harsh realism, which leaves James clamoring for a weapon to “gash a hole in his father’s breast” (To the Window, Part 1). After establishing the dichotomy of Mrs. and Mr. Ramsay, Woolf weaves the central question of her synthesis into Mr. Ramsay’s philosophical work. Like Mr. Ramsay, Woolf attempts to study “subject and object and the nature of reality” (The Window, Part 4). Placing Mrs. Ramsay in the role of object and the Ramsay family in the role of subject, she effectively challenges the reader to “‘think of a kitchen table […] when your not there,’” (The Window, Part 4). In other words, she asks the reader to consider the “model” mother’s identity when her family is not there. Woolf toys with the notion of identity in “The Window,” by placing a disproportionate amount of focus on other characters’ insights about Mrs. Ramsay’s character, rather than Mrs. Ramsay’s insight about her own character. She places Mrs. Ramsay’s insights sparingly throughout “The Window” to highlight how Mrs. Ramsay perceives her personal thoughts insignificant when compared to the thoughts of those who admire her. Woolf does allow the audience a brief look into Mrs. Ramsay’s self-analysis when she explains how she “often felt she was nothing but a sponge sopped full of human emotions” (The Window, Part 4). However, her analysis is immediately interrupted by her thoughts about her husbands’ brilliance, when Woolf writes “there was nobody she reverenced more. She was not good enough to tie his shoe strings,” (The Window, Part 4) reducing her previously poignant self-focused insight into a seeming afterthought.
After posing the question of the “model” mother’s identity apart from her family in “The Window”, Woolf explores the concept of the “family-less” mother by establishing the parallel of a house as a mother. Through this parallel, Woolf, in effect, suggests the role of the mother, much like the role of a house, is to provide shelter for and be inhabited by other people. She then offers an example of what a “family-less” mother looks like through the emptiness of the Ramsay’s house in “Time Passes”. In her description of the empty house Woolf uses words such as “bare,” “tarnished,” and “cracked,” (Time Passes, Part 4) to comment on the state of disarray that has resulted as a consequence of the Ramsay’s, who represent the house’s family, abandonment of the house. Woolf’s use of these verbs suggests an interesting relationship between a house and its inhabitants, or a mother and her family, a need to be needed. While the inhabitants of a house rely on the house’s foundation to provide shelter, the house relies on its inhabitants to provide upkeep. Further, it situates the house as barren and unused, essentially worthless without anyone to shelter. Woolf continues her description of the house through the items left behind, “what people had shed and left […] those alone kept the human shape and indicated how once they were filled and animated” (Time Passes, Part 4). Woolf personifies the wind, naming it “loveliness and stillness,” as well as the items it “rubs” asking a question “Will you fade? Will you perish?’” To which the items respond, “we remain” (Time Passes, Part 4). By describing the house through the items left behind Woolf further establishes the parallel between house and mother in the way that a house is described by the things that inhabit it, as these things represent people, and these people give the house meaning. In the same, way the “model” mother is described by her family, the way she sympathizes with her husband, the way she cares and nurtures for her children, these descriptions of the mother are what “remain”. In essence Woolf states, the “model” mother’s sole purpose is to be inhabited.
In “The Lighthouse”, Woolf comes to accept the “model” mother’s identity with the completion of Lily Briscoe’s painting. The audience is introduced to Lily’s painting of Mrs. Ramsay and James in the sitting room in “The Window”. Woolf describes Lily’s obsession with capturing the essence of the scene perfectly, “beneath the colour there was a shape. She could see it so clearly […] it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed” (The Window, Part 4). Lily’s obsession with perfectly capturing the essence of Mrs. Ramsay is echoed by many of the characters throughout “The Window”, such as Mr. Bankes and Mr. Tansley. Woolf emphasizes this preoccupation in order to highlight the fluid nature of Mrs. Ramsay’s character. As each character ponders what makes Mrs. Ramsay such a wonderful woman, they project on her all the characteristics they desire to find in the “model” mother, whether she actually possesses these characteristics or not. This oversight of the real Mrs. Ramsay prevents Lily from finishing her painting as she never feels that anything she does will capture Mrs. Ramsay’s essence.
Ten years later, when Lily returns to her painting, she encounters many of the same problems she encounter earlier. Again, she describes her desire to “get hold of something that evaded her […] when she thought of Mrs. Ramsay,” to move past the “beautiful pictures” and “beautiful phrases” and capture “that very jar of nerves” (The Lighthouse, Part 11). Woolf challenges the reader to follow Lily on her journey to discover the true Mrs. Ramsay by separating the thoughts about Mrs. Ramsay from her actions. Lily does this through Mr. Carmichael, the only character that seemed to truly see Mrs. Ramsay. Only through examining Mrs. Ramsay’s dislike of Mr. Carmichael is Lily able to move past the mental block that has kept her blind to the true Mrs. Ramsay. She finally realizes Mrs. Ramsay was not able to woo Mr. Carmichael like the rest of her admirers because “he wanted nothing” (The Lighthouse, Part 11). Mrs. Ramsay could not take the form of Mr. Carmichael’s desires because he did not desire anything and therefore challenged Mrs. Ramsay to assume her own form, breaking the convention of the “model” mother who Woolf frames as someone who shamelessly gives. Through this discovery Lily begins to notice the cracks in Mrs. Ramsay’s seemingly perfect veneer, she states that “it was her instinct to go […] turning her infallibly to the human race, making her nest in its heart” (The Lighthouse, Part 11). This recognition of Mrs. Ramsay as a flawed human being is what allows Lily to finish her painting. Woolf places her conclusion of the “model” mother’s identity in Lily’s final acceptance of the sloppy imperfection of her painting,” she writes “she looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred […] she saw it clear for a second […] it was finished.” Like Lily, Woolf comes to accept that the “model” mother, though seemingly perfect, belongs to the human race and is therefore fallible. She specifically focuses on the mother’s overwhelming self-sacrifice and lack of identity as the example of her fallibility.
Virginia Woolf places Mrs. Ramsay at the center of the novel, allowing her to synthesize the identity of the “model” mother. She begins by constructing the perfect wife, mother, and neighbor, by placing importance on the depictions of Mrs. Ramsay rather than Mrs. Ramsay herself. She then calls the audience to deconstruct the truth of Mrs. Ramsay from her depiction, in effect, challenging her audience to study reality with the same eagerness as Mr. Ramsay. Through the personification of the house, she displays how the “model” mother ceases to be a viewed as a human being and instead is looked at as hollow and judged by how well she provides shelter. Finally, she allows her audience to see the fallibility and humanness of the “model” mother by breaking down the façade of Mrs. Ramsay and recognizing her lack of a personal identity.
Woolf, Virginia. Virginia Woolf : Complete Works 8 novels, 3 ‘biographies’, 46 short stories, 606 essays, 1 play, her diary and some letters. 2014. eBook.
Depression in “To The Lighthouse”
Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is an experimental novel, in which Woolf uses stream of consciousness to portray family dynamics, gender relations, and attitudes toward the ontology of art and the artistic subject. The lighthouse itself is an important symbol in the novel in that it brings a bright light to ships at sea, only to then give way to complete darkness, a clear parallel to Woolf’s maniac and depressive episodes:
“When the darkness fell, the stroke of the Lighthouse, which had laid itself with such authority upon the carpet in the darkness…” (144)
One of the most important elements, if not the most important in To the Lighthouse, is time. During the first and third sections of the book, time passes slowly as Woolf uses stream of consciousness and the inner time of the characters, rather than an outside source, to show us its progression. It is during the mid section of the novel, that there is a change and time passes much more rapidly:
“Through the short summer nights and the long summer days…and then, night after night, and sometimes in plain mid-day when the roses were bright and light turned on the walls its shape clearly there…” (145)
“Night and day, month and year ran shapelessly together… But the stillness and the brightness of the day were as strange as the chaos and tumult of night” (147)
It is in these, and many other sections of the novel that we can see clearly the passing of time and, thinking of the idea of night turning into day, and then to night again, we can easily relate this to the internal fight of depression, as one goes from depressed, to euphoric, to depressed again. Another element of this second part of the novel, that can be thought of as a sign of as related to bipolar mood swings is the prompt decay of the house once the family leaves:
“The house was deserted. It was left like a shell on a sandhill to fill with dry salt grains now that life had left it.” (149)
This section followed by the house’s equally prompt recovery, which takes ten years, is covered in fewer than twenty pages. “And it all looked, Mr. Carmichael thought, shutting his book, falling asleep, much as it used to look years ago.” (155)
If we take a closer look into the inner lives of the characters of the novel, we can see that some of them show signs of depression. First, let us take a look at Mr. Ramsay, who has the most evident symptoms. He is a well known mathematician and philosopher, with published works and his very own pupils who look up to him; however he has a difficult time relating to others, especially his own children and wife:
“The extremes of emotion that Mr. Ramsay excited in his children’s breasts by his mere presence; standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife” (8)
From the very beginning of the novel we know that he is a strange and cold man, but later we can see, that he is also voluble, much like Woolf herself because of her illness. He even calls himself “irritable” and “touchy”. Mr. Ramsay is also a very insecure and even sad man, which we can see clearly when he wants his wife to reassure him by telling him she loves him. “He wanted something…wanted her to tell him that she loved him… heartless woman he called her; she never told him that she loved him.” (134) In this part of the novel, we can also see that even though Mrs. Ramsay is intimately involved in the life of her family and guests, she has a rather pessimistic view of the world. This reminds us, again, of Woolf’s depressive episodes. They both share this dark thought that happiness is momentary, while pain and suffering are eternal:
“With her mind she had always seized the fact that there is no reason, order, justice: but suffering, death, the poor. There was no treachery too base for the world to commit; she knew that. No happiness lasted; she knew that” (71)
The character of Lily Briscoe is a female artist, like Woolf, in a time when women were thought incapable of many things, as Mr. Tansley says to Lily: “Women can’t paint, women can’t write …” This kind of pressure hurts Lilly and her artistic capacities and cannot be good for her mental state. Lily is also the character with the most conflicting stream of consciousness as it annoys and disturbs her not to be able to fulfill her duties as a woman who should be reassuring men in need in those moments that she wishes to be independent and to break the boundaries of female servitude.
Legacy, Love, and Loneliness: An Analysis of Allusions in Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse
In Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, allusions to other texts emphasize the importance of human connection and relationships. Mr. Ramsay values his ability to influence others with his philosophical works over his relationships with his wife and children. The most important thing for him is to reach the epitome of knowledge and be remembered for his genius. Texts such as Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” and Cowper’s “The Castaway,” are alluded to in the narrative and the context in which they are referenced implies that relationships should be valued above all. Mr. Ramsay recites “Charge of the Light Brigade” at the beginning of the novel and, in accordance with the proud tone of the poem, admires the effect one man can have on many. His character development is demonstrated by his recitation of the “The Castaway” at the conclusion, which shows a shift in perspective of what matters more to him: academic fame or his relationship with his family. Through these allusions, Woolf suggests that an obsession with affecting others and marking one’s place in history is not as important as genuine human connections because ultimately these relationships are what fulfill and sustain life.
The first allusion of many that Mr. Ramsay makes in To The Lighthouse is to Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.” This poem is about the decision of one man causing the deaths of hundreds of soldiers in an attack. Mr. Ramsay continually recites the line “some one had blundered,” alluding to the mistake of the man that led to the death of so many (18). Mr. Ramsay is fascinated by the idea of one man having an insurmountable effect on such a large group of people. He, too, wishes to have this effect with his philosophical work for generations to come. He is troubled with the thought that “the very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare” and realizes that “his own little light would shine, not very brightly, for a year to two, and would then be merged in some bigger light” (35). Mr. Ramsay knows that his influence can only last so long. This realization is why he is so intrigued by the idea of six-hundred soldiers being killed by the mistake of only one man. He admires the effect one man can have on the lives of so many others and can only dream of having such a great influence with his work.
However, Mrs. Ramsay changes the tone of admiration in the sentence “some one had blundered” when she looks at her husband after he shatters his son’s dream of going to the lighthouse the following day. She looks at her husband and thinks of this sentence, indicating that he is making a big mistake with his son. He ruins his relationship with his son, James, by asserting his fatherly power over him and by telling him he cannot to go to the lighthouse without any sensitivity. In this scenario, “someone had blundered” applies to Mr. Ramsay making the mistake of overlooking the importance of his relationship and connection with his son, something James is unable to forgive him for. James harbors this hatred for his father and the lasting effects of his father’s actions are evident years later in their hostile relationship. Mr. Ramsay does not understand that he can affect his son in the profound way that he wants to affect others. His son is his legacy, but instead Mr. Ramsay values his academic work as a greater legacy and as a result overlooks the importance of his relationship with James. He reaches for an abstract ultimate knowledge because he wishes to be remembered for centuries. Unfortunately, though, Mr. Ramsay fails to realize the importance of his relationships with his wife and children and instead values his academic work
Another significant poem that Mr. Ramsay alludes to in the novel is Cowper’s “The Castaway,” which shows the development of his character and the realization he has about the importance of human connection over anything else. “The Castaway” is an awfully lonely and despairing poem about dying alone in the middle of the ocean without anyone around. Mr. Ramsay recites this poem as he, James, and Cam are finally making their way to the lighthouse on a sailboat. He dreams of his late wife and says: “But I beneath a rougher sea/ Was whelmed in deeper gulfs than he” (166). This recitation suggests that he feels more alone than the man who drowns by himself because his wife is no longer with him, showing the depth of his despair. He has visions of his wife with “arms stretched out to him” evoking an enormous amount of sympathy for Mr. Ramsay (167). He realizes that he is alone and will die alone, like the speaker in the poem, because he destroyed his relationship with his children and his wife passed away.
Approaching the lighthouse, however, Mr. Ramsay compliments James’s skill in steering the boat and gives him the validation he always wanted. Through Cam’s thoughts, it is evident that this is a milestone in the relationship between James and his father, “for she knew that this was what James had been wanting” all his life (206). The novel ends with the family reaching the lighthouse, something they have been reaching for since the beginning of the story. Mr. Ramsay is no longer reaching for the ultimate knowledge he wants at the beginning, but rather reaching for his wife in his dreams and reaching for the lighthouse with his children. His character progression is only achieved when the relationships with his children develop, like in the instance of the validation Mr. Ramsay gives James on the sailboat. The final image in the novel of Mr. Ramsay is him staring at the island with the lighthouse “and he might be thinking, We perished, each alone, or he might be thinking, [he has] reached it…[he has] found it” (207). The milestone reached with his son just moments before they reach the lighthouse indicates the latter. Mr. Ramsay has found what is most important to him and knows that he must mend his relationships with his children. Reaching a lighthouse, a literal beacon of light and hope for lost travelers on the water, symbolizes the hope and possibilities for Mr. Ramsay’s relationship with his family. This final image shows the paramount significance of human connection.
While at the beginning Mr. Ramsay exhibits a desire only for higher knowledge and to influence others, it becomes clear throughout the narrative and the allusions that there is a major flaw in valuing this over genuine relationships. Mr. Ramsay originally is obsessed with his academic legacy and the influence his work can have over future generations, as shown by his obsession with the phrase “someone had blundered” from Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.” However, he realizes this is not the most important thing when this need for power does not compare to his need for his wife when she dies and he is left alone. Mr. Ramsay’s recitation of “The Castaway” proposes that the only thing that is really fulfilling is true human connection as the poem is written to demonstrate the awful reality of one who dies alone. Woolf suggests through these allusions that power and influence should never be valued over human connection because above all else the most despairing thing is to perish alone.
A Review of Virginia Woolf’s Book, To the Lighthouse
Focalization and the use of indirect interior monologue is utilized in the novel To The Lighthouse to explain the overall theme that humans are complex individuals, and often have more to their desires and motives, than what may appear at first. Through using internal focalization, Woolf provides a way in which readers are able to understand this theme, because she allows for the story to be told through many different lenses and perspectives. In the novel, To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf utilizes internal focalization and indirect internal monologue to express the innate desires of every character, and in doing so elucidating the theme that human and their relationships with each other are more complex than what is on the the superficial level.
On the surface, many of the characters have relationships where the dynamics are commonly known. For example, Mrs. Ramsay serves as a mother figure throughout the novel, and the common assumption about mother figures are that they hold a family together. This is evident various times throughout the novel such as all the times Mrs. Ramsay expressed anger towards her husband for destroying James’s dream to go to the lighthouse (5). Or all the times Mrs. Ramsay insisted that “people must marry; people must have children,” (50). On a superficial level, Mrs. Ramsay appears to be very family oriented. However, the unique thing about To The Lighthouse, is that the readers are able to perceive why Mrs. Ramsay is the way she is, and because of that, understand that there is more to Mrs. Ramsay that meets the eye. When the main focalizer becomes Mrs.Ramsay’s the reader is opened to a window that allows them to see further into her role, and comprehend her emotions and wishes. One such emotion that Mrs. Ramsay holds is fear. Mrs.Ramsay’s fear is the “destruction of the island and it’s engulfment into the sea” (14) and how life was as “ephemeral as a rainbow”. This speech is an indirect internal monologue that Mrs. Ramsay has, where she thinks deeply about life and death and what constitutes a fulfilled life. Through this, the reader can see that Mrs. Ramsay’s obsession with marriage comes from the fact that she believes life is short, and in order to have a fulfilling life in such a short time, one must marry and have children. The reader recognizes that Mrs. Ramsay is not more than just a woman who is fixated on marrying off her children, but rather Mrs.Ramsay believed that “marriage…was essential” (50). In other novels such as Pride and Prejudice, the focalization never truly switches, so readers lack the opportunity to fathom the purpose behind the actions of characters, for example, Mrs.Bennet, who like Mrs. Ramsay is fixated with the idea of marriage. Because of this missing discussion of motives, those like Mrs.Bennet are only what meets the eyes, while Mrs.Ramsay is understood to have more to her desires and intentions than what exists in direct dialogue. This allows Woolf to explain her theme that there is more to humans than meets the eye. Furthermore, Mrs.Ramsay’s role as a mother is explained through her thoughts as well. Several times throughout the novel, she expresses a protective nature of James particularly, but all her children overall. On the outside, Mrs. Ramsay appears to be just a mother, but in her thoughts she repeats “I am guarding you–your support” (14). As the reader is made to read into the thoughts of Mrs.Ramsay, the reader can grasp the kind of relationship Mrs.Ramsay shares with her children. A relationship where she is their guardian. This helps to recognize that Mrs.Ramsay is more than just a mother, but rather she sees herself as someone who must protect her children. This helps to develop Mrs.Ramsay as a character and explain the kinds of wishes she has and why she has them.
The use of focalization does not just allow for one to grasp the purposes that each character has, but it also helps with acknowledging the complexity of human relationships. For instance, without having the switch in point of view among the characters, one would simply believe that the relationship shared between James and Mr. Ramsay is like any other strained son and father relationship. However, because Woolf uses focalization to explain the thoughts of James and Mr.Ramsay, the reader is fully able to perceive the extent of the hatred that exists among them, and the reasons why. The novel goes from being less superficial, to something more deeper and advanced. For example, in the beginning of the novel, James expresses hatred towards his father, and also expresses that he believes that his mother was far better than his father (4). However, in a novel not written like To The Lighthouse, unless the book was being told from James perspective, one would not be able to gain full insight into just how angry James is. Since Virginia Woolf allows for entry into James’s mind, readers are able to feel the “extremes of emotion that Mr. Ramsay excited in his children’s breasts” (4). In addition, through a shift in focal point, Mr.Ramsey’s motives become more clear. When Mr. Ramsay tells James he cannot go to the lighthouse and the focal point switches to Mr.Ramsay, he says that he had “not only…the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife..but also…some secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgement,” (5). From this switch, Mr.Ramsay’s personality is more highlighted. Mr. Ramsay now goes from just “the father who always says no”, to the father who seeked to hold some sort of power upon family, and “pleasured” from having this power. Through this, the readers are able to gain a full insight into the deep conflict embroiled between Mr. Ramsay and James stemming from James’s need to go to the lighthouse and Mr. Ramsay’s need to have control. Due to internal focalization, the reader can now see that James absolutely detests Mr.Ramsay because of Mr. Ramsay’s need to exert control over others. The perspective then switches to Mrs. Ramsay who, as the protective mother, despises Mr. Ramsay for having this kind of power, but settling on the fact that Mr. Ramsay was always right, and when he believed the could not go to the lighthouse, then that would be the fact. Without Virginia Woolf’s use of internal focalization to express the thoughts of the individual characters, the readers would not be able to grasp that there is more to the relationship between James and Mr. Ramsay or Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay than what meets the eye.
Focalization also helps provide a perspective of different characters based on the opinions of other characters. For example, in the end of the novel, for a brief moment, Cam becomes the main lens through which the story is told, and through that the readers are able to better see the relationship between James and Mr. Ramsay. Cam says “There!…You’ve got it at last. For she knew this was what James had been wanting…he had got it he was so pleased he would not look at her or his father or anyone,” (202), when Mr. Ramsay praises James for his work with sailing. James reacts coolly, but with a tinge of surprise. Without focalization, the one would not be able to know why James reacts the way he does. However, because the focal point switches to Cam, the readers are able to understand both personalities of James and Mr. Ramsay, and James’s desire of validation from Mr.Ramsay. In Cam’s interior monologue, she says that James had gotten what he wanted as soon as Mr. Ramsay praises James, which would mean that James’s desire was to seek validation from Mr. Ramsay. Had Cam’s thoughts not been included, it would be hard to see why James reacted the way he did to Mr. Ramsay’s praise, which was surprise. Also, through the focalization of Cam, another perspective of Mr. Ramsay is shown, apart from just Mrs. Ramsay and James, and acknowledge that Mr. Ramsay is not someone who praises so easily. Furthermore, using internal indirect monologue and internal focalization, the complexity of the relationship between James and Mr. Ramsey is made more clear, bolstering the argument Woolf makes that human relationships are more than what meets one’s eyes. In another work that does not provide this narrative technique, it would be hard to grasp the complexity of different relationships because the readers would only be introduced to a superficial view of the characters. The strategic use of changing perspectives through which the story is told allows Woolf to explain that humans are complicated beings and do not always appear as they may seem.
The most clear evidence of Virginia Woolf’s goal to explain that humans are more than what they seem comes through the focalization of Lily Briscoe. Lily Briscoe had constantly struggled with finding acceptance in her art and in herself and felt scrutinized by Mrs. Ramsay’s opinions of her. However, towards the end of the novel, the focal point is often on Lily, as she does some deep thinking about “life, about death; about Mrs. Ramsay.” Upon thinking of these things, Lily begins to realize the disparity between what she knew about the relationships between Mrs. Ramsay and Mr. Ramsay. She begins to see flaws in her past ways of thinking about their relationship, realizing it “was no monotony of bliss” (167). And as she realizes this, she realizes that life and humans are not the way they always seem. She realizes that “one wanted fifty pairs of eyes to see with” (167). In this indirect interior monologue, when Lily says this, she is saying that she no longer can look at humans and just see them through “one eye”, meaning that there is so much more to humans and their shared relationships than meets the eye (the Ramsays for instance). Lily further thinks, “fifty pairs of eyes were not enough [for Mrs.Ramsay” (167). Here, through the perspective of Lily, the overall theme that there are more dimensions and motives to an individual than meets the eye is made clear. It was crucial for this to be told through Lily’s focalization, because like the readers, many of the characters had been made “stone blind to [Mrs.Ramsay]’s beauty” (167). Seeing Mrs. Ramsay’s through the perspective of another character helps in understanding not every human is good or bad, and rather they have many levels to them. As a result, Virginia Woolf is able to express her theme that humans are not always as they appear. This is similar to works such as Sula, by Toni Morrison, where the author explains that people are not necessarily good or bad, but rather contain many different parts that make up their personality. However, the difference between both the novels is that Woolf utilizes a change in focalization and indirect interior monologue.
In the novel, To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf uses indirect interior monologue, paired with changing focalizations in order to demonstrate the theme that people are more complicated and multi dimensional than what meets the eye. Her use of these narrative techniques to explain this theme is essential because it allows readers to delve into the minds of the characters, and in doing so, fully fathom the complexity in an individual and his or her’s relationships with others. Woolf’s goal to ultimately have those who read To The Lighthouse was fulfilled because the readers are able to appreciate the different motives that exist within a character, due to the fact that the readers could read the novel from different perspectives.
Shaping Loss in “To the Lighthouse”
Throughout To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf details the many struggles of the Ramsay family and their houseguests to secure happiness and order within their lives. There are many obstructions to this basic human pursuit, but loss is one of the most powerful and universal. Various forms of loss haunt and torment nearly all of the characters. Fearing a finite, meaningless existence, Mr. Ramsay dreads the loss of time and relies on the support of Mrs. Ramsay to ease his pain, but when she dies, he becomes a helpless victim of time and is forced to grow beyond self-pity and rumination.
As a metaphysician and writer of questionable success, Mr. Ramsay cannot cope with the fact that he is getting older; the damning, unstoppable procession of time robs him of the years necessary to become a great man. He was not born a genius, but hopes to fight so that he may become one. As Mr. Ramsay conceptualizes it, human thought progresses like the alphabet, and though he has endeavored all the way from A to Q, he may not have the time to reach the pinnacle, Z. Even more frustrating is his belief that if he did reach Z, like Shakespeare or the other greats, he still would not be “everlasting”. No matter what, time will swallow him up, and he will be forgotten. He cannot even outlast the tiny pebbles that he kicks in frustration; he is left to mope about the estate, engaging in self-indulgent wallowing, mumbling ineffectual phrases such as, “But I beneath a rougher sea.”
Mr. Ramsay’s inability to accept his fate causes him to seek the comfort and love of his wife, Mrs. Ramsay. Time and time again, he relies on her beauty to assuage his pain. During his first rumination on the intellectual alphabet he is paralyzed with fear by thoughts of his doom, but upon seeing his wife, he remarks that he is content to merely enjoy and contribute to the beauty of the world – no matter how ephemeral that beauty, or his offering, may be. Furthermore, in the last scene of “The Window”, just before the couple goes to bed Mr. Ramsay interrupts his own pensive rumblings to observe his wife read poetry, and concludes once again that his struggle is fruitless. He gazes at his wife, waiting for a thinly veiled expression of her love for him, searching for some proof that he is worthwhile and wonderful – even though he is not a genius. However, the greatest example of Mr. Ramsay’s need for his wife can be found in “Time Passes”, when we see him stumble down a corridor in the night, arms outstretched and empty, “Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before.” Clearly, he needs Mrs. Ramsay to ease the loss of time; he requires her presence to restore his physical and mental balance.
In the third section of the novel, “The Lighthouse”, Mr. Ramsay is depicted as a man who, though still troubled and desiring of sympathy, has grown as an individual. There is even hope that one day he may be able to achieve true joy. On the boat trip he still plays his part; he dramatizes his struggle in hopes of receiving sympathy from his children, once again mumbling, “But I beneath a rougher sea.” However, the best example of Mr. Ramsay’s complex mix of despair and progress lies in his interactions with Lily Briscoe, the only “true” woman in the house after Mrs. Ramsay’s death. Looking horribly downtrodden, he staggers up to Lily, and she immediately feels suffocated by his grief. She believes that he wants sympathy, and when she can only bring herself to compliment his shoes, she expects a look that conveys silent misery. Mr. Ramsay, however, smiles – it is almost as if he desires her sympathy, yet realizes that it is a vice he must, and can, live without. It is not a coincidence that, after Mrs. Ramsay’s death, we never again bear witness to Mr. Ramsay’s pathetic alphabet metaphor; he never again complains that a stone will outlast him.
Our final image of Mr. Ramsay only reiterates these optimistic conclusions. He jumps like a young man from the boat to the rocky island shores of the lighthouse, appearing wholly triumphant. It is one of his greatest successes, and one that he reached on his own – without Mrs. Ramsay, and without any support or sympathy. The only woman nearby, Lily, is on a faraway shore, miles away and unable to provide him with any aid.
Mr. Ramsay was once tormented by the loss of time, which promised to reduce him to nothingness. He could only find solace in the comforting beauty and sympathetic gaze of his wife, but when he lost her as well, he was forced to recognize his faults and take steps towards becoming more than a grieving, loss-obsessed man. Mr. Ramsay’s struggle sends a powerful message to readers: loss is an inevitable part of life, but dwelling on it is a fruitless undertaking. Like all obstacles, one must transcend loss in order to live a happy, satisfying life.