Summary: “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf Analytical Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Mar 28th, 2019

A novel To the Lighthouse written by Virginia Woolf is related to cultural movement which is called modernism. There are a lot of thoughts in the novel; however, there is no action at all. The novel is considered to be the so-called extension of Modernist literature which appeared at the beginning of the 20th century.

The central idea of the novel is the problem of perception. Generally, the novel consists of three parts namely, the window, time passes and the lighthouse. The major themes are recognized to be complexity of experience and modernism elements.

Woolf did not use an omniscient narrator in the novel but instead chose to develop the story line by revealing each individual character’s consciousness stream.

On the one hand, it seems that the modernist style of indirect prose which the author uses as well as plot of the novel is difficult to comprehend; however, it is quite obvious that the writer highlights impermanence in adult relations and uses the ability to recall childhood emotion.

The window which is the first part of the novel is set in Ramsey’s summer home and begins with Mrs. Ramsey’s reassurance to James on their visit to the lighthouse the following day.

Mr. Ramsey opposes her by stating that the weather might not clear, something that builds some tension between the two lovers as well as between James and Mr. Ramsey. Later on, this particular incident becomes a point of reference within the entire chapter, especially when addressing issues concerning the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey.

In the second part, Woolf clearly reveals the sense of death, absence and passing time. This section is divided into ten chapters in which ten years pass. The First World War starts and ends in the fourth year and Prue passes away as result of childbirth complications.

Mrs. Ramsey dies while Andrew is murdered in the war. Mr. Ramsey is left as widow who has nobody to comfort him in the course of bouts of fear regarding his philosophical work. In the Light house, the final part of the novel, Ramsey together with the remaining guests travels back to their summer home.

Finally, Mr. Ramsey decides to take the long awaited trip to the lighthouse with his son and daughter. The children try to resist accompanying their father to the trip by remaining silent.

Ironically, instead of Ramsey giving harsh words to his son as usual he praises him, something that creates some moment of empathy between the two. The novel ends with Lilly making final touches with her paintings.

If to touch on various critical responses, there is a need to draw your attention to Joseph Blotner’s. Thus, according to Blother (1956, p. 547, 561-562), ‘the single obvious central symbol, the Lighthouse that in its stability, its essential constancy despite cyclical change which is not really change at all, this symbol refers to Mrs. Ramsay herself…’

Mrs. Ramsay is very interesting character. The idea of perception which is considered to be the central problem of the novel is developing through Mrs. Ramsay thoughts and observations.

For this reason, it is evident that the ability to understand people concerns with the emotions which different actions/situations provoke. The problem of the existence of God is recognized to be the basic one. So, Mrs. Ramsey can be considered a representative of Modernist school of thought.


Blotner, Joseph, 1956. Mythic Patterns in To the Lighthouse, PMLA LXXI.

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