“To the Lighthouse” a Novel by Virginia Woolf Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Aug 28th, 2020

Friedman argues in favor of numerous symbolism aspects shown in the novel To the Lighthouse. This symbolism is a reflection of Woolf’s certainty when it comes to the preeminence of an individual’s inner life over external reality. He argues that the integration of perspectives into what he refers to as a ‘double vision’ constitutes a dialectical procedure that creates the vital thematic structure of the book. In such a case, it shows that Friedman perceives the imagery of water as a part of change according to which one surrenders to the process of accomplishing the ‘double vision’. The idea of “surrender” is remarkable because it is the concept of a changed perceptive.

Friedman believes that Woolf uses ‘stream of consciousness narration’ which is different from ‘traditional linear narration’ because it records thoughts and views that appear in someone’s mind in the order they take place without conveying them in a coherent framework. The novel also centers on imagery and plot of the story.

This kind of narration makes the narrative difficult to understand or follow (Cowley 44). Given that, the book is structured around a sequence of images that aid in making the whole story acquire consistency though a strong narrative is still absent. These images can be viewed as motifs, recurring constituents, which help a reader understand the story. If these motifs are combined with certain meanings and associations, they turn into symbols.

Consequently, such objects can become symbols for one’s own emotions because they appear to be a way of assessing an individual’s emotions. Friedman explains that To the Lighthouse has many symbols that have been understood and interpreted in several dissimilar ways by various reviewers. Several of these versions deal with the focal image of the story, To the Lighthouse. It is believed to signify a ‘religious symbol’ by several critics and a ‘phallic symbol‘ by the other researchers.

Friedman connects it with Mr. Ramsay and Mrs. Ramsay just as James states in the story “For nothing was simply one thing” (Woolf To the Lighthouse 152). The symbols in the story can have numerous different meanings. They have been very important in Virginia Woolf’s works of fiction.

She understands how an image can develop into a symbolic perspective to carry the meaning of her story forward; she is also responsive to the way poetic meanings are built up to define several intonations on which her story is based. Friedman believes that Woolf spent a lot of her time and efforts to establish the symbols’ nature and scope. In her journal as well as her major essays, she came up with a theory concerning the use of symbols.

One major element she put her emphasis on in “On Not Knowing Greek” is that a symbol ought to have some resemblance to the things represented or symbolized, which it must make extraordinary (Woolf n.pag.). There ought to be some connection between the symbolized thing and its connotation; however, if there is not, it cannot be viewed as a symbol but simply a blank imagination.

In the essay, Friedman shows that the use of symbolism ought to be well-established because they function as hints and also provide insight into the indescribable human’s emotions and thoughts as well as intensify and make the desired feelings and notions impressive. Therefore, Virginia Woolf’s symbolism also reveals her emotions and thoughts.

According to Woolf, recurring characters, mood, events, and images can have symbolic significance. Friedman explains why the use of symbols is significant by affirming that expressions are important when compared to notions or ideas. In the novel, Woolf made recurrent use of symbolism because of her poor health. She was a sick person and suffered from many illnesses, such as respiratory tract infection, hallucination, and severe headaches, throughout her entire life.

She experienced nervous breakdowns and depression, and it often took her a very long time to recuperate. According to her, “insanity lies just underneath the surface of sanity” (Petry 3). Sufferings caused by her poor health often provided her with ideas for her fictional work (Petry 3). The lighthouse is the focal image and also the strongest and the most consequential symbol of her work of fiction.

The lighthouse operates in two different ways, as something that ought to be reached and as the spring/source of a blinking light. Not only the physical presence of the lighthouse is significant; it also subsists in the consciousness of individuals’ characters. The figurative connotations of the lighthouse vary, change, and are also contrasted in different frameworks concerning individual characters in the novel. Due to these numerous and different meanings, the lighthouse takes the story forward.

Woolf examines the inner feelings and mind-sets of the characters through the inner monologue, and an approach occasionally known as ‘stream of consciousness’. Friedman observes how Mrs. Ramsay (she plays a leading role in the first section of the novel) connects herself with one of the strokes emerging from the light of the lighthouse, which is the third and greatest stroke.

According to her, it turns out to be an image of ‘courage and strength’, and this is the foundation for her theory of emotional sequence. Nevertheless, the antithesis comes when she sees the stroke of the lighthouse as “the pitiless, the remorseless” light later on (Woolf To the Lighthouse 78).

Friedman continues to say that Mrs. Ramsay subsequently combines these two mental states when she sees the stroke from two different angles, initially, as an image of expansion and release, then as a contraction and confinement. She receives an ultimate discernment of the necessary truth of the nature of reality. By turning out to be “subjectively involved in” and “objectively detached from” life and seeing a pleasant-sounding balance, Mrs. Ramsay becomes contented. Despite the intrinsic complexities of Woolf’s numerous ideas and ‘stream of consciousness narration’, the plot of her narrative is straightforward.

Friedman affirms that the novel has good use of ‘stream-of-consciousness narration’, great inner monologue technique as well as nonlinear structure. The novel is often depicted as a requiem for Woolf’s mother and also assumed to be a multifaceted and lyrical character study integrating all the aspects of individuality as well as dark and dreary feelings (“The Waters of Annihilation: Symbols and Double Vision in ‘To the Lighthouse’” 67).

In his essay, Friedman states that Woolf discussed her setbacks when writing To the Lighthouse, as well as her worries connected with the recollection of the death of her parents; these are the events that caused two of her most devastating psychological breakdowns. However, Woolf clearly understood the meaning of To the Lighthouse beyond its imaginary depiction of her childhood. Many critics believe that To the Lighthouse is Woolf’s best work of fiction. She expressed great ideas inspired by the sufferings of her illness when she was writing the novel.

Works Cited

Cowley, Julian. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf. 2nd. ed. USA: Longman, 2000. Print.

Petry, Simone. “Motifs and Symbols in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.” Fachbereich Anglistik – Literatur Held 2004 at Universität Trier. Berlin: GRIN Verlag, 2007. Print.

“The Waters of Annihilation: Symbols and Double Vision in ‘To the Lighthouse’”. Form and Meaning in Fiction. Ed. Norman Friedman. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1975. 340–358. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. “On Not Knowing Greek”. The Common Reader: First Series. Ed. Steve Thomas. South Australia: The University of Adelaide Library, 2010. [email protected]. Web.

To the Lighthouse. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.




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