To the Lighthouse, written by Virginia Woolf and published in 1927, centres on the period before and after World War 1. The context is of great importance to an understanding of the gender relations in the novel as Woolf is writing out of a society with entrenched patriarchal values, though she was an integral part of a rising feminism that wanted the vote for all women and equal rights. In many ways Woolf is radical as she criticises many aspects of the patriarchal world that she was a part, though some critics say that she seems to endorse the patriarch, Mr Ramsay, in the end by having Lily bend to his wishes. Others have shown that the image of a liberated woman only could apply to a woman of the respectable, privileged classes where one (such as Lily) had the time and financial support to wonder about philosophical questions and paint.
To the Lighthouse questions the attitudes and assumptions operating in a patriarchal world by constructing the character, Lily Briscoe, as an independent female who does not need to get married to achieve fulfillment. She is a balanced figure who is celebrated in the novel for finding unity through her own means, as shown in the final lines with the completion of her painting. On one level this painting acts as a symbol for achieving her identity without having to subject herself to the stereotypical notions of a woman only finding contentment through her role as mother and wife.
The other major character, Mrs Ramsay, is the stereotypical mother-figure, and the novel does not criticise her achievements as a mother of eight. Most of the characters admire her immensely, even Lily who admits at times to being in love with it all. She is a thoughtful, caring person, but the text does show how her life has been a sacrifice for others. Though achieving happiness at times she confesses that she has done little with her life and wished for more ('But what have I done with my life?' 90). The text is more critical of how she is compelled by the roles available for women in society, to always be a source of renewal, a 'fountain' that her husband drinks from, leaving her empty and exhausted. Her premature death can be seen as a result of this role.
It is Lily who the reader is positioned to value as the insightful voice that delivers the whole picture. She loves Mrs Ramsay but reveals her shortcomings: dominating others and often failing to understand that people are more complex than she supposes. She patronises Lily and William Bankes, believing them to be lonely people who have missed the best in life, when in fact they are content with their lifestyles and simply have a different ideal of happiness. She encouraged the marriage of Paul and Minta, believing it will last forever which it failed to do. It is therefore the values of Lily which are supported by the text as she seems the more balanced character and her criticisms of Mrs Ramsay all come true; they are also values that encourage a wider vision and understanding of people, a world where women do not have to marry and can achieve artistic accomplishments despite Tansley's view that 'Women can't write, woman can't paint.'
Gender is constructed in the novel through the thoughts of Lily and Mrs Ramsay and through them two opposites views are presented. Through Mrs Ramsay men are valued and respected for their dependability, relied upon for dealing with unsavioury matters like ruling colonies, for their rationality and pragmatism in being able to 'negotiate treaties ... controlled finance'(10) and for making women feel special, deserving acts of 'chivalry and valour'. Men are therefore seen in terms of strength of body and mind, of their intellect and innate power as well as gentlemen who treat women as objects of desire. This aligns with the stereotypical representation of men who are assumed to be biologically equipped to initiate action and take control. At the same time Mr Ramsay, despite his masterful intellect and role as protector of his family, is shown to have doubts and have a weakness of needing emotional support from his wife. Though this presents a seeming deviation from the norm it still fits the stereotype that men need to have their egos affirmed which assumes that their worth is more important than the female and their power acknowledged. Men like Tansley are criticised by the characters within the text for their unmanly attributes: 'He couldn't play cricket; he poked, he shuffled.' (11), though the text does not criticise Tansley for this but for other traits.
In some of these cases gender representation is inextricably woven into social class representation. Mrs Ramsay's reverence of men of great intellect, of chivalry and manners are all bound to educated men of the privileged classes. Tansley on the other hand is intellectual but he is from the working classes and lacks the refinements and manners of the privileged classes, so that he is disliked as he knows this is the attitude present at the house and refuses to bend to their wishes of acting the lowly-born who should be grateful of his limited success. He does not play cricket, very much a game of the privileged at the time, and is not comfortable with the chit-chat of those who have always assumed their superiority. The text never interrogates class issues, but accepts his inferiority on the grounds that he simply is not a 'polished specimen', with all its associations of upper class gentility.
The novel explores gender, but again it is through the eyes of the privileged women, who can afford cooks and nannies, or in Lily's case, seem to have no financial problems but can live genteel lives, concerned only with worrying about not being married and painting. Those of the working class do not have this luxury and must marry to survive in many cases. Mrs Ramsay is no doubt concerned with the plight of the poor and sick, and pities them greatly, but again it is as if she is the noble benefactor, going out of her way to help those down the social scale from her. As she admits in her relations with others, she wonders if it is only for the sake that they will admire her and think of her kindly.
This representation of men also reveals a corollary for women. They are passive and submissive, willing and desiring men to deal with the hard 'factual' dimensions of life so that they feel protected and loved. Mrs Ramsay assumes that women need to marry so as to experience a fulfilling existence. This is certainly apparent in many of Mrs Ramsay's attitudes and unspoken thoughts; she naturally assumes that Lily wants and needs to marry, and at times equates beauty with one's chances of securing a man: 'With her little Chinese eyes and her puckered-up face she would never marry.' (21) However, the text does not simply accept Mrs Ramsay's views, and through Lily Mrs Ramsay's attitudes are criticised and seen as limited, if not intolerant and condescending. Lily is constructed as the most perceptive and balanced character in the novel so her viewpoints are privileged over others. She says that Mrs Ramsay makes 'misjudgements' (92), pitying Bankes for reasons that failed to understand the complexities of other people's feelings and beliefs. Lily does not accept Mrs Ramsay's views on gender roles and marriage and refuses to accept that it is her only alternative, though she realised that she came close to believing in all this : 'She had only escaped by the skin of her teeth ... and need never marry anybody, and she had felt an enormous exultation.' (191)
Lily notes that Mrs Ramsay often insisted that every woman should be married: 'insist that she must, Minta must, they all must marry ... an unmarried woman has missed the best of life.' (56) She is tempted to give in to these social pressures, seeing her own life as 'so little, so virginal, against the other'(56), but finally overcomes this and believed that 'she did not need marry, thank Heaven: she need not undergo that degradation.' (111) Thus it is Lily's insights and values that the text supports.
Interestingly the novel aligns gender with stereotypical patterns of imagery. Men are seen in terms of hard, sharp objects, images of iron and construction, while women are seen in images of nature and fertility. Mr R is seen in the image of the knife: 'Mr R .. lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one ..' (8). In this context his sharp analytical mind is shown, but it also reveals his 'narrowness', seeing his truth as the only truth and beyond question. Men throughout are associated with this the rational knowledge linked to maths and science, they understand 'square roots', while the women are associated with gentle caring roles and with the arts like painting. It could be said then that Woolf perpetuates the stereotypical mapping of gender through her choice of imagery, despite her critique of gender roles in other ways. However it seems that by linking women with images of fertility she has deliberately used these stereotypes to reveal the gender attitudes operating in society.
Mrs Ramsay is often seen in terms of nature, as a flower or tree, (Mrs Ramsay seemed to fold herself together, one petal closed in another' 44, 'and as she did so she felt she was climbing backwards, shoving her way up under petals that curved over her' 129), a goddess ('The Graces assembling seemed to have joined hands in meadows of asphodel to compose that face.' 34), a mother-figure and protector ('Stepping through fields of flowers and taking to her breast buds that had broken and lambs that had fallen' 18) and in images of fertility, ('and into this delicious fecundity, this fountain of spray' 43) as a queen ('like some queen, who finding her people gathered in the hall, looks down upon them, and descends among them, and acknowledges their tributes silently, and accepts their devotion and their prostration before her' 90). Significantly these views are from a range of characters as well as the narrator, and they show Mrs Ramsay as an elevated being, embodying beauty, love and care, the eternal mother who looks after her children and the world, always worried about 'suffering, death, the poor.' (66) These patterns of imagery could perpetuate gender stereotypes if not for Woolf showing, often through Mrs Ramsay's thoughts herself, the destructive side to these projections.
To the Lighthouse can therefore be seen as a novel that does investigate gender issues, constructing one character as an early feminist who fights against the need to marry because of society's expectations, and in the end the novel does celebrate her victory, though some critics believe she still bends to the wishes of Mr Ramsay. Nevertheless the representation is not radical as it shows through Mrs Ramsay (despite her death from exhaustion and life of totally giving to others) that motherhood is a wonderful experience and women miss something integral to their natures if they do not marry. It is true that Minta is not happy in her marriage and Prue dies from childbirth, but the evocative image presented of Mrs Ramsay and family life can be seen to be worth it all - perhaps Woolf's writing created this scene too brilliantly. Also the issue of gender can never be seen by itself and in the long run gender is explored only from the perspective of the privileged class, where women were not as constrained by economic and domestic concerns and though attempting to dismantle or demystifying the gender hierarchy, it does little to acknowledge the social class hierarchy and this issue remains silenced.
Unity and the Vision
The novel is concerned with finding unity, a vision of the world that unites all of its elements. Mr Ramsay and James come to this realisation on reaching the lighthouse and Lily achieves this in finishing her painting. Mrs Ramsay's understanding of the world is intuitive and emotional, and represents the vision, but it is only partially achieved achieved through her way of seeing. Her love for others, especially her children is life-affirming, and when she covers the skull with her shawl it is her attempt to make Cam and James both happy. Her shawl represents the woven fabric of all social relationships that bind people together for moments of joy, security and togetherness against the outside world of flux, impermanence and inevitably the skull of death.
Yet those other aspects of life are real and must be face, as Mr Ramsay does. Mr Ramsay is aligned with rationality and empirical truth throughout the novel and though hated by his son when he is young for his belief that 'life is difficult; facts uncompromising ... one needs courage, truth and the power to endure,' (8) this is part of the larger truth of human existence. He is the one who finally acknowledges that both truths exist and his trip to the lighthouse is an admission that Mrs Ramsay's vision exists, that death has not erased the essence of his wife, and though humans are isolated from another factually, there is still some greater force that binds them.
It is also Lily who seeks this unity from the beginning, believing that perhaps Mrs Ramsay held these truths: 'for it was not knowledge but unity that she desired' and though she does not find this in Mrs Ramsay, she 'knew knowledge and wisdom were stored in Mrs ramsay's heart.' (57) But unlike Mrs Ramsay it is Lily who has the vision as she finishes her painting at the very end of the novel ('she drew a line there, in the centre ... I have had my vision.'(226) In this moment Lily unites the perceptual modes of both the Ramsays, combining the intellectual, rational and analytical with the intuitive, contemplative and mystical. In this she unites the painting (both as a piece of Art and metaphor for the writing of the novel itself) by giving it the qualities she sees as essential for Art and for a way of understanding and living life: 'one colour melting into another like the colours on a butterfly's wing; but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron.' (186) In this the images of nature and gentleness associated with Mrs Ramsay are fused with the steel steadfastness of Mr Ramsay, showing that both views are truths that need to be united.
Narrative Point of View
As Virginia Woolf was in the early stages of writing To the Lighthouse she wrote, 'Try writing on some event that had had left a distinct impression on you .. when a whole vision ... seemed contained in that moment. As soon as you attempt to reconstruct it in words, you will find that it breaks into a thousand conflicting impressions.' This idea is at the core of the novel and is the central occupation that shaped the narrative point of view that she adopts.
The novel has often been seen as written in a 'stream-of-consciousness' style. This is true to a large extent - the reader is continually confronted with the unspoken thoughts of a character as they move from one impression or event to another. Nevertheless, it is not an unedited rambling of meandering thoughts, but carefully concentrated on a particular character at a specific moment; thus the need for one hundred and thirty pages to cover one day, and by this exploring the theme of human consciousness. But the narrative point of view is more complex than this: it continually shifts from a narrator, sometimes omniscient and other times not, to different characters all in the space of a few sentences. In the scene after Mr Ramsay had uttered his famous 'But it won't be fine', the reader is given a narration that shows James' thoughts in a young boy's idiom, shifting mid-stream to a narrator's voice, then to Mrs Ramsay's words before shifting to Mr Ramsay's conscious thoughts before slipping into his unconscious musings on the nature of life: 'who was ten thousand times better in every way than he was (James thought), but also with some secret conceit .. What he said was true. It was always true .. should be aware from childhood that life is difficult .. and the passage to that fabled land where our brightest hopes are extinguished, our frail barks founder in darkness.' (8) Through the multiplicity of voices juxtaposed on the one event the reader may be shaped to view James and his mother sympathetically and decry Mr Ramsay as a hard-minded tyrant, but it also attempts to capture that 'moment' soon after Mr Ramsay has issued his judgement; to see simultaneously the thoughts of all characters and the complexity of human thought.
This attempt to capture the moment is repeatedly seen in the novel to show how human consciousness operates, and in this there is an implicit criticism of traditional novels with omniscient narrators knowing all. One of the central ideas in To the Lighthouse is that 'knowing' is not as simple as previously thought and perhaps versions of truth are only possible ('Nothing was simply one thing' 202, 'One wanted fifty pairs of eyes to see with' 214) and that attempts to encompass whole lives or generations are misleading and lead to over-simplified generalisations. It was with this in mind that Woolf centred on only two days for the bulk of the novel. Traditional novels have presumed that characters were knowable, acted on logical and reasonable grounds and were relatively consistent in their thoughts. However, To the Lighthouse dispels these beliefs by constantly showing contradictory views by the one character in the space of minutes.
The narrative point of view through the stream-of-consciousness mode of showing arbitrary unconscious and unconscious thoughts can show far more of a character's way of perceiving the world than conventional methods. As mentioned, one of the main ideas in the novel is to show that nothing is simply as it appears, people are composed of disparate elements that are not known by others, even spouses and family. All see Mrs Ramsay as the eternal mother-figure; caring, protective and apparently contented with her life. Lily may see that she is capable of 'misjudgements', but mostly she is admired for her good nature, beauty and simplicity. Mr Ramsay even sees her, despite his great love for her, as intellectually inept and incapable of thinking deeply ('He wondered if she understood what she was reading.' 131) However, through the narrative point of view centering on Mrs Ramsay for a large part of Section One the reader is shown quite a different person perceived by others: 'But what have I done with my life' (42) and other self-conscious meditations '.. to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.' (69) She also changes her mind continually and is capable of ill-opinions that others would not have deemed possible. She sees Tansley as an 'awful prig' one moment then quickly changes her mind due to some trivial change in circumstances ('and now again she liked him warmly' 17), while she sees her husband as someone 'she was not good enough to tie his shoe strings' (38), then at another time thinks 'She could not understand how she had even felt any emotion or any affection for him.' (91) These apparent contradictions are far more 'life-like', showing the opposing feelings that are often felt but never articulated.
Brackets are used as a narrative device to show more than one thing happening at the same time. From seeing how a character perceives a range of emotions and notes a multiplicity of things occuring simultaneously to momentous events like Mrs Ramsay's death.
The lighthouse is the central symbol in the novel as suggested by the title.The lighthouse is a physical entity on one level which the family finally reach in the last phases of the novel, yet through the constant repetition, the metaphorical references to it in terms beyond literal significance it takes on the quality as a symbol of a distant goal (perhaps even an icon of unattained perfection) which each questor must set out towards and in reaching it find their 'true' selves. In other ways it is representative of the essential isolation and independence of the individual, and is embodied in the figure of Mr Ramsay, while the light that emanates from it is clearly aligned with Mrs Ramsay's vision that gives direction and safety to those caught at sea.
The novel explores the human condition - individuals faced with death and life, with finding meaning, trying to find security, a firm piece of land, a calm sea, a destination, while continually threatened by transience, of drowning in storms, being lost and never finding land. In this scenario the lighthouse gives guidance and ultimately a purpose to the human need for meaning; a search that is evident in many of the characters, albeit unconsciously.
The lighthouse is first mentioned in the first lines of the novel in reference to James' wish to go there. The subsequent argument between Mr and Mrs Ramsay is over the trip to the lighthouse. To travel out to the lighthouse is James' dream, but it is not possible because of the weather. Mr Ramsay bluntly states the reason without compassion ('But, it won't be fine') while Mrs Ramsay still instills hope in her son with the possibility that it might be fine (Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow') This beginning sets up the lighthouse as a symbol. It is not simply a trip to a place, but the fulfilment of a dream and a clash between two perspectives of life. For the boy it is a far off place, full of romance and mystery, however it is not possible because of his father's rational approach to life.
Like the lighthouse, Mr Ramsay is 'distant, austere, in the midst', a figure of isolation who sees the world as a place of uncompromising facts, and believed that his children 'should be aware from childhood that life is difficult'.
Alone in the sea, cut off from the world, the lighthouse and Mr Ramsay, are admirable and capable of giving guidance, but as the former dispute between Mr and Mrs Ramsay showed, it is not enough and some balance must be achieved. In this relationship the symbolism of the light issuing from the lighthouse represents Mrs Ramsay 's view of life ('... some exclamation of triumph over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this eternity; and pausing there she looked out to meet that stroke of the Lighthouse, the long steady stroke, the last of the three, which was her stroke.) which corrects this imbalance. It is Mrs Ramsay and the intuitive, compromising side to human relationships ('... she looked at the steady light, the pitiless, the remorseless, which was so much her, ... would fill her with delight, she had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness ... It is enough! It is enough!') that brings unity, but cannot be achieved without Mr Ramsay and the lighthouse.
The lighthouse also carries a different symbolism in the novel in relation to James. After being a symbol of unfulfilled dreams, when he looked out and saw 'a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye that opened suddenly and softly in the evening', he later doesn't wish to go there as it is his father wish to visit it. This former romanticised vision that aligned with his mother's version of the world is almost lost when he sees it close-up, but in a moment of self-realisation he finds unity, combining both the visions of the lighthouse, as well as reconciling his mother and father's way of viewing the world: 'Now ... (it was) the tower, stark and straight ... So that was the Lighthouse, was it? No, the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing.' (202)
The journey on the boat to the lighthouse is an actual event, but it is also a symbolic journey to a 'fabled land'. It was once a symbol of hope and perfection for a young James, a trip he wished for desperately but was unable to take till ten years later. By this time he had forgotten about his childish yearning and it is left to Mr Ramsay to initiate the journey. When they all set out his children are set against him and the family is divided, but by the time they reach the lighthouse it has proved to be a journey of self-realisation, where Cam has come to appreciate her father ('What do you want? they both wanted to ask. They both wanted to say, Ask us anything and we will give it you.' 224), and James has realised that his father's 'truth' and way of seeing the world was as valid as his mother's imaginative vision
Perhaps most importantly, the journey has reconciled the animosity between Mr Ramsay and James by a simple acknowledgement by his father of his son ('Well done' 223). This may seem to be giving this remark too much power, but it is shown clearly on the trip across to the lighthouse that James is set against his father ('He had made them come. He had forced them to come ... But they vowed, in silence, as they walked, to stand by each other and carry out the great compact - to resist tyranny to the death.' 177-8) and he is always conscious on the boat that his father will 'say something sharp' (203), so that when this fails to happen and he is complemented instead he accepts his father's remark as an attempt to reconcile the past, recognising that his father's seeming malevolent attitude was just his way of seeing the world. Moreover, the journey is Mr Ramsay making amends for the past argument with his wife over the trip to the lighthouse and acknowledging her visionary perspective of life so that her presence is still felt even though she is dead. He is rejuvenated as he reaches the lighthouse 'as he sprang, lightly like a young man ..' (224)
Besides the dominant images of the sea and lighthouse as symbols in the novels there are many other everyday objects, often clothing, that carry great symbolism in the text as they are repeated in evocative scenes that seem to signify a meaning beyond their everyday nature. The shawl operates in this way as it is associated constantly with Mrs
Ramsay and is central to many resonant passages in the narrative. As a symbol it evokes the love, compassion and thoughtfulness that goes to create a sense of caring beyond the self, hoping to bring happiness and security between people. It is the one thing human have to face the flux and mutability of the outside world, especially in the face of inevitable death, which is also connected to a symbol in the novel - the skull. Mrs Ramsay wrapping the shawl around the skull ensures that Cam can sleep happily, and in turn it is love and vision that helps us endure. The shawl gradually unwinds in Section 2, during the war, when all the house is falling apart because of time and the lack of care. It is always connected with Mrs Ramsay and she dies during this period, so it never reappears, and though Lily is the one to have the vision, her quest is quite different (she will not give Mr Ramsay sympathy) to Mrs Ramsay.
* Symbol of the shawl: 72, 124, 145, 150
Patterns of Imagery
Knife imagery: Mr Ramsay is often seen through the image of a knife: 'Mr R .. lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one ..' (8). In this context his sharp analytical mind is shown, but it also reveals his 'narrowness', seeing his truth as the only truth and beyond question. Later it is this same knife imagery ('scimitar') that represents the 'sterility' of men as they need to be cared for and loved by the female but never offer anything themselves: '.. her strength flaring up to be drunk and quenched by the beak of brass, the arid scimitar of the male ..' (43) This same sterility is mentioned at the dinner party when it is left to Mrs R to make sure everybody was happy: 'Again she felt, without hostility, the sterility of men, for if she did not do it nobody would do it ..' (91) Ironically it is a knife that James remembers that he wanted to kill his father with as a child ('He had always kept this old symbol of taking a knife and striking his father to the heart.' 199). The knife is used here as a weapon against the 'knife-like' attributes of his father - the man who had shown no sympathy or compassion and had always told the truth, thinking his son 'should be aware from childhood that life is difficult.' (8)
Mrs Ramsay aligned with images of Nature and images of fertility: Mrs Ramsay is often seen in terms of nature, as a flower or tree, (Mrs R seemed to fold herself together, one petal closed in another' 44, 'and as she did so she felt she was climbing backwards, shoving her way up under petals that curved over her' 129), a goddess ('The Graces assembling seemed to have joined hands in meadows of asphodel to compose that face.' 34), a mother-figure and protector ('Stepping through fields of flowers and taking to her breast buds that had broken and lambs that had fallen' 18) and in images of fertility, ('and into this delicious fecundity, this fountain of spray' 43) as a queen ('like some queen, who finding her people gathered in the hall, looks down upon them, and descends among them, and acknowledges their tributes silently, and accepts their devotion and their prostration before her' 90). Significantly these views are from a range of characters as well as the narrator, and they show Mrs R as an elevated being, embodying beauty, love and care, the eternal mother who looks after her children and the world, always worried about 'suffering, death, the poor.' (66) This is the image that she portrays to the world, however, it is only a partial view. The reader sees that Carmichael does not revere her and through the narrative point of view shifting between characters, seeing their inner thoughts, conscious and unconscious, the reader sees a collection of contradictory views; mainly though Lily, but moreso through Mrs Ramsay herself.
* Images of gnawing and disintegration. Relates to the theme of transience. All things are transient. 'made one think of the destruction of the island and its engulfment in the sea, and warned her whose day had slipped past in one quick doing after another that it was all ephemeral as a rainbow.' (20)
'on a spit of land, which the sea is slowly eating away, and there to stand, like a desolate seabird, alone.' (50)
'He turned from the sight of human ignorance and human fate and the sea eating the ground we stand on' 50
'They (children) showed he did not damn the poor little universe entirely ... looking at the land dwindling away, the little island seemed pathetically small, half swallowed up in the sea.' (76)
In Part 2 the house gradually disintegrates against the ravages of time: 'The saucepan rusted and the mat decayed .. the swaying shawl swung to and fro ... the floor was strewn with straw, the plaster fell in shovelfuls; rafters were laid bare.' 150 Yet is brough back to life.
* Images of permanence and dissolution. Relates to human attempts to create order and meaning in the midst of chaos and the awareness that all things deteriorate and die. To have a vision and find unity.
The dinner party which threatens to be a failure is saved by Mrs R, bringing together people, and finding 'a coherence in things, a stability ... immune from change ..in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral ... 'Of such moments .. the thing is made that remains for ever after. This would remain.
'a party together in a hollow, on an island; had their common cause against that fluidity out there' 120)
Ideas related to this: No happiness lasted.' (71) and 'she had known happiness, exquisite happiness ... ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough, It is enough.' (72)
'In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing was struck into stability.' 176
To the Lighthouse
It has been said that Woolf’s central vision is not merely showing the inner tension between masculine & feminine inclinations than a search for a new synthesis and an opportunity for feminine expression.
Is Mrs Ramsay so wonderful? Often seen as representing the more valued attributes and a ‘completeness’. Some have seen her as one-sided and life-denying as her husband.
Mrs Ramsay is seen as an earth mother, with influence & power, being a centre for adoration. However her way of ‘knowing’ is never rational, but vaguely mystical. Beautiful and loving, Mrs Ramsay has thrust herself into the midst of our impoverished world & seduced us into worshipping her. As a mother goddess, she has not only sought her power by the seduction of her sons and the denial of her daughters, she has turned over to male power the ordering of the world: ‘indeed, she had the whole of the other sex under her protection; ... for their chivalry and valour, for the fact that they negotiated treaties, ruled India, controlled finance ...’
Mr R’s ‘masculine’ order of understanding the world may be criticised and his division of truth into so artificial an order as the alphabet is life-denying, but Mrs R’s views are no better: her moody and dreamy mistiness which, unable to distinguish objects on the sea, comparing herself to a ‘wedge of darkness’, demands the protection of men while undermining what truths they find. So that for her and her children the truth about the weather, one of the few determinable truths available, is turned into a ‘masculine’ aggression. James, protected by her excessive maternalism, hates his father, hates his masculinity which, so the boy is led to feel, attacks her, his mother. It is only after her death that, with the parental blessing each child will always wish for - ‘Well done!’ - James can recognise, not just the feminine quality of the lighthouse, its light, but also the masculine, the tower, stark, straight, bare - the vision he and his father share. Cam, who had been attracted by the story Mrs R was reading to James, is sent away so that Mrs R may continue the love affair with her son; a temptation of all devoted mothers, turning sons into lovers. Possible File Mark or Revision Sheet
The novel is concerned with finding unity, a vision of the world that unites all of its elements. Mr Ramsay and James come to this realisation on reaching the lighthouse and Lily achieves this in finishing her painting. (60, 226, 224, 223) Some achieve it in life and its relationships, while others in Art.
- Love: ‘It is so beautiful, so exciting, this love ... also it is the stupidest, the most barbaric of human passions ... there is nothing more tedious, puerile, and inhumane than love; yet its is also beautiful and necessary.’ (111-2) What does the novel show about human thoughts and emotions? What is the text’s attitude to love and marriage? 208, 24, 27, 53
- Motif of stability and chaos: 176
- The transience of all things is explored as theme. (‘Luriana Lurilee’ 120, Mrs R realisation that it was ‘already the past’ 121, most of Part 2). However it is not overawing and pessimistic, there are moments when ‘It is enough’, and the influence of Mrs R is still there after ten years.
- Mr Ramsay is aligned with rationality and empirical truth, while Mrs Ramsay’s understanding of the world is intuitive and emotional, and represents the vision.
- Mr Ramsay’s trip to the lighthouse is an admission that the vision exists, that death has not erased the essence of his wife, and though humans are isolated from another factually, there is still some greater force that binds them.
- References to Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’: 36,
- ‘That windows should be open, and doors shut’ 33, 55
- Mr R relating his intellectual achievements to the alphabet: 39-40
- Mrs R’s knitting: metaphorically represents his knitting together the social fabric. 43, 71. After the success of the party Mrs R feels that all will remember her and this night forever: ‘wound about in their hearts, however long they lived she would be woven’ 123
- Shawl and the skull (124)
- wedge of darkness (69)
What is the significance of:
* Images of fertility: 43,
* Images of nature: 18, 44
* Image of goddess: ‘The Graces assembling seemed to have joined hands in meadows of asphodel to compose that face.’ 34. Demeter
* Images of sterility: 43-4,
* Knife imagery: 8
* Images of isolation and desolation - channel marker (50), desolate seabird, lighthouse.
Mr R’s perception of life in terms of truth and empirical facts, is incomplete and limited. He can be seen as representing the body of the lighthouse, the firm foundation on which to construct a life, but still needs the light (Mrs R understanding of world) to have a vision.
* Images of gnawing and disintegration. Relates to the theme of transience. All things are transient. ‘made one think of the destruction of the island and its engulfment in the sea, and warned her whose day had slipped past in one quick doing after another that it was all ephemeral as a rainbow.’ (20)
‘on a spit of land, which the sea is slowly eating away, and there to stand, like a desolate seabird, alone.’ (50)
‘He turned from the sight of human ignorance and human fate and the sea eating the ground we stand on’ 50
‘They (children) showed he did not damn the poor little universe entirely ... looking at the land dwindling away, the little island seemed pathetically small, half swallowed up in the sea.’ (76)
In Part 2 the house gradually disintegrates against the ravages of time: ‘The saucepan rusted and the mat decayed .. the swaying shawl swung to and fro ... the floor was strewn with straw, the plaster fell in shovelfuls; rafters were laid bare.’ 150 Yet is brough back to life.
* Images of permanence and dissolution. Relates to human attempts to create order and meaning in the midst of chaos and the awareness that all things deteriorate and die. To have a vision and find unity.
The dinner party which threatens to be a failure is saved by Mrs R, bringing together people, and finding ‘a coherence in things, a stability ... immune from change ..in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral ... ‘Of such moments .. the thing is made that remains for ever after. This would remain.
‘a party together in a hollow, on an island; had their common cause against that fluidity out there’ 120)
Ideas related to this: No happiness lasted.’ (71) and ‘she had known happiness, exquisite happiness ... ecstasy burst in heer eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough, It is enough.’ (72)
‘In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing was struck into stability.’ 176
* Metaphors of the sea: 53 (‘life ... 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.’
* Symbol of the shawl: 72, 124, 145, 150
* Symbolism of the lighthouse: 17, 70, 71-72, 202, 220
* Symbolism of the journey: for Mr R and James (voyage of self-discovery where he reconciles fact and vision, and acknowledges his father and mother’s views 223)
* Symbolism of boots 167-8, relate to the image of the waggon crushing a foot 201, image of boots 98,
* Boating metaphors: ‘and the passage to that fabled land where our brightest hopes are extinguished, our frail barks founder in darkness.’(8) The boating metaphor of ‘frail barks’ represents the human journey through life as being constantly confronted by difficulties that need courage to be faced.
* Motif of ‘We perish, each alone.’ 207, 224 Lines from William Cowper’s ‘The Castaway’ repeated by Mr Ramsay relates to the idea that humans are inevitably left to grow old and die, and that isolation and loneliness make up a large portion of our lives. This idea is echoed throughout the novel, however it is counterbalanced in the end by Mr Ramsay reaching the lighthouse and delivering the parcel (Mrs R’s attempt to alleviate loneliness) with a spring in his step ‘like a young man’, and by Lily completing her painting and having her vision. Links up with images of isolation and desolation, and its resolution is inextricably tied to the symbolic journey to the lighthouse.
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