The essence of the Lighthouse symbol is Light itself. In “The Window,” Light is the
positive force of visionary consciousness, in “time passes,” it is the negative
counterpart of departed consciousness; and in “the lighthouse,” it is the reanimation
of consciousness in a creative rhythm that seeks spiritual and aesthetic Oneness.
Recounts multiple experience of different characters
Symbols – the lighthouse, Lily’s painting, personalities of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey
In “The Window” and “Time Passes,” the Lighthouse is a source of
light; in “The Lighthouse,” it becomes a goal. In one form or other,
however, the Lighthouse dominates every phase of the novel.**** As
a symbol, it is doubly central: from it emanate lines of light; to it
converge paths of voyage. Its power is both centrifugal and
centripetal. Its meanings radiate through the mind, as a total range
of possibilities stemming from a variety of contexts, but limited to
none. The voyage to the Lighthouse is any activity of consciousness
that reaches out toward the Light, follows a direction, seeks
integration. If the reader never quite arrives at the Lighthouse, he
sees it from many angles and from many points of view, and in it he
seeks his own illumination.
What the lighthouse is
How lighthouse relevant to each character CHECK
Mrs. Rmasay is the light CHECK
Why they go to the light after10 years
Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay
Mr. Ramsay to find Mrs. Ramsay
The Light house
o Is a mystery, but a concern for day-to-day living
o Always illuminates and clarifies the human condition
o The quest for values
Frequently shadowed in mist
Beams intermittent in the darkness
Moments of assurance are momentary
Upon these assurances, reality rests
LANDING on the general doubts, triumph over eternal
o Alternate light and shadows rhythm of joy and sorrow,
understanding and misunderstanding
What is a lighthouse?
o The family’s house in Skye is likened to a mind, full of voices
o Lighthouse stands for a dream of order, a light from outside
bringing clarity to troubled human intelligence
Expected James reaching the lighthouse, but he doesn’t wanna go.
Still resisting father, hoping sister will stick with him in defiance
Cam desires both sides, aware of complexities of her
relationship with her father
THUS, not JAMES going to lighthouse BUT MR. RAMSAY
Boat journey, Mr. Ramsay reading old notebook, full of
philosophical argumentation, trying to get his mind to R, even
Unlike Cam and James, who are trapped in the outlooks
of their genders, lonely Mr. Ramsay smiles when he puts
book down, feels content, able to understand something
Looks at lighthouse AS IF LOOKING FOR SOMEONE
Lighthouse is BOTH love for abstraction and for wife
Two loves are the same thing deep down, or two sides of
the same thing
“He has landed.” He resolved struggle between male
world and feminine one
seeing this, lily able to move on from her fears
about being female artist, send support Mr.
Ramsay demanded of her, finishe her painting.
Lily gone beyond, has understood
MRS RAMSAY IN BRUSHSTROKES
Perhaps this is the great genius of fiction writers: that, unlike
philosophers, they are not only able to set out a view of
reality, but, through the working out of their stories, show
what lies beyond it. (This is like us, honors class gives us
insight into great works (LET US EXPAND OUR PERSPECTIVE,
PERSPECTIVAL) to work beyond their stories into our own lives,
surpassing any great work because that great work and many
others live within us. WE ARE A BEACON OF LIGHT. WE ARE THE
SUN THAT SHINES OUTSIDE OF THE PHILOSOPHER’S CAVE. WE
ARE THE LIGHTHOUSE THAT PEOPLE STRIVE TO REACH AND
Mr Ramsey like his son Andrew, known for his mind.
Mrs. Ramsey like Prue, known for her beauty.
Most important symbol is the lighthouse.
o Represents the truth, has very different meanings to each character
o Mrs. Ramsay, source of comfort and stability, even though it is in the
distance. “sure enough, coming regularly across the waves…was the
light of the Lighthouse"
o Lily Briscoe, lighthouse becomes fixation during final artisitic vision –
watching as Mr. Ramsay’s boat approaches the lighthouse. As
lighthouse becomes more obscure, vision becomes more clear.
(ciasma) “the Lighthouse had become almost invisible, had melted
away into a blue haze"
Lighthouse represents the unobtainable truth
As unobtainability disappears, she becomes increasingly
o James – lighthouse is aspiration, when finally reaches it, reflects on
perceptions of the lighthouse "The Lighthouse was then a silvery,
misty-looking tower with a yellow eye…." AND NOW he sees the
lighthouse as a stark tower, and questions this perception briefly. But,
decides "No, the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply
one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too"
o IDEA of multiple truths. Essence of what lighthouse symbolizes – a
destination, an answer the characters all trying to reach, different ways
they each relate to the lighthouse
Lighthouse is symbol of Light itself. Source of light: “Turning, she looked
across the bay, and there, coming regularly across the waves first
two quick strokes and then one long steady stroke, was the light of
the Lighthouse. It had been lit” “to being [herself], a wedge-shaped
core of darkness, something invisible to others” Mrs. Ramsay identify
herself with being the Light.
o LIGHTHOUSE IS MALE? MRS. RAMSAY STATE SHE IS
LIGHTHOUSE? ITS EYES ARE HER EYES?
Identifies with “the long steady stroke,” sees reflection of her own
dreams in the boy’s eyes.
o Mr. Ramsay “had lots his temper over the Lighthouse” stares
“into the hedge, into its intricacy, its darkness.”
o “she looked out to meet that stroke of the Lighthouse, the long steady
stroke, the last of the three, which was her stroke.” “SHE BECAME THE
THING SHE LOOKED AT”
Light as in Paradise Lost. *****
o Mrs. Ramsay is filled with Light.
o Look through the window “through a glass darkly” but not need to go
to it, not need to see “face to face”
She is source of light. She is source of peace and harmony to James, “perfect
simplicity and good sense”
o Restores father “creating drawingroom and kitchen, setting them all
o Sacrificng her energy for others. Even in exhaustion, “throb through
her…rapture of successful creation”
o Even when dead, embodied in the light that helps Lily focus. “I have
had my vision” LIGHT is essential truth and energy.
o “She looked up over her knitting and met the third stroke and
it seemed to her like her own eyes meeting her own eyes,
purifying out the existence that lie, any lie.” “She was
beautiful like that light.”
o Celebration of her capacity to BE, and to sustain and transmit
Oneness with the Light symbolizes her achievement of transcendent
o “which was so much her.”
In “Time Passes” Mrs. Ramsay dies and the lighthouse bean explores the
empty house like an unseeing eye, “wearily, ghostily, as if they had featherlight fingers”
Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey
o Mrs. Ramsey is mother who dies in middle section
Beautiful, caring woman, means all things to all people (MILF to
son, beautiful woman to Tansley, mother to Lily, etc.)
Children think she is the “lighthouse” of their lives
Stable, warm force that protects and guides them.
Creator of fertile human relationships symbolized
by her match making and knitting
Warm comfort symbolized by green shawl
o Mr. Ramsey is father
Sterile, destructive barriers to relationship
Hardness, cruelty, isolation
Children view him as unemotional and cold
Father – famous metaphysician
Mother – beautiful and charismatic
o Men are abstract thinkers – opium stoked poet, university philosopher
o Women are not abstract
Lily remains in awe of Mr. Ramsay’s invisible table
Mrs. Ramsay treats work as not work she can join
o Minta and paul’s failed marriage because he is practical and
she is a fantasist
Males immortality through their minds, dreams of reaching R
o Mrs. Ramsay immortality through children, dreams everyone of getting
married, to win her battle against life
o Men need women for encouragement, healing, just as young James
needs (hates father for needing the same thing)
Mr. Ramsay fell out of male heaven because he fell in love with wife and made
o Best work was done young, makes everyone’s lives difficult by still
seeking his intellectual goals, yet demanding sympathy and attention
because he knows he will never reach greatness
Mr. Ramsay has his own metaphoric lighthouse that shines ahead but
cannot be reached.
Excusing himself, because he has to feed eight children, he is nonetheless
dissatisfied with his life’s achievement because "he had not done the thing he
might have done" (TTL 51). Even though he had a "splendid mind," yet "if
thought" was "like alphabet . . . arranged in twenty-six letters all in order . . .
he reached Q . . . Z is only reached once by one man in a generation. Still if he
could reach R it would be something"
o His friend and colleague, William Bankes, says that "Ramsay is one of
those men who do their best work before they are forty" (TTL 28), while
Mr. Ramsay himself imagines that people consider him a failure and
"that R was beyond him" (TTL 39). His wife, in her turn, wonders
what she has done with her life. But her achievements cannot
be arranged in an alphabet: they lie in the sphere of human
interactions. She has a special talent of making people feel special
and has mastered the art of bringing them together in a harmonious
way on social occasions. Thus as she enters the dining room, she sees
that "nothing seemed to have merged. They all sat separate. And the
whole of the effort of merging and creating rested on her
o Similarly, in an earlier scene, she builds up her husband’s ego by her
carefully-chosen, soothing words, and while he, "filled with her words,
like a child who drops off satisfied" feels "restored" and "renewed," she
is sucked dry of energy and is described as "fold[ing] herself
together [in exhaustion], one petal closed in another"
Mr ramsay talk to lily about picture
o Gift of Mrs. Ramsey’s gift of harmonizing human relationship
into memorable moments is “almost like work of art”
o Art is symbol for enduring “reality”
o Mrs. Ramsey knows relationships are doomed to imperfection,
spot of time and change
But in art, eternal unity in an unchanging form-through,
as in Lily’s picture, form may be inadequate
o “I have had my vision.” – so that we may all have our own
vision (meaning of life?) at the very end (of the book/of life),
revelation of own work
Ends with Lily having revelation of own work, seen Mr. Ramsey arrive
at Lighthouse with children
o Discouraging influence of Mrs. Ramsey (wants her to marry)
and actively oppressive influence of Charles Tansley, never
finds a way to capture what she’s trying to say about life in her
o Effort to paint is to reconcile Mr. Ramsey (masculine society)
and her painting (women entering masculine dominated world)
Through memories of Mrs. Ramsey, who lived with Mr.
Ramsey for years while raising children and doing good
Mrs. Ramsey not perfect but gave Lily needed tools to
find new way of painting outside influence of Mr. Ramsey
and his like.
o Final section, gains perspective of Mr. Ramsey and everything
he stands for.
Moment he reaches lighthouse, reconciling with his son,
Lily sees he have no power over her artistic production.
Paint whatever she likes, no longer feels weight of social
and gender hierarchies that Mr. Ramsey once
represented to her.
o Lily stop acknowledging his power. Mr. Ramsey also let go. “He
must have reached it.” (meaning lighthouse and self)
Made his own peace with all intellectual burdens fighting
all his life, REACHED R.
Stops fighting the world, Lighthouse seems to disappear.
"For the Lighthouse had become almost invisible, had
melted away into a blue blaze.”
o Found answer to how she can paint, as a woman, without
competing with tyrants like Mr. Ramsey.
Find own artistic confidence, also accept her past
dominated by Mrs. Ramsey and present dominated by
As Mr. Ramsey surrenders some of own authority to son,
he is less threat to Lily.
At last, she can “have her vision.”
"It would be a wonderfulexperience for her -- the Sistine Chapel;
Michel Angelo; and Padua with its Giottos"
o Closure is both satisfactory and unsatisfactory. Perfect, too
perfect in the way the two narratives come together and
reinforce each other.
o Story: going to the lighthouse. James expresses his wish to go
lighthouse in Part One. Wish fulfilled ten years later in Part
o Search for the artistic means of finishing her painting. As boat
touches land, experiences an epiphany moment. Inspiration
about how to complete painting, with “a line…in the center”
o Both subplots resolved. Something feels artificial, empty.
Moment of closure, does not feel like closure. BECAUSE ITS
NOT REALLY OVER. Because natural rhythm of rising and falling
action is compromised.
o Lily remembers that "there had been a problem about a
foreground of a picture. . . . It had been knocking about in her
mind all these years.” But now "it seemed as if the solution
had come to her: she knew now what she wanted to do.”
The inspiration prompted her to overcome doubt and
start painting, setting into a rhythm where everything
falls into place, only to be distressed by a thought that
“she could not achieve that razor edge of the balance
between two opposite forces: Mr. Ramsay (on the boat
approaching the lighthouse) and the picture”
For a moment, she feels frustrated with “the human
apparatus for painting or for feeling; it always broke
down at the critical moment.”
Waits for the moment, and it is there for her. As the boat
touches the shore, she is struck by a reelation, a sudden
knowdelge of what is missing and how she chould
omplete her paiting “There it was—her picture. Yes, with
all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across,
its attempt at something. It would be hung in the attics,
she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that
matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again.
She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at
her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if
she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in
the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she
thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I
have had my vision”
In another scene in part three, Mr. Ramsay approaches
Lily Briscoe as she is trying to paint. "Look at him, he
seemed to be saying, look at me; and indeed, all the
time he was feeling, Think of me, think of me"
Lily understands that he wants sympathy but
bristles at the thought that it is expected of her,
as a woman, to provide men with a shoulder to cry
on. "His immense self-pity, his demand for
sympathy poured and spread itself in pools at her
feet, and all she did, miserable sinner that she
was, was to draw her skirts a little closer round
her ankles, lest she should get wet"
When the feeling of sympathy does spontaneously
come unbidden, it does so at a "completely
inappropriate moment . . . her feeling had come
too late; there it was ready; but he no longer
They both say disagreeable things in the name of truth,
such as the wind "blowing from the worst possible
direction for landing at the Lighthouse" (TTL 9). James,
who wants to go to the lighthouse, hates his father not
only for saying that the weather will not be fine in
response to Mrs. Ramsay’s assurance that it will be fine,
but for the way he says it, "grinning sarcastically, not
only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and
casting ridicule upon his wife . . . but also with some
secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgment" (TTL 8).
In his turn, Mr. Ramsay hates his wife for saying that it
might be fine tomorrow. "The extraordinary irrationality
of her remark, the folly of women’s minds enraged him. .
. . Not with the barometer falling and the wind due west"
Bankes wishes Lily could experience elation when visiting
great museums of Europe
o Lily says exposure to greatness only make one dissatisfied
with one’s accomplismnets
No painter would look at Mrs. Ramsay and James and
portray them as a “triangular purple shape.”
Lily’s achievement to learn to resolve the contradictory
feelings that Mr. Ramsey provoked in her
Feminine gone, Mr. Ramsay remains, spare and upright
o At the moment when Mr. Ramsay “sprang like a young man
holding his parcel onto the rock” Lily finishes her painting
“She looked at the steps, they were empty, she looked at her
canvas, it was blurred, With a sudden intensity, as if she saw
CLEAR (LIGHTHOUSE CLEAR NO FOG) for a second, she drew a
line there, in the center”
o She had her vision and drawn the upright line that has
tormented the novel and its characters.
At the same moment, poet Mr. Carmichael takes on something
of Mrs. Ramsay, becomes “an old pagan God, shaggy with
weeds in this hair.” And lets fall “a wreath of violets and
asphodel.” EVEN THOUGH GONE, STILL EXISTS. ABSENCE AND
Violets and asphodel are Mrs. Ramsay’s flowers.
Mr. Bankes comtemplates her beauty, considers that “The
Graces assembling seemed to have joined hands in the fields of
asphodel to compose that face.”
To see these flowers become a wreath in Mr. Carmichael’s hands
is a revelation
NOT in Elysian Fields, where great, heroic men go there
after death, but Asphodel Meadows where souls of those
whose work is done will find their rest.
She has done her work, exhausted by her life, dies
suddenly at fifty.
LILY DRAWS THE FINISHING LINE.
o Similar to artist and the studio, not sure what is drawn but
o "exchanged the fluidity of life for the concentration of
o she recalls as an episode that happened ten years ago to
herself, Mrs. Ramsay, and Charles Tansley. The trio was
spending time on the beach, with Mrs. Ramsay’s writing letters
and, at the same time, observing Lily and Charles throwing
stones into the water. Suddenly, this recollected scene finds
resonance in Lily’s thoughts as she reflects on the way a single
moment can arrest the flow of time, stabilizing the experience
of life, which is otherwise ineffable and impossible to capture.
"What is the meaning of life? . . . The great revelation had
never come. . . . Instead, there were little daily miracles,
illuminations. . . . Herself and Charles Tansley and the breaking
wave; Mrs. Ramsay bringing them together; Mrs. Ramsay
saying ‘Life stand still here’; Mrs. Ramsay making of the
moment something permanent"
o Owes memory to Mrs. Ramsay
o Lily is now in the position to appreciate the latter’s special
talent and mission in life: bringing people together, "merging
and flowing and creating,"
o and finally making something permanent, palpable, and
meaningful of the fleeting moments in time
o This is what the painter experiences in her moment of vision—
the feeling that she can see time standing still
Similarly, in the last scene with Mrs. Ramsay, we see her and Mr.
Ramsay sharing a joint look at the lighthouse.
o Both think of mrs ramsay
Lily has been searching for balances and correspondences between
her internal impressions of the external world and the
representational means with which they could be captured. In her
moment of distress over the progress of her painting, Lily despairs
that "For whatever reason she could not achieve that razor edge of
balance between two opposite forces; Mr. Ramsay and the picture;
which was necessary"
o firstly, the fact that Lily is an abstract painter, and so the
painting that will be produced would be arbitrary on a literal
level, as it were, constituting certainly a more arbitrary sign of
what she wants to express than a figurative painting would
have been; secondly, the fact that she is not even painting Mr.
Ramsay on a boat—she is painting Mrs. Ramsay reading a book
to James as this scene imprinted itself on her memory ten
years ago. Yet the event of Mrs. Ramsay’s boat touching land
generates the mysteriously elusive moment of formal closure,
the closure of her painting and the closure of the narrative.
One could object that the scene of Lily’s epiphany when she
understands that Mrs. Ramsay made life stand still takes place
entirely in Lily’s imagination and is thus not an actual
reenactment of the originary scene, but I would suggest that
this scene is, in some sense, the most interesting example. By
seeing in front of her inner eye Mrs. Ramsay observing herself
and Charles Tansley throwing stones in the water, she is
watching her earlier self jointly with Mrs. Ramsay, seeing
herself through Mrs. Ramsay’s eyes. This moment is
vertiginous, circular, evocative, and recognizable. My final
suggestion is that a moment like this compresses the
paradigm of narrative self-consciousness
Lily is clearly self-conscious about her art - when looking at her
painting, she sees only what could be different about it, constantly
comparing it to how other painters would have depicted it, not
wanting others to look at it, thinking of Tansley saying "'Women can't
paint, women can't write…'" (75). Lily struggles throughout the
course of the novel to find a way to unite the shapes and lines in her
painting in a meaningful way, to find "how to connect this mass on
the right hand with that on the left"
She eventually overcomes this insecurity surrounding being a woman
however, "subduing all her impressions as a woman to something
much more general" (82). From this point the painting comes to
represent the question of how to make concrete her vision. Lily's
frustration is quite clear: "It was a miserable machine, an inefficient
machine, she thought, the human apparatus for painting or for
feeling; it always broke down at the critical moment" (287). This idea
of a breakdown between portraying externally one's internal
experience and the ways Lily eventually overcomes this in her
painting represents a uniquely modernist dilemma explored in the
Story is in SONATA FORM
“Wherever they put the light, there was always a shadow
somewhere” “a light here required a shadow there”
o The “long steady stroke” of the Lighthouse, “which was her
o Brushstrokes resemble three fold rhythm of the lighthouse
beam “she made her first quick decisive stroke. The brush
Brown and white is Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay
Stroke and pause is light and darkness of beam
Linked with rising – falling waves. EBB AND FLOW
o Rhythm of painting begins to resemble “long steady stroke”,
which Mrs. Ramsay identified
Return to the beginning, talking about lighthouse, very circular.
Finally make land at lighthouse because we have reached R just like Mr.
Ramsay. Argue this point.