To the Lighthouse

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To the Lighthouse is a 1927 novel by Virginia Woolf. A landmark of high modernism, the novel centres on the Ramsays and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920. Following and extending the tradition of modernist novelists like Marcel Proust and James Joyce, the plot of To the Lighthouse is secondary to its philosophical introspection. The novel includes little dialogue and almost no action; most of it is written as thoughts and observations. The novel recalls childhood emotions and highlights adult relationships. Among the book's many tropes and themes are those of loss, subjectivity, and the problem of perception. In 1998, the Modern Library named To the Lighthouse No. 15 on its list of the 100 best English-language [1] novels of the 20th century. In 2005, the novel was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the one [2] hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to present.

1 Plot summary

o o o 

1.1 Part I: The Window 1.2 Part II: Time Passes 1.3 Part III: The Lighthouse

2 Major themes

o o        

2.1 Complexity of experience 2.2 Complexity of human relationships

3 Narration and perspective 4 Allusions to autobiography and actual geography 5 Publication history 6 Bibliography 7 Film, TV, music, or theatrical adaptations 8 Footnotes 9 References 10 External links

Plot summary[edit]
Part I: The Window[edit]
The novel is set in the Ramsays' summer home in the Hebrides, on the Isle of Skye. The section begins with Mrs Ramsay assuring her son James that they should be able to visit the lighthouse on the next day. This prediction is denied by Mr Ramsay, who voices his certainty that the weather will not be clear, an opinion that forces a certain tension between Mr and Mrs Ramsay, and also between Mr Ramsay and James. This particular incident is referred to on various occasions throughout the chapter, especially in the context of Mr and Mrs Ramsay's relationship.

The Ramsays have been joined at the house by a number of friends and colleagues. One of them, Lily Briscoe, begins the novel as a young, uncertain painter attempting a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay and James. Briscoe finds herself plagued by doubts throughout the novel, doubts largely fed by the claims of Charles Tansley, another guest, who asserts that women can neither paint nor write. Tansley himself is an admirer of Mr Ramsay and his philosophical treatises. The section closes with a large dinner party. When Augustus Carmichael, a visiting poet, asks for a second serving of soup, Mr Ramsay nearly snaps at him. Mrs Ramsay is herself out of sorts when Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle, two acquaintances whom she has brought together in engagement, arrive late to dinner, as Minta has lost her grandmother's brooch on the beach.

Part II: Time Passes[edit]
The second section gives a sense of time passing, absence, and death. Ten years pass, during which the four-year First World War begins and ends. Mrs Ramsay passes away, Prue dies from complications of childbirth, and Andrew is killed in the war. Mr Ramsay is left adrift without his wife to praise and comfort him during his bouts of fear and anguish regarding the longevity of his philosophical work.

Part III: The Lighthouse[edit]
In the final section, “The Lighthouse,” some of the remaining Ramsays and other guests return to their summer home ten years after the events of Part I. Mr Ramsay finally plans on taking the long-delayed trip to the lighthouse with his son James and daughter Cam(illa). The trip almost does not happen, as the children are not ready, but they eventually set off. As they travel, the children are silent in protest at their father for forcing them to come along. However, James keeps the sailing boat steady and rather than receiving the harsh words he has come to expect from his father, he hears praise, providing a rare moment of empathy between father and son; Cam's attitude towards her father changes also, from resentment to eventual admiration. They are accompanied by the sailor Macalister and his son, who catches fish during the trip. The son cuts a piece of flesh from a fish he has caught to use for bait, throwing the injured fish back into the sea. While they set sail for the lighthouse, Lily attempts to finally complete the painting she has held in her mind since the start of the novel. She reconsiders her memory of Mrs and Mr Ramsay, balancing the multitude of impressions from ten years ago in an effort to reach towards an objective truth about Mrs Ramsay and life itself. Upon finishing the painting (just as the sailing party reaches the lighthouse) and seeing that it satisfies her, she realises that the execution of her vision is more important to her than the idea of leaving some sort of legacy in her work.

Major themes[edit]

Mind map of the novel

Complexity of experience[edit]
Large parts of Woolf's novel do not concern themselves with the objects of vision, but rather investigate [3] the means of perception, attempting to understand people in the act of looking. To be able to understand thought, Woolf's diaries reveal, the author would spend considerable time listening to herself think, observing how and which words and emotions arose in her own mind in response to what she [4] saw.

Complexity of human relationships[edit]
This examination of perception is not, however, limited to isolated inner-dialogues, but also analysed in the context of human relationships and the tumultuous emotional spaces crossed to truly reach another human being. Two sections of the book stand out as excellent snapshots of fumbling attempts at this crossing: the silent interchange between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey as they pass the time alone together at the end of section 1, and Lily Briscoe's struggle to fulfill Mr. Ramsay's desire for sympathy (and attention) [5] as the novel closes.

Narration and perspective[edit]
The novel lacks an omniscient narrator (except in the second section: Time Passes); instead the plot unfolds through shifting perspectives of each character's stream of consciousness. Shifts can occur even mid-sentence, and in some sense they resemble the rotating beam of the lighthouse itself. Unlike James Joyce, however, Woolf does not tend to use abrupt fragments to represent characters' thought processes; her method is more one of lyrical paraphrase. The lack of an omniscient narrator means that, throughout the novel, no clear guide exists for the reader and that only through character development can we formulate our own opinions and views because much is morally ambiguous. Whereas in Part I the novel is concerned with illustrating the relationship between the character experiencing and the actual experience and surroundings, the second part, 'Time Passes' having no characters to relate to, presents events differently. Instead, Woolf wrote the section from the perspective of a displaced narrator, unrelated to any people, intending that events be seen related to time. For that reason the narrating voice is unfocused and distorted, providing an example of what Woolf called 'life as it [6][7] is when we have no part in it.'

Allusions to autobiography and actual geography[edit]

Godrevy Lighthouse at sunset

Woolf began writing To the Lighthouse partly as a way of understanding and dealing with unresolved [8] issues concerning both her parents and indeed there are many similarities between the plot and her own life. Her visits with her parents and family to St Ives, Cornwall, where her father rented a house, were perhaps the happiest times of Woolf's life, but when she was thirteen her mother died and, like Mr. Ramsay, her father Leslie Stephen plunged into gloom and self-pity. Woolf's sister Vanessa Bell wrote that reading the sections of the novel that describe Mrs Ramsay was like seeing her mother raised from [9] the dead. Their brother Adrian was not allowed to go on an expedition to Godrevy Lighthouse, just as in the novel James looks forward to visiting the lighthouse and is disappointed when the trip is [10] cancelled. Lily Briscoe's meditations on painting are a way for Woolf to explore her own creative process (and also that of her painter sister), since Woolf thought of writing in the same way that Lily [11] thought of painting. Woolf's father began renting Talland House in St. Ives, in 1882, shortly after Woolf's own birth. The house was used by the family as a family retreat during the summer for the next ten years. The location of the main story in To the Lighthouse, the house on the Hebridean island, was formed by Woolf in imitation of Talland House. Many actual features from St Ives Bay are carried into the story, including the gardens [12] leading down to the sea, the sea itself, and the lighthouse. Although in the novel the Ramsays are able to return to the house on Skye after the war, the Stephens had given up Talland House by that time. After the war, Virginia Woolf visited Talland House under its new ownership with her sister Vanessa, and Woolf repeated the journey later, long after her parents were [12] dead.

Note: To the Lighthouse is divided into three sections: “The Window,” “Time Passes,” and “The Lighthouse.” Each section is fragmented into stream-of-consciousness contributions from various narrators. “The Window” opens just before the start of World War I. Mr. Ramsay and Mrs. Ramsay bring their eight children to their summer home in the Hebrides (a group of islands west of Scotland). Across the bay from their house stands a large lighthouse. Six-year-old James Ramsay wants desperately to go to the lighthouse, and Mrs. Ramsay tells him that they will go the next day if the weather permits. James reacts gleefully, but Mr. Ramsay tells him coldly that the weather looks to be foul. James resents his father and believes that he enjoys being cruel to James and his siblings. The Ramsays host a number of guests, including the dour Charles Tansley, who admires Mr. Ramsay’s work as a metaphysical philosopher. Also at the house is Lily Briscoe, a young painter who begins a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay. Mrs. Ramsay wants Lily to marry William Bankes, an old friend of the Ramsays, but Lily resolves to remain single. Mrs. Ramsay does manage to arrange another marriage, however, between Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle, two of their acquaintances.

During the course of the afternoon, Paul proposes to Minta, Lily begins her painting, Mrs. Ramsay soothes the resentful James, and Mr. Ramsay frets over his shortcomings as a philosopher, periodically turning to Mrs. Ramsay for comfort. That evening, the Ramsays host a seemingly illfated dinner party. Paul and Minta are late returning from their walk on the beach with two of the Ramsays’ children. Lily bristles at outspoken comments made by Charles Tansley, who suggests that women can neither paint nor write. Mr. Ramsay reacts rudely when Augustus Carmichael, a poet, asks for a second plate of soup. As the night draws on, however, these missteps right themselves, and the guests come together to make a memorable evening. The joy, however, like the party itself, cannot last, and as Mrs. Ramsay leaves her guests in the dining room, she reflects that the event has already slipped into the past. Later, she joins her husband in the parlor. The couple sits quietly together, until Mr. Ramsay’s characteristic insecurities interrupt their peace. He wants his wife to tell him that she loves him. Mrs. Ramsay is not one to make such pronouncements, but she concedes to his point made earlier in the day that the weather will be too rough for a trip to the lighthouse the next day. Mr. Ramsay thus knows that Mrs. Ramsay loves him. Night falls, and one night quickly becomes another. Time passes more quickly as the novel enters the “Time Passes” segment. War breaks out across Europe. Mrs. Ramsay dies suddenly one night. Andrew Ramsay, her oldest son, is killed in battle, and his sister Prue dies from an illness related to childbirth. The family no longer vacations at its summerhouse, which falls into a state of disrepair: weeds take over the garden and spiders nest in the house. Ten years pass before the family returns. Mrs. McNab, the housekeeper, employs a few other women to help set the house in order. They rescue the house from oblivion and decay, and everything is in order when Lily Briscoe returns. In “The Lighthouse” section, time returns to the slow detail of shifting points of view, similar in style to “The Window.” Mr. Ramsay declares that he and James and Cam, one of his daughters, will journey to the lighthouse. On the morning of the voyage, delays throw him into a fit of temper. He appeals to Lily for sympathy, but, unlike Mrs. Ramsay, she is unable to provide him with what he needs. The Ramsays set off, and Lily takes her place on the lawn, determined to complete a painting she started but abandoned on her last visit. James and Cam bristle at their father’s blustery behavior and are embarrassed by his constant self-pity. Still, as the boat reaches its destination, the children feel a fondness for him. Even James, whose skill as a sailor Mr. Ramsay praises, experiences a moment of connection with his father, though James so willfully resents him. Across the bay, Lily puts the finishing touch on her painting. She makes a definitive stroke on the canvas and puts her brush down, finally having achieved her vision.

Mrs. Ramsay - Mr. Ramsay’s wife. A beautiful and loving woman, Mrs. Ramsay is a wonderful hostess who takes pride in making memorable experiences for the guests at the family’s summer home on the Isle of Skye. Affirming traditional gender roles wholeheartedly, she lavishes particular attention on her male guests, who she believes have delicate egos and need constant support and sympathy. She is a dutiful and loving wife but often struggles with her husband’s difficult moods and selfishness. Without fail, however, she triumphs through these difficult times and demonstrates an ability to make something significant and lasting from the most ephemeral of circumstances, such as a dinner party. Read an in-depth analysis of Mrs. Ramsay. Mr. Ramsay - Mrs. Ramsay’s husband, and a prominent metaphysical philosopher. Mr. Ramsay loves his family but often acts like something of a tyrant. He tends to be selfish and harsh due to his persistent personal and professional anxieties. He fears, more than anything, that his work is insignificant in the grand scheme of things and that he will not be remembered by future generations. Well aware of how blessed he is to have such a wonderful family, he nevertheless tends to punish his wife, children, and guests by demanding their constant sympathy, attention, and support. Read an in-depth analysis of Mr. Ramsay. Lily Briscoe - A young, single painter who befriends the Ramsays on the Isle of Skye. Like Mr. Ramsay, Lily is plagued by fears that her work lacks worth. She begins a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay at the beginning of the novel but has trouble finishing it. The opinions of men like Charles Tansley, who insists that women cannot paint or write, threaten to undermine her confidence. Read an in-depth analysis of Lily Briscoe. James Ramsay - The Ramsays’ youngest son. James loves his mother deeply and feels a murderous antipathy toward his father, with whom he must compete for Mrs. Ramsay’s love and affection. At the beginning of the novel, Mr. Ramsay refuses the six-year-old James’s request to go to the lighthouse, saying that the weather will be foul and not permit it; ten years later, James finally makes the journey with his father and his sister Cam. By this time, he has grown into a willful and moody young man who has much in common with his father, whom he detests. Read an in-depth analysis of James Ramsay. Paul Rayley - A young friend of the Ramsays who visits them on the Isle of Skye. Paul is a kind, impressionable young man who follows Mrs. Ramsay’s wishes in marrying Minta Doyle. Minta Doyle - A flighty young woman who visits the Ramsays on the Isle of Skye. Minta marries Paul Rayley at Mrs. Ramsay’s wishes.

Charles Tansley - A young philosopher and pupil of Mr. Ramsay who stays with the Ramsays on the Isle of Skye. Tansley is a prickly and unpleasant man who harbors deep insecurities regarding his humble background. He often insults other people, particularly women such as Lily, whose talent and accomplishments he constantly calls into question. His bad behavior, like Mr. Ramsay’s, is motivated by his need for reassurance. William Bankes - A botanist and old friend of the Ramsays who stays on the Isle of Skye. Bankes is a kind and mellow man whom Mrs. Ramsay hopes will marry Lily Briscoe. Although he never marries her, Bankes and Lily remain close friends. Augustus Carmichael - An opium-using poet who visits the Ramsays on the Isle of Skye. Carmichael languishes in literary obscurity until his verse becomes popular during the war. Andrew Ramsay - The oldest of the Ramsays’ sons. Andrew is a competent, independent young man, and he looks forward to a career as a mathematician. Jasper Ramsay - One of the Ramsays’ sons. Jasper, to his mother’s chagrin, enjoys shooting birds. Roger Ramsay - One of the Ramsays’ sons. Roger is wild and adventurous, like his sister Nancy. Prue Ramsay - The oldest Ramsay girl, a beautiful young woman. Mrs. Ramsay delights in contemplating Prue’s marriage, which she believes will be blissful. Rose Ramsay - One of the Ramsays’ daughters. Rose has a talent for making things beautiful. She arranges the fruit for her mother’s dinner party and picks out her mother’s jewelry. Nancy Ramsay - One of the Ramsays’ daughters. Nancy accompanies Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle on their trip to the beach. Like her brother Roger, she is a wild adventurer.

Cam Ramsay - One of the Ramsays’ daughters. As a young girl, Cam is mischievous. She sails with James and Mr. Ramsay to the lighthouse in the novel’s final section. Mrs. McNab - An elderly woman who takes care of the Ramsays’ house on the Isle of Skye, restoring it after ten years of abandonment during and after World War I. Macalister - The fisherman who accompanies the Ramsays to the lighthouse. Macalister relates stories of shipwreck and maritime adventure to Mr. Ramsay and compliments James on his handling of the boat while James lands it at the lighthouse. Macalister’s boy - The fisherman’s boy. He rows James, Cam, and Mr. Ramsay to the lighthouse.

Mrs. Ramsay
Mrs. Ramsay emerges from the novel’s opening pages not only as a woman of great kindness and tolerance but also as a protector. Indeed, her primary goal is to preserve her youngest son James’s sense of hope and wonder surrounding the lighthouse. Though she realizes (as James himself does) that Mr. Ramsay is correct in declaring that foul weather will ruin the next day’s voyage, she persists in assuring James that the trip is a possibility. She does so not to raise expectations that will inevitably be dashed, but rather because she realizes that the beauties and pleasures of this world are ephemeral and should be preserved, protected, and cultivated as much as possible. So deep is this commitment that she behaves similarly to each of her guests, even those who do not deserve or appreciate her kindness. Before heading into town, for example, she insists on asking Augustus Carmichael, whom she senses does not like her, if she can bring him anything to make his stay more comfortable. Similarly, she tolerates the insufferable behavior of Charles Tansley, whose bitter attitude and awkward manners threaten to undo the delicate work she has done toward making a pleasant and inviting home.

As Lily Briscoe notes in the novel’s final section, Mrs. Ramsay feels the need to play this role primarily in the company of men. Indeed, Mrs. Ramsay feels obliged to protect the entire opposite sex. According to her, men shoulder the burden of ruling countries and managing economies. Their important work, she believes, leaves them vulnerable and in need of constant reassurance, a service that women can and should provide. Although this dynamic fits squarely into traditional gender boundaries, it is important to note the strength that Mrs. Ramsay feels. At several points, she is aware of her own power, and her posture is far from that of a submissive woman. At the same time, interjections of domesticated anxiety, such as her refrain of “the bill for the greenhouse would be fifty pounds,” undercut this power. Ultimately, as is evident from her meeting with Mr. Ramsay at the close of “The Window,” Mrs. Ramsay never compromises herself. Here, she is able—masterfully—to satisfy her husband’s desire for her to tell him she loves him without saying the words she finds so difficult to say. This scene displays Mrs. Ramsay’s ability to bring together disparate things into a whole. In a world marked by the ravages of time and war, in which everything must and will fall apart, there is perhaps no greater gift than a sense of unity, even if it is only temporary. Lily and other characters find themselves grasping for this unity after Mrs. Ramsay’s death.

Mr. Ramsay
Mr. Ramsay stands, in many respects, as Mrs. Ramsay’s opposite. Whereas she acts patiently, kindly, and diplomatically toward others, he tends to be short-tempered, selfish, and rude. Woolf fittingly describes him as “lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one,” which conjures both his physical presence and suggests the sharpness (and violence) of his personality. An accomplished metaphysician who made an invaluable contribution to his field as a young man, Mr. Ramsay bears out his wife’s philosophy regarding gender: men, burdened by the importance of their own work, need to seek out the comforts and assurances of women. Throughout the novel, Mr. Ramsay implores his wife and even his guests for sympathy. Mr. Ramsay is uncertain about the fate of his work and its legacy, and his insecurity manifests itself either as a weapon or a weakness. His keen awareness of death’s inevitability motivates him to dash the hopes of young James and to bully Mrs. Ramsay into declaring her love for him. This hyperawareness also forces him to confront his own mortality and face the possibility that he, like the forgotten books and plates that litter the second part of the novel, might sink into oblivion.

Lily Briscoe
Lily is a passionate artist, and, like Mr. Ramsay, she worries over the fate of her work, fearing that her paintings will be hung in attics or tossed absentmindedly under a couch. Conventional femininity, represented by Mrs. Ramsay in the form of marriage and family, confounds Lily, and she rejects it.

The recurring memory of Charles Tansley insisting that women can neither paint nor write deepens her anxiety. It is with these self-doubts that she begins her portrait of Mrs. Ramsay at the beginning of the novel, a portrait riddled with problems that she is unable to solve. But Lily undergoes a drastic transformation over the course of the novel, evolving from a woman who cannot make sense of the shapes and colors that she tries to reproduce into an artist who achieves her vision and, more important, overcomes the anxieties that have kept her from it. By the end of the novel, Lily, a serious and diligent worker, puts into practice all that she has learned from Mrs. Ramsay. Much like the woman she so greatly admires, she is able to craft something beautiful and lasting from the ephemeral materials around her—the changing light, the view of the bay. Her artistic achievement suggests a larger sense of completeness in that she finally feels united with Mr. Ramsay and the rational, intellectual sphere that he represents.

James Ramsay
A sensitive child, James is gripped by a love for his mother that is as overpowering and complete as his hatred for his father. He feels a murderous rage against Mr. Ramsay, who, he believes, delights in delivering the news that there will be no trip to the lighthouse. But James grows into a young man who shares many of his father’s characteristics, the same ones that incited such anger in him as a child. When he eventually sails to the lighthouse with his father, James, like Mr. Ramsay, is withdrawn, moody, and easily offended. His need to be praised, as noted by his sister Cam, mirrors his father’s incessant need for sympathy, reassurance, and love. Indeed, as they approach the lighthouse, James considers his father’s profile and recognizes the profound loneliness that stamps both of their personalities. By the time the boat lands, James’s attitude toward his father has changed considerably. As he softens toward Mr. Ramsay and comes to accept him as he is, James, like Lily, who finishes her painting on shore at that very moment, achieves a rare, fleeting moment in which the world seems blissfully whole and complete. The Window: Chapters I-IV
Chapter I The novel opens with Mrs. Ramsay assuring her son James that the weather will be nice enough tomorrow for a trip to the Lighthouse. As James entertains himself by cutting out pictures, Mr. Ramsay asserts that the weather will not be fine, which provokes James to want to impale and kill his father. Mrs. Ramsay knits a stocking for the Lighthouse keeper's little boy, who has a tuberculous hip. Charles Tansley agrees with Mr. Ramsay about the unlikelihood of going to the Lighthouse the next day, and Mrs. Ramsay reflects on the fact that neither she nor her children find him agreeable; he is odious and self-centered. After dinner, the eight Ramsay children go to their rooms. Mrs. Ramsay considers them too critical, noting that they focus too much on the differences between people. She has errands to run in town and invites Charles Tansley to join her. On the lawn, they pass Mr. Carmichael.

Mrs. Ramsay and Charles Tansley enjoy each other's company on the walk, although Mrs. Ramsay pities him. They walk out onto the quay and gaze at the Lighthouse before Mrs. Ramsay stops in to run an errand at a house in town. Charles Tansley waits for her there, and as she silently comes down the stairs, he finds her exceptionally beautiful. He feels proud to accompany her back to the house, holding her bag. Chapters II-III Back at home, Mr. Ramsay again tells James that a trip to the Lighthouse will not be possible. Mrs. Ramsay is angry that he is continuing to disappoint their son. In an attempt to console James, Mrs. Ramsay looks through a magazine to find a picture of a rake or a mowing-machine for him to cut out as an engaging challenge. She hears the sound of men talking in the background, and their voices soothe her. She compares their voices to the sound of the waves beating against the shore--guarding, supportive, and constant. She also muses, however, that the sound of the waves represents destruction and ephemerality. Mrs. Ramsay comes across a picture of a pocket-knife for James to cut. She then looks out the window and notices Lily Briscoe on the lawn, remembering that Lily is painting her portrait and that she is supposed to keep her head steady. Chapter IV Out on the lawn, Lily Briscoe stands alert by her painting, keeping "a feeler on her surroundings" to prevent people from looking at it. She is extremely finicky about having her work viewed by anyone but William Bankes, who approaches her. Lily and Mr. Bankes reside in the village, and they have developed an alliance out of their brief conversations and their frequent encounters. Mr. Bankes respects Lily's good sense and orderliness. Suddenly, Mr. Bankes and Lily notice Mr. Ramsay, in a private moment, glaring and saying, "Someone had blundered." At this moment, Mr. Bankes suggests that he and Lily take a stroll. It is with difficulty that she turns her eyes from the picture, contemplating with quiet desperation the difficulty of translating her artistic vision directly to the canvas. The two companions stroll off in "the usual direction" toward the break in the hedge at which they can see the bay, the place where they walk every evening. Watching the waves, Lily is saddened by the realization that distant views outlast the people who gaze upon them. Mr. Bankes reflects on his friendship with Mr. Ramsay, and on a past time on Westmorland Road when Mr. Ramsay had showed his simplicity by admiring a group of small chicks. It was at this time that their friendship had ceased and had become dependent on repetition. He considers Mr. Ramsay's life and how his children both add something to his life and destroy part of it. Lily urges Mr. Bankes to "think of [Mr. Ramsay's] work," for which she has the utmost admiration. Ever since Andrew told her to think of the subject of his work by imagining a kitchen table when no one is there to see it, she sees a scrubbed kitchen table when she thinks of Mr. Ramsay's work. Mr. Bankes believes that Mr. Ramsay is among the men who have finished their best work by the time they are forty. Indeed, Mr. Ramsay made a serious contribution to the field of philosophy at the age of 25 and has merely amplified or repeated this work since. Though Lily has a keen respect for Mr. Ramsay's intelligence, she finds him vain and believes that Mr. Bankes is a finer man. Arousing them from their thoughts, Jasper shoots a gun, scattering a flock of birds into the sky. Again, Mr. Ramsay proclaims, "Some one had blundered!" with intense and tragic emotion that causes him both shame and indulgent revelry. Analysis

The opening chapters of the novel firmly establish several of the main characters. Mrs. Ramsay immediately appears as a nurturing and domestic woman whose beauty is of particular interest to those who know her. Her roles as wife and mother form the center of her universe, and she has a burning desire to please her family and guests. Mr. Ramsay, on the other hand, is guided strictly by rationality and intellect. To his wife's dismay, he can be inconsiderate in his desire to live by truth. He is infinitely practical and self-absorbed, and his repeated expostulation that "someone had blundered" initiates his pattern of loudly and publicly voicing his cerebral anguish. He lives very much inside his own head, not even noticing Lily and Mr. Bankes on the lawn. These opening chapters also provide a thorough initial portrait of Lily. She is very private and somewhat anxious, and despite her recognition of Mr. Ramsay's vanity, she loves the family very deeply and feels very loyal. One of the great innovations of modernist novels is the stream of consciousness technique, whereby the writer tries to capture a character's unbroken flow of internal thoughts. Thus an author can describe the unspoken thoughts and feelings of a character without the devices of objective narration or dialogue. In To the Lighthouse,Virginia Woolf makes constant use of this technique, and it is established as the predominant style from the beginning. In this novel, the action occurs not in the outside world but in the thoughts and feelings of the characters as exhibited by the ongoing narrative. Although there is a narrative voice apart from any of the characters, a large portion of the narrative consists of the exposition of each characters' consciousness. Some sections use entire pages without letting an objective voice interrupt the flow of thoughts of a single character. As a literary device, stream of consciousness was perhaps the most fitting counterpart to contemporary work being done by Sigmund Freud regarding the existence and function of the human unconscious. Freud newly posited the theory that there is a portion of the mind to which we do not have complete access, with the implication that we cannot know all of our own thoughts, fears, motivations, and desires. Writers and artists of this period were intrigued by this concept, and they sought in various ways to depict and illuminate the human unconscious. Although stream of consciousness (as its name implies) is the illumination of thoughts and feelings that characters consciously experience, Woolf reaches much further into the human mind than a conventional narrative about the past, providing an intimate view of a character's interiority. Woolf not only expresses the flow of each character's thoughts, but she also weaves them together into a narrative that flows seamlessly from one character's thoughts to another's without any obvious break or disruption. Woolf was also a master of a related literary form called free indirect discourse, in which the identity of the narrator is not entirely clear. The novel abounds with dialogue that is not demarcated by quotation marks, as well as phrases and passages that could easily be spoken or merely thought. This form of narration is told in the third person, but it conveys a sense of the character's internal thoughts from the character's own experience, thereby expressing these thoughts somewhere between a first-person and third-person mode of narrative. Woolf's use of stream of consciousness and free indirect discourse enhance the themes of the novel. To the Lighthouse forcefully conveys the subjective experience of reality, and the proliferation of stream of consciousness indicates that a person's experience cannot be truly viewed through the objective lens of a third party. Instead, Woolf suggests that reality is more like the accumulation of the various perspectives and experiences of individuals. Mrs. Ramsay, for instance, cannot be accurately described by one person. She can only be fully understood as the collection of different impressions of her.

Similarly, the narrative chain that Woolf creates, linking the consciousness of various characters in an unbroken flow, emphasizes the connections between people that Mrs. Ramsay always tries to establish. Though each character is separate, their influence and dependence on one other is undeniable. Their interwoven thoughts form the narrative quilt, and they both propel one another's experiences and emerge from one another's perspectives.

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