In the early 1920s, American people were struggling to come into terms with various gender, cultural, and social norms that hindered success of some of members of the society. For instance, during this time, American women were fighting for their own sovereignty from male domineering. The climax for this fight was reached in 1926 when women were eventually accorded suffrage rights.
Later, absorption of women in formal employment tremendously increased so that, by the end of the Second World War, an incredibly large number of American women population could access formal employment functioning in the jobs competitively as their male counterparts.
The achievement means that early 1920s marked the beginning of the era in which women ceased to be predominantly accustomed to domestic chores as dictated by societal norms defining gender roles in earlier years. Literature works function to reflect changes in society by challenging and ridiculing certain societal norms, which the author of such works feels that they impair the collective development of the society.
This paper scrutinises Virginia Woolfe’s literary work To the Lighthouse and Apparatus and Hand by Salvador Dali in the effort to dig out common themes that are reflective of the 1927 contemporary societal approaches to gender, culture, historical events, and representation of different types of people.
Comparative Analysis of Themes
The novel To the Lighthouse by Woolfe constitutes three main parts namely the window, time pass, and the lighthouse. The novel’s part one setting is based in a summer home belonging to Ramsay located in isle of Skype in Hebrides. The piece starts by James being guaranteed by his mother, Mrs. Ramsay that, come the following day, the two would tour the lighthouse.
However, Mr. Ramsay is opposed to this decision by claiming that the weather would not be clear. Hence, the trip was impossible. This very incident draws much controversy between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Indeed, in the following chapters, the discussion of the relationship between the two is discussed in the context of the tension created by the controversy. The controversy presents opposing and emerging new approaches to families on who would be the decision maker in the 1920’s.
Similarly, the painting figure of Dali is surrounded by women images. These metaphors are an illustration of the contemplation that runs across the brains of the device. From the proportionality of the painting, it is evident that the apparatus assumes the largest surface area of the painting while the female images take the lesser space, yet the similes are many.
Arguably, this strategy sends sound message that the apparatus is domineering and in control over the female images that surround it. The centrality of the apparatus in the painting also shows how effective its voice of command is on the surrounding images. In this sense, the painting portrays gender themes characterising the early1920’s American society in which men took central roles in the society with women being given minimal chances to make decisions.
Directly congruent to the manner in which the female images surround the main apparatus of the painting, women in this period were supposed to obey and respect the decisions and opinions of men, whether they were wrong or right notwithstanding. The fact that the creature is surrounded by many female images and that the images represent what is running in the minds of the apparatus implies that the creature was erotic. This argument perhaps justifies the polygamy nature of the early 19th century society.
Arguably, the argument also means that the creature is pleased by having many females around it. In this sense, the apparatus may be interpreted as believing that women are objects of pleasing it, which perhaps measures up to the early 19th century perception of held against women. They were supposed to remain at home and be involved in the familial chores. This life was highly dependent on the mercies of men who were accepted as the sole breadwinners.
The presentation of dominance of one gender in the early 19th century societies is also evident in To the Lighthouse. Mr. Ramsay does not consider the decisions of his wife to take a trip to the lighthouse with her children as right. He immensely opposes it. Both live within the same place. However, it seems that Mrs. Ramsay does not understand the fact that bad weather could impede the success of their journey due to lack of clarity. Does this mean that women are less endowed with the ability to evaluate the implication of their decisions?
While the above query would be dismissed in the cotemporary modern society, in Virginia Woolfe and Salvador Dali’s time, it was a subject of controversy. This case is evidenced by the fact the relationship of Mr. Ramsay and Mrs. Mr. Ramsay cites very good reason on why it would be impossible to visit the lighthouse.
However, it is arguable that Mrs. Ramsey treats the opposition of her decision as perhaps being based on the deep-seated cultural norms that men should dominate over women and that they are the overall decision makers in families. This argument is perhaps more evident in part one through consideration of the dominant believe that some jobs were only a reserve of men.
Consequently, women were less suited to such jobs. In the novel, Briscoe, among other colleagues and friends to Ramsey, joins their house. Briscoe is a young woman painter who is just starting her career. She is plagued by the Tansley’s ideologies that women cannot write or even paint. This belief is a significant indicator of the perception of males domineering in some fields since Tansley is an adorable admirer of the philosophical treatises of the Mr. Ramsay.
He was greatly impacted by Mr. Ramsay decisions not to take the trip because the weather would not be clear. While it is common knowledge that bad weather resulting in loss of vision clarity may impair navigation and sailing, from the presentation of Mrs. Ramsay, it is not common sense among women. This argument perhaps shows that women cannot make good decisions. They often put their lives in danger if men do not question their decisions.
Reflection of gender themes in the two works speak volumes of both authors’ attempt to explore gender oppression ideals held by the early 19th century society. In the To the Lighthouse, women appear unable to make substantive decisions. The right denied reminiscences the period preceding 1926 when woman were deprived of suffrage rights.
They would not be able to elect leaders who would be of help to the society just as Mrs. Ramsay would not understand that bad weather could be hazardous and often lead to the curtailing of her trip to the lighthouse midway. Female gender found itself in a bad situation in the early 19th century by consideration of presentation of women as objects for satisfying erotic desires of the central creature (apparatus) in Dali’s painting.
Any literature work is based on the experiences of people as humanity moves from one generation to another. This argument also applies to Virginia Woolfe’s literary work To the Lighthouse and Apparatus and Hand by Salvador Dali. For instance, the struggle for cognition of women as equal to men in social domains is a significant theme that recurs in both works.
At the time of Dali’s painting, it is evident that gender perceptions have enormously changed as evidenced by the posed female image placed on the right of the painting to “contrast the geometric simplicity of the centre image” (Moorhous 45). The existence of a female image, which is disjointed from other images that surround the main apparatus, shows that women have by far extent overcome the historical perceptions of erosion of their independence.
In To the Lighthouse, the theme of historical events is developed through categorisation of characters such as Mr. Tansley who still believes that, consistent with traditions, women still cannot perform certain tasks, which are reserved for men such as writing and painting. The analogy of this historical change is striking in the two works, which also happen to be written in 1927 since Dali’s painting also portrays an evolved 1927 woman ready to face competition with the apparatus.
Dali created his painting upon his return from war. As a historical event shaping human race from generation to generation, war often results to loss of life and other massive damages to societal fabrics. The degree of such loss is exemplified by the donkey creature in the painting, which is bounded by a mass of flies eating its tummy. This technique means that the donkey is undergoing the decomposition process, meaning that it is already dead.
Representation of People
In both To the Lighthouse and Apparatus and Hand, people are presented as resistant to change even in the light of the new dawn. For instance, in the painting by Dali, although women’s struggle during the 1920s yielded incredible fruits in appreciation of the significance of ensuring that they had equal rights with men, some women still clinched on the status quo.
Women who surrounded the apparatus exemplify this case yet a new breed of women was freely exercising its own rights as guaranteed to it through legislative enactments of 1920’s.
The historical experience of people is explored through the presentation of theme of war and its aftermaths. The section also digs into the perspectives of passing of time, existence of time absence in people’s lives, and the realities of death. In the ten-year historical timeline, the four years of suffering of humanity articulated to the First World War comes and finally ends.
Within the same ten years, Mrs. Ramsay also dies while Prue also succumbs to complications she encountered as she gave birth. Andre also dies during the wanton years. Tantamount to the first part, the roles of women in society are also addressed in the second part. The author argues that, following the death of Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay has no one to comfort coupled with praising him in the days of fear and anguish relating to longevity of his much-adored philosophical work.
In the last part of the novel To the Lighthouse, following the events that took place in part one, some of Ramsay’s friends go back to their summer homes ten years later.
Although Ramsay was opposed to taking the journey to the lighthouse in the first part, he finally accepts the idea and requests his daughter and son, James and Cam respectively, to accompany him. Nevertheless, the two siblings protest for been forced to accompany their father but remain silent due to the immense fear they have for their farther. James manages to ensure that the boat sails smoothly.
In this journey, one comes to learn that men as presented in the first part were chauvinistic and harsh towards not only their wives but also their children. James evidences this assertion when the author informs that, during the journey; James anticipated harsh words from his father. However, instead, in the entire journey, he received words of praise, something that provided “a rare moment of empathy between father and son” (Woolfe 56).
It is also during this journey that Cam’s negative attitude towards her farther was altered from “resentment to eventual admiration” (Woolfe 43). Arguably, their journey also presents a change of events and acceptance of the fact that women can equally perform the tasks, which were traditionally perceived as men’s discipline because it is during the journey that Lily manages to complete her painting, which was otherwise only mentally painted throughout the novel.
In the two works, people are presented as unable to preserve their own experiences as they descend from one generation to another. This argument is perhaps also valid in the modern day. Dali’s painting still holds and carries the same message as its creator intended as it stands at the Salvador museum.
Comparatively, Mr. Ramsay deploys valid mechanisms of ensuring that life remains amply significant. In this effort, Mr. Ramsay is driven by his philosophical approaches to growth of people’s thoughts to ensure that their affiliations to various perceived norms remain relevant.
On the other hand, Mrs. Ramsay is incredibly guided by her experiences of her social interactions to attaching meaning to her life experiences. This comparison presents two people who seem to belong to different generations although living in the same era. One generation represented by Mr. Ramsay is guided by the developments of the power of human thought to construct and attach meaning to life while the other, represented by Mrs. Ramsay, is still deeply ingrained in the traditional approaches to life experiences.
Culture is an important aspect of people’s life. The use of the term culture incorporates the artefact, which defines people’s way of life. In a broader context, culture defines also the deeply seated perceptions that are passed from one person to another within a society. Culture defines what all members subscribing to the ideologies of a given society ought to do and what they ought not to do. However, such ideologies are widely criticised by both To the Lighthouse and Apparatus and Hand.
In the Apparatus and Hand, one sees liberated woman who violate the culture of overdependence on the gigantic and superior figures in society, men. Currently, the work is located in the Salvador museum at St. Petersburg in the state of Florida. The painting displays a well thought cultural geometric figure, which has a protruding red hand from its head. The figure is made of triangles and cones. As Moorhous informs, “Ghostly images of nude female figures and torsos superimposed on a blue watery dreamscape surround the structure” (17).
The interpretation themes and the intended message conveyed by the painting may be attributed to themes of historic war bearing in mind that Dali did the painting upon his coming back home from a nine-month long war during, which he was deployed for a military duty. Dali lived in the Freudian period. Therefore, his painting was highly inspired by Freud’s line of thought.
In To the Lighthouse, women have refused to subscribe to the culture that subverts their place and roles in society. For instance, Lily Briscoe does not desire at all to engage in matrimony.
Rather, she is committed in engaging in the formal work much similar to people like Mr. Bankes and Mr. Ramsay. Her independency from the cultural practices, which see women as inferior in society is made clear by her presentation as an independent woman who disregards chauvinistic perceptions held by Mr. Tansley that women are incapable of painting.
This idea coupled with the idea of refusing to give in her life to any man makes her unconventional woman in the context of the 1920’s American culture. A similar approach to cultural norms is also exhibited and echoed by Cam, Rose, and Nancy who believe that their mothers’ perception that women are limited to domestic work is overtaken by events.
Women who are at home with the culture of curving their lives are presented as open to disaster in the future. For instance, while Prue succumbs to childbirth complications, Mrs. Ramsay’s demise comes at a much early age in relation to people’s anticipations. Minta also suffers her marriage when her husband abandons her for another woman who does not comply with conventional culture subverting the place of women in the society.
In the early1920’s, the American society was undergoing intensive progressive changes. It was in this time that the First World War was experienced where women succeeded in the fights for their rights including suffrage rights and incorporation in the formal employment similar to their male counterparts.
This means there were changes in the culture of the Americans. People began to be guided by the new insights of equality of all human beings irrespective of their gender or any other demographic factor. The above issues stand out well in the two texts that have been discussed in the paper.
Despite the time gap, any literature or history fanatic who is interested in getting a clear picture of issues as they unfolded in the 1920s will find the two works helpful. Any work of literature serves the principle function of recording historical experiences of a society coupled with offering criticism to some of the norms that an author feels are largely misplaced.
Therefore, the study argues that both To the Lighthouse, written by Virginia Woolfe, and Apparatus and Hand, written by Salvador Dali, depict themes such as recording of historical events, gender role subversion, cultural changes, and representation of people in various ways.
Moorhous, Paul. Dali. New York, NY: PRC Publishing, 1990. Print.
Woolfe, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. New York, NY: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990. Print.