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Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse Essay

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Updated: Mar 26th, 2019

Virginia Woolf’s “To the lighthouse” is a thoughtful novel that focuses on childhood emotions and adult relationships in a typical contemporary family. This is portrayed by different behaviors exhibited by characters of this novel.

This paper seeks to analyze the characters of this book and show the relationship that is shared among the characters. The paper will also describe the symbolism that ties the characters together and finally it will show their development at the end of the story.

Mrs. Ramsey is one of the main characters in this novel, and takes the lead role of bringing all the other characters together (Woolf 2). The writer describes her as a strong woman who acts as a mother not only to her family but also to other people surrounding her.

This is shown by the roles she plays in the novel which makes her image come out as caring, loving, and a wise woman. Her figure is seen as a house where others can find shelter.

Mrs. Ramsey depiction is symbolic in that she is seen as a source of light for the house where people can gather hope. Woolf uses this character to employ the technique of symbolism.

She explains the need for marriage between men and women saying that marriage was a must, even though her marriage was not perfect. She tries to soften the attitude that her husband posses due to his ego. She manages to change the attitude of her husband from the action of labor sharing at the end of part one (Woolf 117).

Mrs. Ramsey has the power to attract people with her beautiful looks and her passionate interaction. However, she has been criticized for damaging other people lives through her efforts to bring her family together. She tries to make people change to what she wants them to become (Woolf 43).

Her daughters, Prue, Nancy, and Rose disagree with her on various occasions. As a result of this disagreement, her daughters decide to take different paths in life. Mrs. Ramsey tries to show her womanhood through her activities like holding parties for dinner and raising her eight children.

She displays herself as a “superwoman” who is even capable of taking men’s responsibilities. She is not satisfied with her husband’s responsibilities as a husband and as a father (Woolf 50).

Mrs. Ramsey tries to expose her husband’s failure through her actions and it worries her that her husband cannot realize her efforts. The author depicts Mrs. Ramsey as a person who was able to care for all classes of people, including the rich and the poor.

In addition, she cared for those people with disabilities by showing them compassion and by fighting discrimination and gender inequality. Her gender roles are shown by the soft response she gives to her husband, who is depicted as rude. She is seen as role model by other people; this is shown by mourning of her death by her family and other people (Woolf 78).

Mr. Ramsey is initially seen as a brutal man who displays selfishness from the way he speaks and the words he uses to address people. After reading the novel, the reader realizes that he was suffering from his pride. He deeply interested in his achievements and his line of work.

His pride wanes when he realizes he was emotionally disturbed and is forced to seek help from his wife. This is also evident in part three when he begs for sympathy from lily in absence of his wife. Mr. Ramsey exhibits dictatorial moods when in stress; these are the times when he is rescued by his wife.

He struggles between being a scholar and fulfilling his domestic duties. However, with his big family, he found it difficult to concentrate on his work (Woolf 22).

James Ramsey is one of the sons of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey. At the beginning of the novel he is seen as a child of six years who had a passion for going to the lighthouse.

His father does not give him a chance to go to the lighthouse in part one; this is however different in part three when his father is forcing him to go to the light house. Woolf uses the lighthouse symbolically to depict the relationship that existed between James and his father.

The motherly relationship that existed between James and his mother was so strong that he wished that she was his dad. James even has a fantasy of stabbing his father so as to replace him with his mother (Woolf 45).

James is described as a normal person without any mental illness. His attitude towards his father shows how much he hated him. The return to the lighthouse is used to show the change of characters that was realized after the death of Mrs. Ramsey. James is seen in a reconciling mood with his father, a person he hated when his mother was alive.

Lily Briscoe is an artist who keeps on painting everything that she comes around. By painting, she tries to bring out the characters of people through imagery.

The relationship that exists between Lily and Mrs. Ramsey is full of criticism. Lily criticizes the idea of Mrs. Ramsey making decisions for others and not being supportive to other people’s choices. At the end of the story, Lily admired Mrs. Ramsey and wanted to be like her.

The relationship that exists between lily and men is much complicated in that she does not want to be married; instead she considers marriage as personal incapability to maintain creativity. Like Mr. Ramsey, lily is faced with a dilemma of trying to define her life. Nevertheless, she uses her paintings to come up with the answers. At some instance, she makes a painting of Mrs. Ramsey, a figure she profoundly admired and a figure she wanted to emulate (Woolf 48).

Charles Tansley is a guest to Mr. Ramsey and also his student. His role in the novel is to show a boundary between different classes of people. The relationship that exists between him and Mrs. William Bankes is also invited to the summer house as a friend of Mr. Ramsey.

He is widower who befriends lily. He adores Mrs. Ramsey but due to his friendship with Mr. Ramsey, he is forced to keep it down. His role in the novel is to bring out the characters of lily and Mrs. Ramsey, their stand on marriage, and the way they perceive men (Woolf 58).

Augustus Carmichael is depicted as person with his own unique lifestyle. He has his own principles which he maintains throughout the story. He is the only person who is resistant to the tricky traits of Mrs. Ramsey.

He is used in the novel to bring down the dominance of some characters and to neutralize the tension in the story. Through this character, the reader is able to see the human nature of Mrs. Ramsey.

Symbolism has been shown by use of certain words like lighthouse to show solidarity and transformation in the novel. Lighthouse as a form of solidarity has been used by the Ramsey family as way of showing their togetherness.

This structure remains even after ten years showing the stability that was initiated and left by Mrs. Ramsey. The light of the house gives way to allow the family to move on even when the dark falls. Lighthouse has been used to show the source of power for the family as they gain control over the house.

Waves have been used symbolically to show the obstacles faced by the characters in life. These challenges are constructive in that they make characters to be strong enough to move on, and in some occasions, they discourage the characters making them to give up.

These waves reveal themselves through the behaviors adopted by some characters, like bravely or ignorance. Waves are also not permanent; they come and go meaning they do not take away what is permanent like the light in the house (Woolf 102).

The window also has been used symbolically to give lily a chance to observe clearly what to paint. The paintings are her efforts to find answers about life.

The window clearly portrays Mrs. Ramsey as the center stage of the whole family over which everyone can look through. Lily looks through this window when painting Mrs. Ramsey in order to see her clearly, to understand her, and to enumerate her in life (Woolf 116).

Towards the end of the story, the skull has been used as a symbol of death for different characters. This happens towards the end of the novel like the death of Mrs. Ramsey.

The basket that was filled with fruits shows unity, even Carmichael refuses to disturb it so as not to break that unity. The idea of Mrs. Ramsey arranging them on the table shows her as the pillar to distribute and maintain this unity (Woolf 118).

In conclusion, “To the Lighthouse” is a symbolic title that is realized at the end of the story. The author chooses this to represent the family unity that becomes even more concrete at the end of the book.

The death of Mrs. Ramsey is painful but serves as an eye opener to her entire family. This is evident at the moment they go to the light house for the last time.

It also serves to show that the family’s hope was not taken away by the demise of one of its leader. “To the Lighthouse” is Woolf’s masterpiece that brings out a story of a huge family, the relationship between the members, their disagreements, and their common grounds.

Works Cited

Woolf, Virginia. To The Lighthouse. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

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