Modern & Contemporary Fiction
To The Lighthouse Essay
March 27, 2018
In the novel To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf the character of Mrs. Ramsay is portrayed as light; she carries out the novel by being a guide to most characters when they’re faced with their own struggles. One of the first things that she says in the novel is “yes” which portrays her in a positive light and willing to do things for others without hesitation. Her husband, Mr. Ramsay is a philosopher and often times finds himself struggling with confidence, he portrays himself as a failure from the books that he has written. As Mr. Ramsay’s wife, Mrs. Ramsay helps him with these struggles by enriching him with positive thinking when he is feeling low to make him feel better about himself. She is a stellar mother figure, she is kind, sweet, and caring. Mrs. Ramsay is the heart of the novel, the center figure that brings all the characters together. She believes in marriage, and feels that men and women are undoubtedly meant to be together. Her beliefs in marriage tend to break relationships or cause frustration. For example, she wants Lily to be with Tansley, but Lily does not want to be married, especially to Tansley because he has offended her by saying, “women can’t paint, women can’t write” (48). Although Lily does not like that fact that her Mrs. Ramsay wants her to marry, she still cares for Mrs. Ramsay and her opinions. Through out the novel we begin to notice that Mrs. Ramsay is always doing a task in favor of another person, her actions portray a sense of her not worrying about herself, yet she is curious about other characters’ lives, this explains why she is the heart of the novel.
The novel opens up with Mrs. Ramsay’s son James asking to go to the lighthouse. In response she says that he may go tomorrow if the weather is nice. James looks up to his mother and sees her as the best thing in the world. Where as for Mr. Ramsay in James’s eye is the complete opposite, he isn’t fond of his father. When James asked to go to the lighthouse Mr. Ramsay becomes mean to his son James and doesn’t want to take him to the lighthouse. James has this sort of Oedipus complex with his father, he see’s his mother as the best thing on earth, and his father being better off dead. James would rather love his mother than to have his father in the family. While Mrs. Ramsay is talking to James she is knitting a stocking for the lighthouse keeper’s little boy. This shows that Mrs. Ramsay is not only a caring woman for her eight children and husband, she also cares for others around her. For example, when she sees that Tansley is feeling left out, she offers that he come with her to the market. She also asks Mr. Carmichael, a man sitting on a lawn when they’re about to leave if he too would like anything while she is out. As Tansley and Mrs. Ramsay walk into town Mrs. Ramsay talks to him, and in doing so she lifts his spirts. Through out the novel Mrs. Ramsay does this which many characters by talking she brings them out of a mood of sorrow and brings them back up again.
Tansley offers to hold her bags for her, but she insists on carrying them herself. She has a way of bringing those around her into better moods and she does it so beautifully. Beauty is Mrs. Ramsay, while her husband is the brains she is the beauty. Going out of her way to throw these lovely dinner parties, and be the best wife that she can be because that to her, is her job.
When Tansley is talking to Mrs. Ramsay and crying out his sob story she finds him to be a bore, but still, she lets him talk as a way of recovery. As they’re talking Mrs. Ramsay discovers that Tansley has never been to a circus. After seeing an advertisement for the circus, she kindly offers that they should all go.
The both of them come to the quay and stop to enjoy the view, she talks to Tansley about how much her husband loves the view; talking about how painters come there to paint. Mrs. Ramsay discusses how painters paint now compared to how her grandmother used to paint, and the certain technique she used when she did paint. Soon before both her and Tansley return from running errands she stops in to talk to some old woman, charity service. As they get back, Mrs. Ramsay over hears Tansley telling James that the weather is going to be awful tomorrow, right then her dislike for Tansley intensifies. As she sits back down in her rocking chair she brings out a catalog to cut out a picture of a lawn-mower for her son, James. James enjoys scrapbooking, she is shocked when the men stop talking but concludes that Tansley will soon be leaving. She is happy with this because Tansley has hurt James. Mrs. Ramsay comforts James by saying that she doesn’t know what they weather will be like tomorrow, James is still really upset if he cannot go.
Mrs. Ramsay and Lily have this love hate relationship. Because Mrs. Ramsay is so set on marriage and how everyone should be married and Lily doesn’t believe in marriage they tend to but heads. Lily enjoys painting, the home of the Ramsay family is a beautiful scenic view perfect for Lily to keep up with her hobby of painting. As Lily is painting, Mrs. Ramsay remember she must keep her head down, as she does this she gets the idea that Lily and William should marry. Yet, remembering that Lily will never get married to then again bow her head down for Lily’s portrait. “Lily’s picture! Mrs. Ramsay smiled. With her little Chinese eyes and her puckered-up face, she would never marry; one could not take her painting very seriously; she was an independent little creature, and Mrs. Ramsay liked her for it; so, remembering her promise, she bent her head” (21). Mrs. Ramsay can not make Lily marry nor can she change her mind, and even though Lily sees Mrs. And Mr. Ramsay’s relationship as having more meaning than her own life, she still will not marry.
Mrs. Ramsay takes the pair of stockings she has been knitting and puts them up against James leg, they are too short. She then tells him to stand straight, still, too short. She continues to knit the stocking, kisses James, and tells him to run off and continue scrapbooking. Mr. Ramsay begins to walk over and already Mrs. Ramsay can see in his eyes a sense of distraught. They begin to talk about Tansley and the trip to the lighthouse, Mrs. Ramsay still believes that James can go. Mrs. Ramsay explains to her husband that it is wrong to crush hope, as she bends her head down he soon feels bad, for what he had done was wrong. He then feels like a failure and Mrs. Ramsay once again consoles him and boosts his ego. When Mr. Ramsay leaves Mrs. Ramsay sort of crumples for she doesn’t like feeling better than her husband, but with how insecure he is at times it’s hard for her not to. She then continues reading James a bed time story.
Mr. Carmichael moves quickly past Mrs. Ramsay and she asks him if he is going indoors, he doesn’t respond to her. The novel begins to take a turn at this moment looking into Mrs. Ramsay’s past. Mrs. Ramsay goes out of her way to be nice to Mr. Carmichael, she believes that he doesn’t trust her because of his deceased wife. Mr. Carmichael has taken an opium, which as the children say stains his beard. Mrs. Ramsay thinks and believes that Mr. Carmichael stays with the Ramsay family each year as an escape because he is unhappy. Her efforts to be nice to him go unnoticed and in doing so it brings out pettiness in Mrs. Ramsay’s character. She continues to read to her son James the book The Fisherman and his Wife. Mrs. Ramsay calls out to her daughter Cam, she is stressing because Minta Doyle and Paul Rayley haven’t come back from a walk that they’ve been on, she pondered to herself the question of if they’re going to get married or not. James tugs on his mother to continue reading to him. Mrs. Ramsay tends to always wonder about other people and what is going on in their lives, never do we see her wondering about herself and how she is feeling. As she continues to read to James, she still thinks about Minta, and remembers her obligation to Minta’s parents, the Owl and the Poker a nickname Mrs. Ramsay has given to them. Mrs. Ramsay remembers Mrs. Doyle saying that she was manipulative and has taken away the affection of Minta towards her mother. The affection that Mrs. Doyle wanted from her daughter, Minta Mrs. Ramsay has somehow taken that away. With all of this going on in Mrs. Ramsay’s mind she then thinks to herself that she never wants her children to grow old.
The happiness that her children are experiencing now as children will soon go away. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay argue about how she never wants her children to lose happiness and she doesn’t want them to grow up. Mrs. Ramsay then shifts back to thinking about Minta and if she has put too much pressure on Minta to marry Paul. She then finishes reading The Fisherman and his Wife and worries that James will always have a memory of never going to the lighthouse. Finally, with all the children in bed Mrs. Ramsay has time to herself to sit and think. She sits and watches the lighthouse.
Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay are walking past the greenhouse which needs to be fixed up, Mrs. Ramsay is hesitant on telling her husband the cost and she thinks on this quite frequently. The cost is fifty pounds, instead of her bringing up the cost she changes topics and begins discussing with Mr. Ramsay Jasper’s interest in shooting defenseless creatures. She explains that this is natural and he is sure to grow out of it. In this scene in particular it stood out to me that when it comes to money Mrs. Ramsay shy’s away from talking about the things that she wants and focuses on the family. She always focuses on the family and what is going on in everyone else’s life. Although this shows that Mrs. Ramsay cares for others more than herself it’s quite sad that she can’t ask her husband to help her, or make her happy in some way as she does for him a plethora of times. Her and Mr. Ramsay talk about Tansley and others, yet he still doesn’t see his wife for what she is, beauty. What the both of them seem to find attractive in one another is when Mr. Ramsay hopes that Andrew gets a scholarship so he can be proud of Andrew, while Mrs. Ramsay will always be proud of Andrew.
Soon it comes time for the children to come back and Mrs. Ramsay starts to worry, Mr. Ramsay comforts her reassuring that everything will be ok. Mrs. Ramsay also worried that if she had not been married to her husband then he could have written better books. Mr. Ramsay once again reassures her that this is not true, and kisses her hand. As the two of them are walking along a path Mrs. Ramsay feels her husbands arm and even though he his sixty years old his arm feels like that of a young man. She begins thinking about how Mr. Ramsay cannot understand the simple and ordinary things in life, yet he thinks about the complex things in life much like his work of study, philosophy. Mrs. Ramsay begins to take care of her flowers and inspects the garden as she looks out she sees Lily and William Banks walking and in her head she believes that the two must get married. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay watch a girl throwing a ball and smiles over at Lily and William Banks. Mrs. Ramsay is delighted to hear that William Banks will be joining them for dinner.
Prue runs in from playing and Mrs. Ramsay asks if Nancy was with them, Prue says yes. Jasper and Rose help Mrs. Ramsay get ready for dinner time, Mrs. Ramsay watches out the window and purposefully allows Rose to choose the necklace she will be wearing for the dinner party. Dinner is almost ready, Mrs. Ramsay picks out the shawl she wants to wear for the evening and Jasper, Rose, and Mrs. Ramsay all head to the dinner table. Even though Mrs. Ramsay feels that she was too involved in Minta and Pauls engagement she is still curious to find out if they have finally tide the knot to be engaged, Mrs. Ramsay knows that she must keep quite. As Mrs. Ramsay walks down the stair case it’s almost as if she feels that she is a queen walking towards her people. This dinner party for Mrs. Ramsay is of grave importance, she thinks about her whole life up to this point as she sets out dinner plates and organizes where everyone will be sitting. “But what have I done with my life?” laments Mrs. Ramsay as the dinner scene gets under way. She had a sense of being past everything, through everything, out of everything, as she helped the soup, as if there was an eddy—there—and one could be in it, or one could be out of it, and she was out of it” (85). As Mrs. Ramsay serves the soup she thinks that there is a divide between her guest and her surroundings are poor in that moment. When setting up the table Mrs. Ramsay had sat Lily and William Banks apart from one another. “Foolishly, she had set them opposite each other. That could be remedied tomorrow” (106). Yet, Mrs. Ramsay had grander plans of where people were going to sit. “Oh, but nonsense, she thought; William must marry Lily. They have so many things in common” (106).
Virginiad Woolf describes the dinner party as if someone was looking at a painting. Mrs. Ramsay is “taking her place at the head of the table, and looking at all the plates making white circles on it…an indefinitely long table and plates and knives” (p. 85). After looking at the painting and the physical aspects portrayed, then the deeper meaning comes across when the candles are lite and how the fruits are arranged. “the flames stood upright and drew with them into visibility the long table entire, and in the middle a yellow and purple dish of fruit” (99). Woolf then goes into Mrs. Ramsay’s mind and what she is thinking about. “What had she done with it, Mrs. Ramsay wondered, for Rose’s arrangement of the grapes and pears, of the horny pink-lined shell, of the bananas, made her think of a trophy fetched from the bottom of the sea, of Neptune’s banquet, of the bunch that hangs with vine leaves over the shoulder of Bacchus, among the leopard skins and the torches lolloping red and gold. Thus brought up suddenly into the light it seemed possessed of great size and depth, was like a world in which one could take one’s staff and climb hills, she thought, and go down into valleys” (99). Mrs. Ramsay main goal at this dinner party is to bring unity and to create beauty. She strikes up a conversation with William Banks, it is clear to Lily that Mrs. Ramsay feel pity toward William Banks. It’s because she not only wants to pity him, she needs to feel pity for him. She needs him to be pitiful. Mrs. Ramsay and William Banks discuss about letters, soon Mrs. Ramsay feels pitiful for Mr. Tansley so she includes him into the conversation.
Mrs. Ramsay talks to Williams Banks about an old friend of hers, Carrie. She feels bad that her friend has moved away and she hasn’t thought of her in years. Mrs. Ramsay asks Mr. Tansley if he is a good sailor, he prepares himself to explain how talented he is but decides not to brag about himself and simply states that he never gets seasick. Mrs. Ramsay looks down at her daughter, Lily and gives her this look of how she should comfort Mr. Tansley for he is odd and needs reassurance. Mrs. Ramsay looks down the table at Mr. Ramsay and sees that he is angered that Augustus Carmichael has asked for another bowl of soup. Mrs. Ramsay knows that her husband’s hates when others ask for a second serving if he has already finished his meal. Augustus doesn’t pick up on social norms, nor does he follow them. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay at opposite ends of the table begin to have a metal argument with one another. Nancy and Roger about to laugh at their father, Mrs. Ramsay calls for the candles to be lit. A smile from Minta and Mrs. Ramsay assumes that her smile must mean that she has gotten engaged to Paul Rayley, this sparks jealousy in Mrs. Ramsay and she begins to reflect on her engagement with her husband. The “Bouef en Daube” is set on the table, Mrs. Ramsay leans over to Paul Rayley and asks him to tell her what had happened. Paul says, “we” and right there Mrs. Ramsay knows that him and Minta are engaged. The “Bouef en Daube” is revealed and Mrs. Ramsay explains that the recipe was that of her grandmother’s, it’s a strew traditionally made with less tender cuts of meat. Everyone worships Mrs. Ramsay and is thankful for the dinner as she talks about the vegetable skins.
Mrs. Ramsay then peeks interest to the other side of the table where they’re talking about numbers and philosophers, she monitors this conversation hoping that it doesn’t lead to her husband thinking about all of his failures in his past. Mrs. Ramsay then gets up to depart from the table, as she looks over her shoulder she realizes that the dinner is now a part of the past. In this part of the novel, Time passes Mrs. Ramsay is confronted with her own sense of where she is in time.
As the night comes to an end Mrs. Ramsay goes to check on the children to make sure everyone is in bed and asleep. She is disappointed to find that her son, James and Cam are still awake. Mrs. Ramsay covers a pig skull on the wall of Cam’s room with her shawl she was wearing earlier and reads bedtime stories until Cam fell asleep. Mrs. Ramsay turns her attention to James who asks if they are going to the light house tomorrow, she replies with no, but when the weather is good he can. After leaving the room, Mrs. Ramsay is greeted by Paul, Minta, and Prue, Mrs. Ramsay goes into a giggling phase like a little girl when the three of them ask to go to the beach. She says yes as long as one of them has a watch, which Paul does. Mrs. Ramsay signals that she wants to go with them, but something is holding her back. She joins her husband in another room where he is reading, she continues to knit her stocking as she watches her husband read. Her mind is troubled with thoughts of her husbands worry of what legacy his books will leave behind. When she is knitting she recites words of a poem from the dinner party and picks up a book and begins reading. Without her knowing, her husband, Mr. Ramsay is looking at her and she truly just how beautiful she is and is in awe of her. When she notices her husband is looking at her, she is troubled to find something to say to him so she tells him that Paul and Minta are engaged.
They continue to make awkward conversation and exchange a series of glances at one another. Mr. Ramsay longs for his wife to say “I love you”. Mrs. Ramsay thinks of something she can do, fix his coat or something. She is at a loss so she decides to watch the ocean. She never ends up telling her husband that she loves him. Finally, she turns around and smiles at him and explains that he is right and that they won’t be able to go to the light house tomorrow.
Soon after Mrs. Ramsay dies. Years pass by and the novel ends with a trip to the light house with Mr. Ramsay, Lily, and James. Lily began to cry thinking about Mrs. Ramsay and how she never listened to her and maybe she should have gotten married. Mrs. Ramsay played such a significant part in many of the characters lives from comforting her husband when he needed, to making sure that everyone was happy. Even though she passes away in the novel she is still very much alive in the memories of those who loved her.