Tuesday, November 10, 2009

To the Lighthouse

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 12

One of the first things I noticed about To The Lighthouse was the division of the three chapters and the titles of each chapter. From my work with the fiction of Katherine Mansfield and a previous blog post regarding Virginia Woolf's A Room of Ones Own, the chapter entitled "The Window" struck me as deeply meaningful. As I discussed before I believe windows have developed into a female metaphor, sometimes directly referencing the vagina and at other times simply as representation of the (Bloomsbury) female views, ideas, and struggles. The title "The Window" immediately struck me as just such a representation. Charles Tansley's comments to Lilly about woman’s inability to paint or write and Mr. Ramsay's childlike insecurities show the importance of the roll of the women, and at the same time how little faith is placed in the abilities of women. Mr. Ramsay seems to be yet another child in need of constant attention from his wife. He even resorts to upsetting his own son to obtain the attention he feels like he needs from the woman he married. Mrs. Ramsay reacts to this treatment with resilience and a practiced skill in soothing the egos and tempers of all her charges, Mr. Ramsay included. In "Modes of Disclosure in To the Lighthouse," author Lilienfield calls the readers attention to the animalistic description of Mr. Ramsay at dinner threatening to devour Minta Doyle with his "fangs" (101). This description reminded me not only of a vicious animal but also of a caged or trapped vicious animal that knows no better than to show its teeth in hopes of escape.

The chapter entitled "Time Passes" is true to its promise. Time passes quickly. The numerous deaths which occur in this portion of the story serve to highlight human beings infallible susceptibility to times passage. The title also serves to remind the reader that there will be several changes in the story which will directly affect the final chapter. Change is the operative word in this chapter. Change is inevitable and nothing can be taken for granted. Yet another element which sets this section apart from the other two is the brisk tone Virginia Woolf uses. This tone is strikingly different from the slow, meandering stream of consciousness (and Polyvocality as Lilienfield notes in "Modes of Disclosure in To the Lighthouse" (101)) tone used in the first and last sections of To the Lighthouse.

The final chapter "The Lighthouse" resumes the brisk tone familiar from the first chapter. The lighthouse itself seems to represent a phallic symbol in this final chapter. This symbolism is made all the more glaring when considering the window symbolism in the first section. The Ramsays are unable to visit the lighthouse when Mrs. Ramsay is alive, although she does her best to be encouraging in the face of her husband’s childish discouragement.

I noticed one final thing when reading and preparing for class. It seems that most of the critique and analysis written about To the Lighthouse focuses primarily on Mr. Ramsays character. Virginia Woolf made this character complex and thought provoking to serve a higher purpose but it seems that she has inadvertently placed all the emphasis on the male yet again! My research is limited due to time and article availability, but in reading two Lilienfield essays I noticed the focus seems to remain on Mr. Ramsay! I feel as if Woolf would be disappointed in some scholars dismissal of Mrs. Ramsay's character, which is not so controversial, but surly just as interesting and thought provoking.

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