To the Lighthouse

Time is a recurring theme throughout Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. In Part I (The Window), Woolf stretches time, devoting the first 124 pages to a single day. This reflects the desire of some of the characters for time, that day, to stand still.  Mrs. Ramsay in particular wishes for them to always be together as they are in the dinner scene and for her youngest children, Andrew and Cam, to never grow old and suffer as she has.

In contrast, in Part II (Time Passes) ten years are compressed into approximately 20 pages. The passage of time is reflected by the deterioration of the house on the beach. While only a few words are devoted to the lives of its former inhabitants, the house’s increasingly poor state reflects their own experience over this period. The series of tragedies in the background of WWI are sudden and confusing. Their presentation in a short, objective, bracketed form disrupts the narrative and generates this effect. These years and events are then condensed into a few pages as they are slowly processed over many years. This reflects the way in which the world attempted to process the events and implications of WWI. In its aftermath a strong sense of confusion, shock, and disillusionment was felt. Nature seemed disrupted, as it is around the abandoned house: “…(for night and day, month and year, ran shapelessly together) in idiot games, until it seemed as if the universe were battling and tumbling, in brute confusion and wanton lust aimlessly by itself” (134-5). This processing was extremely gradual. Likewise, Woolf’s compression of ten years into 20 pages suggests that little changed over the course of these ten years as the characters, most likely, grappled with these sudden tragedies and, to some extent, the disruption of nature itself (the loss of the constant, binding force of Mrs. Ramsay in many ways represents this disruption of nature in their lives). Time moved on, but many people did not and so the narrative focuses on the state of nature and the beach house as opposed to the characters.

One thought on “To the Lighthouse

  1. I agree agree with you that Wolf focuses on the outside environment rather than on the development of characters, to show the disruptive order of nature. Immediately from the beginning of section 3, the reader gets the impression that times are going to turn clockwise. Through diction, Wolf portrays dark times coming forth. She uses words like “dark,” “burning,” “extinguished,” and “sunk,” to describe the tragedies coming forth for the characters. I also, thought about how the house is decaying. On page 132, the sun rooms have webs, which means they are vacant. The empty room seem to be reoccurring and in my opinion, I think the vacancy resembles Mrs. Ramsey’s character. Mrs. Ramsey, in the last two sections struggles internally and questions her existence often. Since Mrs. Ramsey questions her life, I think she must feel some form of vacancy within her. Plus, the lapse of time in this section, is not as detail oriented as the last two sections. I think Wolf does this on purpose. She goes in fine detail about every aspect of the different characters, yet with time its different. Wolf does not go in so much detail during this section on time, because time as it is said, speaks for itself.

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