Time Passes

Time Passes is the shortest part of “To the Lighthouse” yet the longest span of time. The first part focuses on one day yet is over a hundred pages long whereas Time Passes is less than 25 pages. Also unlike The Window, it is told through a nonhuman perspective, focusing mainly on the house and the changing weather. In the first half there are many different perspectives from the people staying in the house. They wonder about their life and how much they have done. They think about their impact in the world and in this section of the book Woolf provides the answer to that. One way she does this is by mentioning the deaths in brackets saying how Mrs. Ramsey, “died suddenly the night before,” or how “Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay.” They seem to be after thoughts and give us an idea of how much time has passed and what is going on in the world. How she introduces them shows the insignificance they hold compared to time. Time keeps moving on no matter what else is happening and is portrayed in a somewhat mechanical way.

The deterioration of the house and Mrs. McNabs struggle to clean it conveys feelings of WWI. Mrs. McNab is an old woman and is seeing this grand house and the remnants of the people that stayed there decay and be taken over by nature. It talks about how rain came in, things had gone mouldy and the attics being inhabited by rats. Finally Mrs. McNab gives up, thinking, “It is too much for one woman, too much, too much.” This portrays the overwhelming feeling that WWI brought and the inability to deal with it. This could also pertain to the “shell shock” that soldiers experienced and woman’s struggle to deal with them due to lack of knowledge on PTSD during that time. Just like the house, men’s minds deteriorated and like Mrs. McNab, women felt that they could not help them by themselves.

The deaths during Time Passes also show the effects of WWI. Mrs. Ramsay’s death is the fall of the Victorian woman. She played the domesticated wife whose duty was to nurture her children and worry over men, and her death marks the fall of these characteristics. Prue’s death comments on beauty, youth, and fertility. Andrew whose future was so bright in his parents eyes shows how war ended that hope. Overall their deaths and the state of the house convey uncertainty and lack of hope for the future.

Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Changing Perspectives

Upon comparison of two visual representations of William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, a prominent difference in the meaning of the text can be ascertained due to the polar opposite tones that each assumes based off of the colors used; the Morgan 1790 edition representing a bleak, but somewhat pleasant scene, while the 1794 Fitzwilliam Museum version is grim and severely intense.  This antithesis mirrors the typical connotations of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ and epitomizes Blake’s primary purpose in composing the piece which is to satirize commonly held misconceptions regarding good and evil.  Instead he proposes that one needs to live without inhibitions in order to obtain his or her highest self and be a person of great vitality.

Among Blake’s colored plates with images, nearly every one has an altered interpretation due to the stark differences in color choice and painting style.  A distinct difference appears on plate 4 of each edition, where an individual appears to be coming out of flames and is reaching out to someone else.  The Morgan edition’s depiction of this scene borders on cheerfulness due to the bright and pastel colors, while the Fitzwilliam edition, with it’s harsh reds and oranges, shows a Satanic character reaching out the flames causing a mood shift to wickedness (http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.c.illbk.04&java=n,http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.e.illbk.04&java=n).  Although, Blake describes energy as the work of the Devil, it is also “delight” (191), but upon pictorial analysis one can see that the plate from the Fitzwilliam edition does not emulate this quality.  A statement is being made here in regards to what Hell truly represents, as opposed to the perception surrounding it.  The Morgan version promotes a more welcoming version of Hell, where mankind need not fear that obeying one’s desires will result in “God…torment[ing] Man in Eternity” (190).  Another example is given by panel 14, which portrays two bodies, one hovering over the other, while they are both engulfed in flames (http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.c.illbk.14&java=no,http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.e.illbk.14&java=no).  It is representative of the notion that people cannot have a full understanding of the world when we narrow our perspectives “thro’ narrow chinks of [our] cavern” (196).  This proverb symbolizes how the reasons behind why Hell is seen as evil has lead to a misunderstanding of how to live life.  The Morgan image shows this through a somber, somewhat beautiful use of yellow and pink flames, while the Fitzwilliam edition depicts the hovering individual as a cloaked, demented, deep red and black figure.  Again, the Morgan depiction is more open-minded than the latter one, once again changing the meaning of Hell in the Fitzwilliam edition to a place where one will be punished for seeing the world through a different light.

To the Lighthouse: Perspective & Narration

The issue of narrative perspective is an important aspect of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.  She appears to primarily use the literary technique in her quest toward high modernism.  She takes a step beyond Joyce’s stream of consciousness narration that we saw in the Dubliners to craft multiple and simultaneous streams of consciousness.  She describes it by saying, “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day” (text 2333).  The result is nothing ordinary – it becomes an exhaustive account of the main characters’ inner thoughts to tell the outward action.  Woolf masterfully captures the random, wandering thoughts, musings, reactions, emotions, and memories of a group of people in minute detail as they interact with each other.  Rather than providing a traditional dialogue to move the action along, Woolf makes it difficult to read (a prerequisite for modernism) by writing in a fragmented style that mimics a bumpy road of associative leaps that constantly occur in our mind to tell the story in addition to winding back and forth among the character’s thoughts.  The novel that emerges portrays the love and resiliency of humankind in the aftermath of one of the worst periods in British history – World War I.

So how does this type of narration engage with WWI and its aftermath?  The new technology introduced in WWI caused mass destruction unlike any war previous.  Flamethrowers, bombs, and gas attacks were especially sadistic and cruel.  Almost fifteen hundred British soldiers died each day in the four year war.  The British War Poets and the emerging mass media gave those at home a close look at the horrors of war.  Those who survived were scarred by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  After four long years of war, people responded with “bitterly rebuffed idealism” and “a sense of physical and moral exhaustion” (text 2112, 1928).  It seems the joie de vivre left most Brits, and Woolf ingeniously captures the undercurrent of this malaise with her unique style of narration.

The story centers around the Ramsay family – the mother, father, and children – and an array of friends gathered at a summer home at the coast near a lighthouse.  The novel describes the activities that take place over a day before the war, a synopsis of action during the war time, and then another day’s activities after the war.  To answer the question at hand, the first person narrative that is used in the first and last sections is a perfect vehicle to capture the malaise that many felt as a result of the war.  Mr. Ramsay, for example, is one who fails to adapt and move on after the war.  Before the war, he admonishes his family who are eager to make a trip to the lighthouse.  The narration from his mind’s eye shows a man who is master of his household:

He had “a splendid mind.  For if thought is like the keyboard of a piano, divided into so many notes, or like the alphabet is ranged in twenty-six letters all in order, then his splendid mind had no sort of difficulty in running over those letters one by one, firmly and accurately, until it had reached, say, the letter Q.  He reached Q.  Very few people in the whole of England ever reach Q…After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance.  Z is only reached once by one man in a generation…On to R.”  (Lighthouse 33-34)

He has the final say on the family going to the lighthouse, which is no.

During the war described in the middle section, like most Brits, Mr. Ramsay suffers loss – his wife and two of his children – one to war, and one to childbirth.  The narration takes on an impersonal third person narrative to briefly describe the deaths.  The “courage, truth and power to endure” that he lived by challenges him to his core (Lighthouse 4).

Ten years after the first section and after the war, Mr. Ramsay and two of his children return to the summer house.  He tries to recreate the past by now insisting on a trip to the Lighthouse:

“Then he reminded them that they were going to the Lighthouse tomorrow.  They must be ready, in the hall on the stroke of half-past seven.  Then, with his hand on the door, he stopped; he turned upon them.  Did they not want to go?  He demanded.  Had they dared say No…he would have flung himself tragically backwards into the bitter waters of despair.” (Lighthouse 148)

By using the third person subjective narrative in this section, Woolf can show the feelings of malaise especially through Mr. Ramsay’s thoughts and what others think of him.  Their thoughts are more revealing than their actions, so Woolf is able to sharply define his misery.