Virginia Woolf’s novel To The Lighthouse suggests that life’s meaning lies in the discovery of a power which destroys time.Mrs. Woolf’s book presents two different concepts of time.
One is the time of man’s world; the record of human events.It can be measured by clock and calendar and its passing brings change, decay, and death.The other is that time of a world apart from man.It is the endurance of nature and the flux of history.It knows not of man, death or decay, and it cannot be measured because it is like the water of a river.Throughout the novel, several of the characters strive to become immortal in the former world, but until the end cannot realize that immortality in man’s world is insignificant.Mr. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe especially strive for this long lasting remembrance and become blinded by their desire for eternal fame.
- Thesis Statement
- Structure and Outline
- Voice and Grammar
Neither realize that true greatness, true immortality, can be achieved only through the world apart from man.Though both Mr. Ramsay and Lily worry about their legacy, only Mrs. Ramsay, who concerns herself naught with how she will be remembered, continues to exist after death, and her spirit guides both Mr. Ramsay and Lily toward a path of understanding, demonstrating her true greatness. In the first section of the book, “The Window”, both Lily Briscoe and Mr.
Ramsay worry about the legacy of what may happen to their works after they die.Mr. Ramsay, forever trying to advance intellectually in the world, believes “it is permissible even for a dying hero to think before he dies how men will speak of him hereafter.” (p. 35)He becomes so wrapped up in his obsession with legacy that he loses sight of not only his goal as a philosopher but also of his family.Lily Briscoe feels similarly about her painting.She too gets so caught up in wondering what will become of her painting after she passes that she is unable to finish her work.While both of these characters search for a way to transcend time, both lose sight of the work at hand and thusly ensure that they can never be immortal.
Within the novel, Woolf opts to use two different styles of writing.By the use of the two different styles, the stream of consciousness and the impressionistic narrative, Mrs. Woolf presents the time within the individual’s life and the time within history and nature.It is in the section “Time Passes” that the significance of the individual lives in relation to history are realized.Ten years had passed, and much has changed in man’s world.Lives altered drastically among the characters, as only the passage of time can do.For nature, however, the ten years that passed seemed like only one night.“The Window” ends at night after the dinner party, and as if not missing a step, “The Lighthouse” begins in the morning, with Lily sitting at the table.
The shift in writing style lasts only for “Time Passes” to demonstrate not only how insignificant those ten years were in the larger purpose of life, but also to allow for the transition between the first and third section.By reverting back to the stream of consciousness style after “Time Passes”, Woolf creates the sense that little has changed in the nature of the world. Amidst the loss and decay, two things remain unchanged: Mrs.
Ramsay and the lighthouse.Though Mrs. Ramsay died, her presence radiates through the remainder of the book.Mrs. Ramsay’s spirit defies the changing of time in man’s world and continues to be a unifying force in the life of the characters.The impact Mrs. Ramsay had depended on the level by which it is perceived.
For Lily, perceiving Mrs. Ramsay from an aesthetic level as a triangular purple design could destroy time and establish permanence.When she sets up her canvas to try and finish the painting she once began, despite Mrs. Ramsay’s passing and the absence of the subjects on whom the painting was originally based, Lily found that “in the midst of chaos there was shape.” (p.
161)Lily begins to have her vision, and at once understands that “nothing stays; all changes; but not words, not paint.”Through the memories and for once understanding of Mrs. Ramsay’s character, Lily begins to comprehend the meaning of eternity.Regardless of whether her painting was in an attic, her paint would indeed last forever, and it should matter only to her, for she is the only one who truly understands its purpose.Simultaneously, Lily sees how Mrs. Ramsay is able to defy the passing of time.Her legacy, though it had nothing to do with philosophy and painting, lasted because of her intentions.
Lily realizes that immortality begins with the surrendering the uniqueness of one’s ego.Who a work or thought was attributed to mattered not, but the overall message was important.In this instance Lily can finish her painting, which will defy time whether her name does or not. Mr. Ramsay experiences a similar.