Modernism is a period in literary history that began in the early 1900s and lasted until the first few years of the 1940s. The formulaic verse of the 19th century and clear-cut storytelling in general incited rebellion in modernist writers. Instead, a lot of them offered fragmentary tales that illustrated how society was during and after World War I.
Many modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf used free verse and incorporated elements from other nations. William Faulkner wrote from a variety of viewpoints or even in a “stream-of-consciousness” manner. These literary techniques further illustrate how society’s dispersed nature impacted authors’ works of the period. ‘To the Lighthouse’ represents one of the genre’s earliest works.
A Longing For Love and Meaning
The sky stuck to them; the birds sang through them
Lily Briscoe eagerly witnesses Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s feelings as she observes how their relationship seems to center the world around them. Without a doubt, Mrs. Ramsay and her husband are the centers of her universe. Lily admires and longs for them.
Could loving, as people called it, make her and Mrs. Ramsay one? for it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge, she had thought, leaning her head on Mrs. Ramsay’s knee.
These thoughts are expressed by Lily in Chapter IX of “The Window,” when she and William Bankes observe the Ramsays while standing on the lawn. Until Bankes condemns Mr. Ramsay for being narrow-minded and hypocritical, Lily is about to retort by criticizing Mrs. Ramsay when she spots the rapturous expression on Bankes’ face. She is aware of his affection for Mrs. Ramsay and believes that this sentiment benefits all of humanity.
Lily approaches Mrs. Ramsay and sits next to her after becoming overly in love herself. Her ideas are notable because they highlight the differences between intelligence and instinct as methods of knowledge acquisition. Mrs. Ramsay uses the former way to learn about the world, whereas Mr. Ramsay relies on “inscriptions on tablets.” Lily straddles the gap that divides emotions from intellect, and that separates Mrs. Ramsay from her husband as she contemplates how one gets to know another.
This attitude foreshadows Lily’s appearance at the novel’s conclusion when she stands and stares at Mr. Ramsay’s boat while thinking movingly of Mrs. Ramsay. In that instant, Lily achieves the unity she longs for in the previous passage, finishes her painting, and realizes her elusive goal.
. Love had a thousand shapes
When Lily Briscoe started the painting and fell in love with everything around her at the Ramsays’ house ten years ago, she was inspired by the “sense of completeness.” Her assertion exemplifies the various ways in which emotions, including love, can be experienced, comprehended, and communicated.
On Balance and Equilibrium
A light here required a shadow there
In Lily Briscoe’s picture, a purple triangular form catches William Bankes’ attention. Lily describes the shading technique and claims Mrs. Ramsay is reading to James. Mr. Bankes, who has love emotions for Mrs. Ramsay and is a scientist, is interested in Lily’s portrayal and challenges it, but she is unable to explain or illustrate it “without a brush in her hand.” If taken at face value, her words refer to the painting technique; however, going beyond their literal meaning, she may be alluding to both different viewpoints and balance (what eludes her in the composition), indicating that something dark is countered by contrasting lightness, or more broadly a negative by a positive, or opposing condition.
It partook . . . of eternity . . . there is a coherence in things, a stability; something, she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glanced at the window with its ripple of reflected lights) in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today, already, of peace, of rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that endures.
In many ways, “The Window” in Chapter XVII serves as the book’s core. We may observe the novel’s rhythmic progression—from disorder to order, from obscurity to clarity of vision—at Mrs. Ramsay’s dinner party. According to Mrs. Ramsay, the dinner party gets off to a rough start. Paul and Minta, who are still on their way back from the beach with Andrew and Nancy, are among the guests who haven’t yet arrived. Charles Tansley is rude to Lily, and Augustus Carmichael insults his host by requesting a second plate of soup.
But eventually, as night falls and the candles are lit, the evening finds its equilibrium. As Mrs. Ramsay intended, everyone is happy, and everyone will remember the evening as lovely and appropriate. This paragraph depicts these precious, infrequent times that seem to last forever. The guests will reflect on this evening with unrelenting fondness and will feel at ease and rested. The thought of such domestic reprieve brings immense consolation in a world where conflict and destruction are inevitable.
On Inter-gender Dynamics
She could be herself, by herself
James is taken by Mildred from Mrs. Ramsay. Mrs. Ramsay enjoys her little moments of solitude and not acting a part greatly because of the roles she has adopted for herself, how people perceive and require her, and how her external and internal lives clash.
[S]he could not say it. . . . [As] she looked at him she began to smile, for though she had not said a word, he knew, of course, he knew, that she loved him. He could not deny it. And smiling she looked out of the window and said (thinking to herself, Nothing on earth can equal this happiness)—
“Yes, you were right. It’s going to be wet tomorrow. You won’t be able to go.” And she looked at him smiling. For she had triumphed again. She had not said it: yet he knew.
This excerpt from “The Window,” Chapter XIX, is a poetic example of how disparate people and their fractured emotions can unite. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay symbolize opposing outlooks on life. With a stolidly logical and rational mind, Mr. Ramsay bases his arguments on what can be researched, validated, and articulated. He desires to hear Mrs. Ramsay profess her love for him after “The Window” for this reason. But Mrs. Ramsay takes a less direct path through life.
Instead of following her mind, she follows her emotions. She has more flexibility and freedom of expression with this method. Instead of forcing herself to communicate (or, like Mr. Ramsay, punishing herself for not being able to express) these feelings, she might show her love for her guests by planning a delightful and memorable evening. These characteristics, in Woolf’s opinion, are gender-specific.
She makes the case that forthright statements are the most effective way to satisfy males, citing the last chapters of the book, where James is only comforted by his father’s praise of his sailing prowess. Women, on the other hand, frequently express their meaning through their silence. Lily can show her sympathy for Mr. Ramsay without saying anything by letting him tie her shoe, much like Mrs. Ramsay did in her triumph at the end of “The Window.”
On Death and the Nature of Existence
Who shall blame him? Who will not secretly rejoice when the hero puts his armor off, and halts by the window and gazes at his wife and son, who, very distant at first, gradually come closer and closer, till lips and book and head are clearly before him, though still lovely and unfamiliar from the intensity of his isolation and the waste of ages and the perishing of the stars, and finally putting his pipe in his pocket and bending his magnificent head before her—who will blame him if he does homage to the beauty of the world?
In Chapter VI of “The Window,” Mr. Ramsay spots Mrs. Ramsay and James in the window as he strolls across the lawn. Given the anxious ruminations of his mind that were just a few paragraphs before, his response is somewhat unexpected. He is well aware of the inevitable nature of death and the potential that it will completely erase his existence, like practically every other character in the book. Few men reach intellectual immortality, and Mr. Ramsay is aware of this.
His understanding that everything, from the stars in the sky to the products of his career, is destined to perish is attested to by the text above. Here, Mr. Ramsay satisfies himself by admiring the beauty around him rather than giving in to the fears brought on by that knowledge, punishing James for dreaming about the lighthouse, or demanding that Mrs. Ramsay or Lily show him compassion. Even if his wife and child will soon move and disrupt the stance, the tableau of them still has the power to calm his anxious mind.
These instances combine disparate pieces of experience and contact with the outside environment. The distance between the three people decreases as Mr. Ramsay visually draws his wife and kid “closer and closer,” lifting Mr. Ramsay out of his dejected state.
The Lighthouse was then a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye, that opened suddenly, and softly in the evening. Now—
James looked at the Lighthouse. He could see the white-washed rocks; the tower, stark and straight; he could see that it was barred with black and white; he could see windows in it; he could even see washing spread on the rocks to dry. So that was the Lighthouse, was it?
No, the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too
In Chapter VIII of “The Lighthouse,” James considers the conflicting pictures of the structure in his head as the Ramsays’ boat approaches the lighthouse. The first is from his early years when the lighthouse appeared as a “silvery, misty-looking tower” when viewed from a distance. The second vision, which emerges as he approaches, is devoid of its romance and shadows. The building seems solid, unadorned, and authentic. There is nothing spectacular about it, with its barred windows and its clothes drying on the rocks. James corrects himself after realizing that the lighthouse is both what it was then and what it is now. His initial inclination is to erase one of these images from his mind and give the other dominion.
James’ challenge is to combine these conflicting pictures into one complete truth. The difficulty Lily encounters at the book’s conclusion is the same one she faces now—she needs to find a way to balance her romantic ideal and her dissatisfaction with Mrs. Ramsay. The book makes the argument that doing so and acknowledging the complicated, sometimes contradictory nature of everything leads to a deeper (and more artistic) understanding of life.
What is the central dispute in ‘To the Lighthouse’?
There isn’t a lot of action in ‘To the Lighthouse’ because the majority of the book is made up of the thoughts of many characters. However, it might be claimed that the central dispute is how people interpret life and death. Different characters experience the loss of family members in different ways, which causes them to have various fluctuating wants and desires. Furthermore, different characters pursue different goals in life, as well as prepare for their deaths in various ways.
What is the stylistic significance of Modernism in ‘To the Lighthouse’?
For Woolf, there isn’t just one meaning to life, and ‘To the Lighthouse’ illustrates that meaning is subjective, based on context, and dependent on viewpoint. The “meanings” of each existence are, therefore, numerous and alter from moment to moment and from year to year.
How did Virginia Woolf explore the psychology of the human mind in ‘To the Lighthouse’?
Woolf explicitly illustrates the associative nature of a person’s mind by writing from the perspective of a single character and bouncing back and forth between diverse experiences, memories, and emotions. Lofty ideas are on par with common ones. More importantly, Woolf presents the thoughts of her characters in a random and unorganized fashion, as she believes in the non-linearity and chaos of the human mind.