Literary Analysis Example of "To the Lighthouse"

Published: 2024-01-30
Literary Analysis Example of "To the Lighthouse"
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Literature Analysis
Pages: 8
Wordcount: 1945 words
17 min read


To the Lighthouse is a novel written in 1927 by Virginia Woolf. It is of the classical era that is considered among the best literary works of the 20th century. While the novel features daunting sentences, a general flow is achieved, making it easier to read and understand the unique style of literariness. The novel is gorgeously written, and deeply imagined, with a brilliant structure that makes it outstanding among other classical works of its generation. The first part of the novel provides an immediate impact that makes the story an outstanding art piece. The book provides a humanist perspective of literature in the classical era and underpins the underlying dispositions. With a myriad of thematic concerns, it becomes necessary to provide a critical analysis of the novel.

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Biographical Information

Virginia Woolf is a legendary English writer who undertook a nonlinear narrative writing approach, exerting a huge influence in narrative writing. Apart from her epic works in narrative and novel writing, Woolf also wrote decent pieces in artistic theory, politics of power, feminism, and literary history. She undertook some experiments, short fiction, and certain forms of biographical writing. Her works emblems her as a fine stylist who threw her into a web of legendary literary writers and critics. Born to Leslie Stephen, her father possessed strong artistic qualities. He was an influential literary figure, while her mother had strong artistic and social connections. During her early childhood, her family moved from their London house to Talland house on the Cornwall Coast. The relocation was instrumental in structuring her life in terms of binary opposites.

After her mother's death, Virginia, at the age of 13 years, ceased writing amusing content related to family news ("Virginia Woolf"). A year later, she wrote a cheerful letter to Thoby, her brother. In 1897, she was successfully recovering from depression when her half-sister, Stella Duckworth, passed away. In 1904, her father also died, an event that almost gave her a nervous breakdown. In 1906, Thoby died of Thyroid fever after the family's excursion to Greece. Even though Virginia grieved, she did not fall victim to depression this time. She used writing to escape from depression.

Her early works of fiction began in 1908. Her earlier intention was to reform the "novel" by developing a holistic frame that embraced components and aspects of life that were absent from the previous Victorian Novel ("Virginia Woolf"). In 1910, Roger Fry, their family friend, launched a painting exhibit that introduced radical European art into the London bourgeoisie realm. The exhibit garnered immense attention which intrigued Virginia. She realized she could borrow something from the artists to boost her artistic journey. In 1912, she married Leonard Woolf and continued to write her first novel. Virginia experienced precarious instabilities in her mental health between 1910 and 1915. However, she continued to write novels and based the characters of her novels on real-life prototypes. In 1913, she attempted suicide because of her depression woes but later recovered. Together with her husband, they established a printing press in 1917 and named It Hogarth Press after her London home. In 1918, she wrote an essay dubbed "Modern Novel" that savagely attacked other writers for being superficial rather than spiritual.

In 1921, his short stories with timed plots were captured on either Mondays or Tuesdays. Dubbed "On Re-reading novels," Woolf argued that emotion drove the novel that one feels ("Virginia Woolf"). In early 1924, the Woolfs relocated to Bloomsbury. Soon, she developed a lesbian affair with Vita Sackville-West. Having written a story about "Mrs. Dalloway," she developed an artistic idea that could see herself structuring a story that could bring both the "sane and insane" together. Virginia's desire in Mrs. Dalloway was to merge the elegiac and novelistic forms. To the Lighthouse was published in 1927. As an elegy, it evoked the childhood memory of summers at Talland House, being the 32nd anniversary of Julia Stephen's demise. She continued working on her literary pieces and memoirs amidst the Second World War. Between the Acts that changed her life, leading to her demise. In the novel, she confronts her fears and insecurities regarding the "irrelevance" of her work. The insecurities reawakened the buried fears and depression, triggering her to commit suicide in 1941. However, she left an everlasting legacy that continues to apply in the literary genre of fictional writing.

Book Summary

The novel is divided into three sections; The Window, Time Passes, and The Lighthouse. Each section is infused with a theme of contributions from various narrators that Virginia Woolf creates. The Window begins just before the surge of World War II. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay bring their children to their home in the Hebrides. Across the home is a large Lighthouse. James Ramsay wants to go to the Lighthouse, but the mother declines, telling him that they can go the next day if the weather permits. The father scolds him, and James feels like his father enjoys being cruel to him and his siblings. Ramsay resents his father for the latter's insensitivity and emotional demands on his mother. James' resentment persists throughout the entire novel. The Ramsays are staying in the summer home with a group of guests.

The house guests include Charles Tansley; a not-very-loved fellow, Lily Briscoe; a painter who begins the portrait of Mrs. Ramsay, William Bankes whom the Ramsays want Lily to marry since she is unmarried, and Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle, who later on marry during the visit.

Mrs. Ramsay plans a dinner of fifteen people for that evening, including Mr. Augustus Carmichael. The latter is a poet and a family friend. The dinner begins quite shaky with tensions as Mr. Ramsay reacts to Mr. Carmichael's asking for soup. No one shows any sign of enjoying the moment or the conversation. However, a magical moment surges and everyone in the room starts connecting. Mrs. Ramsay wishes that something positive arises from the newfound connection. After dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay are relaxing at the parlor. Mrs. Ramsay finds it hard to tell her husband that she loves him but hopes that through their unspoken communication, Mr. Ramsay knows. Later, the Ramsays and their kids go to bed.

In the second section of the novel, the story progresses, showcasing that the house has been abandoned for ten years. The house suffers immensely from the transgressions of time, decay, and neglect. Unexpectedly, Mrs. Ramsey passes on one night, as does Prue via a sickness connected to childbirth. Andrew is unceremoniously killed in a battle, becoming the third member of the family to die. Mrs. McNab becomes the occasional caretaker of the house, scrubbing and trying to clean it. However, it is not until the reports about the imminent return of the remaining Ramsays that she puts everything in order.

In the last section of the novel, all the surviving Ramsays and the guests return to the summer house. Ramsey Snr decided that he, Cam, and James would finally visit the Lighthouse. However, the kids still resent his domineering behavior. He gets angry because of the delays on the morning scheduled for the trip. He approaches Lily for sympathy, but the mission backfires. She develops sympathy for him when it is too late after Mr. Ramsay has undertaken the Lighthouse trip. After Mr. Ramsay decides to set on his journey, Lilly decides to work on the painting she had started ten years ago. During the boat ride, the children continue to resent the father's self-pity and domineering personality. However, as they approach the house, they develop a slight tenderness for him. At the summer house, Lily finishes up the painting and achieves her vision.


Mrs. Ramsay

She is Mr. Ramsay's wife and mother to eight children. She is a loving hostess who takes pride in lavishing care and service to her guests at the family summer home. She dedicates an excellent special service to her male guests, whom she believes have unique egos and require special attention and sympathy to soothe their egos. Despite her husband's struggles, she remains committed a dutiful in fulfilling her duty as a mother, a wife, and a hostess to guests. She also emerges as a protector. She understands that it is her role to preserve her young son's hopes about visiting the Lighthouse. Even though she knows that Mr. Ramsey is right about the weather, she emphasizes the possibility of the weather improving for the sake of protecting the faith and hopes of James. She is also kind and has nurtured the art of being passionate and caring to other people. For instance, despite knowing that Augustus Carmichael does not like her, she still asks him if she can bring him anything from the market.

Mr. Ramsay

He is an influential philosopher in metaphysics and a husband to Mrs. Ramsay. He is a man who loves his family but often acts like a tyrant sometimes. He is strict, harsh, and selfish because of his professional insecurities. He feels that his work is insignificant in the grand scheme of things and will not be remembered as a great person. Albeit the great family he has, he tends to punish them, demanding sympathy, support, and attention. He is the direct opposite of his wife. He is rude and short-tempered. Woolf describes him as "a lean knife." His careful awareness of the inevitability of death implores him to clash young James's hopes and to bully Mrs. Ramsay into affirming her love for him.

James Ramsey

Although young, James forms part of the central characters in the novel. He is a sensitive child who is captured by a great love for his mother. However, he has a murderous hatred for his father, who he believes thwarted his hopes of visiting the Lighthouse. Ironically, he grows up to inherit his father's personality traits that had triggered him to resent his father. Just like his father, the grown-up James is moody, withdrawn, and hot-tempered. He has an annoying need to be praised, as showcased by his sister Cam. It parallels his father's annoying behavior of seeking sympathy. As they approach the Lighthouse, James notes the immense loneliness that defines their personalities, making him change his attitude toward his father. He eventually accepts his father and feels a fleeting moment where the world seems to be complete.

Lily Briscoe

Lily has a great passion for art and tends to worry over the fate of her work. She fears that her paintings will be tossed or neglected. Tarnsley recounts that women cannot paint or write infuriates her into a state of anxiety. It is through self-doubt and anxiety that she begins creating a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay. However, throughout the novel, Lily undergoes a sense of transformation that translates her from a naïve and anxious woman to a complete artist who achieves her pride in artistic creations. By the end of the epic novel, Lily tries to practice all the qualities she has learned from Mrs. Ramsay. Her artistic achievements portray a greater sense of completeness and accomplishments to the extent that she feels resonated and attached to the intellectual realm of Mr. Ramsay.

Thematic Concerns

The Unity and Permanence of Art

Woolf uses Lily to be the central definition of art. By large, art is a form utilized to unite diverse components into one holistic whole (Delahaunt 7). Lily looks at her canvas and contemplates how she will incorporate various elements, objects, and people into one fine product. Art is a metaphorical representation of achieving sense and meaningful permanence in life (Faolan). Unity and permanence are intertwined in the novel. Mrs. Ramsay's ultimate desire is to create moments of complete connection and attachment between people.

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