The novel, “To the Lighthouse” by Virgina Woolf utilizes an array of imageries to decorate and enhance the author’s storytelling while maintaining a level of mystique to capture the reader’s imagination. Although Woolf’s images are often revisited, they do not necessarily conform to a stable meaning and are open to different interpretations. This flexibility allows the readers and novel’s characters the ability to attach different meanings to the imageries or to their experiences rather then accept them as a single, given truth.
In effect, each character is affected by these imageries differently and the artist’s question, “What does it mean then, what can it all mean? ” can be answered in various forms. The lighthouse in the novel has a different meaning for each character and can be interpreted at many different levels. One interpretation is of the lighthouse being a source of guidance through the chaos that is life (the sea). Each character attempts to reach the lighthouse and give their lives significance. Mr. Ramsay insists on reaching the lighthouse through his intellectual endeavors; Mrs.
Ramsay casts meaning to her life through social relationships and human understanding; And Lily captures her experiences in paintings. In one regard, only the artist (Lily) is able to preserve her experience while Mr. Ramsay’s intellectual path to Z is thwarted and Mrs. Ramsay dies without seeing her children marry. It can be argued, however, that Mrs. Ramsay does reach her vision because unlike Mr. Ramsay she is able to accept the complexity of nature and show great understanding for life’s contradictions. Just like the artist Lily, Mrs. Ramsay can also be seen as an artist, in the ways of social interaction.
Though Mr. Ramsay reaches the lighthouse physically, his medium of understanding and communication limits him from reaching his vision. His rigid form of thinking would not allow him to reconcile the contradictions of life. In a way, to deny one’s own perception of reality and to see the lighthouse as only having one true form is to distance oneself further from the truth. This is best captured in James reconciliation of his two contrary images of the lighthouse.
His childhood image of the lighthouse is of a “silvery, mist-colored tower” which seemingly challenges his close-up view of the lighthouse, “white-washed rocks… arred with black and white,” which caused him to remark, “it’s like that. ” Finally he reaches the realization that “nothing was simply one thing,” and that the marriage of the two truths would be a more accurate portrait. James’ view of the lighthouse accentuates the idea that the pursuit of truth can take many paths. Instead of trying to find the ultimate meaning to life, each character must come to grips with the idea that it is often better to give meaning to one’s everyday experiences in order to reach their vision and moment of clarity.
The imagery of light and dark can also be viewed from various angles both macroscopically and microscopically. In one view, Light and Dark play a significant role in governing the characters relationships with each other. Light unites human consciousness by emphasizing the harmony of the physical world. Darkness, on the other hand, marks the absence of human consciousness and evokes a sense of disorder. During the dinner scene the light from the candles serve to unite the characters together.
The light allows the characters to share their physical world, enabling them to connect on a mental level which otherwise could not be achieved in darkness. Although Mrs. Ramsay noticed that Augustus was looking at the same plate of fruit differently than she was, there was a sense that “looking together united them. ” Conversely, darkness represents remoteness, disorder, and a lack of human consciousness. Unlike the light that facilitates social interaction in The Window, darkness prevails in Time Passes where human form is replaced with inanimate objects.
This is very similar to Freud’s interpretation of the conscious and unconscious mind. In this view, light is seen as what is visible or the conscious mind and dark is seen as the invisible or the unconscious mind. This is made clear in a description of Mrs. Ramsay as she retreats into her “wedge-shaped core of darkness. ” To enter this unknown terrain she slowly lets go of her connection to the physical world as described with the line, “all the being and the doing… evaporated… ” and enters a “dark” and “unfathomably deep” vastness beyond human consciousness where she “could go anywhere” and was “invisible to others.
In a way, Mrs. Ramsay can be said to parallel the light. She relishes the idea of creating unity through social gatherings and marriages (as apparent in her matchmaking of Paul and Minta and to some extent Lily and Mr. Bankes). However, in her absence, darkness reigns and the house becomes devoid of emotions. Lily and Mr. Bankes never get married, perhaps, owning to the absence of Mrs. Ramsay. Evidently dark and light are intertwined as two opposite entities like the conscious and unconscious mind – just another fact of nature’s complexity.
Another imagery association is made between the sea and the land. Like dark and light both are separate entities working interdependently and have multiple interpretations. The sea imagery in To the Lighthouse can be likened with time. The constant movement and changes in the waves parallels the inevitable elapse of time and the change it brings. The sea does not represent everything that is evil but as the author explains, it can act as an allied, “I am guarding you – I am your support. ” The land can be looked upon as all of humanity.
When the sea is supporting the land human brilliance and achievement evolves out of this union. However, as Mrs. Ramsay observes this time of happiness is short lived, “it was all ephemeral as a rainbow. ” The forces of the sea are inevitably destructive and indifferent to human creation as the sea engulfs the land. Mr. Ramsay also acknowledges the destructive force of the sea as he notes “the sea eating the ground we stand on. ” Both Mrs. and Mr. Ramsay attempt to deny the passage of time.
Mrs. Ramsay would like nothing better than to see her children stay forever young, “Why must they grow up and lose it all? Mr. Ramsay similarly would like to remain in the human history books forever. Though both acknowledge that this is not possible, Mrs. Ramsay is able to accept this fact while Mr. Ramsay seeks reassurance of his importance though noting that even a rock would outlast the impact of Shakespeare. The force of the sea reaches its pinnacle in Time Passes as 10 years go by instantly and forcefully. Although, Mrs. Ramsay realizes the vulnerability of human life and accomplishments she is still able to enjoy the brevity of beauty and states that “it is enough. “