To the lighthouse is a novel by Virginia Woolf that comprises three parts; the window, Time Passes, and The Lighthouse. Woolf’s summer home is the setting of the book, a place where Woolf and her family used to spend time during the summer holiday as a child. The story is told in two separate days with a difference of ten years. The Window is the first section of the novel, where the character’s tension is introduced to the reader. The characters in the book conflict with time because they have understood that time is apparent and they need to achieve their desires within the limited timeframe. Ramsay’s family hosts some guests, and they get a view of the lighthouse at the bay. James, the youngest child, asks if they can visit the lighthouse the next day, and his mother agrees, but Mr. Ramsey immediately shifts to another topic. Lily is one of the guests hosted at Ramsey’s house and struggles with her painting. As they hang out, Mrs. Ramsey shouts at one of the guests she is hosting for asking for a second cup of soup. Later in the dinner, everything seems right and falls into place as the people gathered connect emotionally and intellectually with each other. Later in the night, Mrs. Ramsay thinks of how the dinner was amazing and wishes that the feeling could last forever, but time has already elapsed, and such a thing is history now. Mrs. Ramsay later joins his husband at the parlor, and the couple sits quietly, reflecting on the day. This only lasts for a short time because of Mr. Ramsay’s insecurities because his wife has not told him that she loves him. Mrs. Ramsay tells Mr. Ramsay she loves him; the night falls, and time continues to pass. Next is the second section of “Time Passes,” when there is war in Europe. And this becomes a tragic moment as Mrs. Ramsey suddenly dies, Andrew is killed at the battle, Prue dies when giving birth and the family no longer spends time at the summerhouse. This leads to despair; the place is empty, and the weeds take over the house. Ten years have passed, and the house is open, making the housekeeper gets a few people to clean the place. Before Lily returns, the house is in order and well-restored. The third section is about The Lighthouse, and Mr. Ramsey, Cam, and James wish to visit the lighthouse. The children, at first, are resentful and take time to prepare, but eventually, they leave. They are unhappy about the vacation because of the significant losses they have experienced in the past years. Later, James is happy because his father praises him for his ability to maintain the boat steady, unlike other days when he is always harsh. Lily is still working on the portrait she was working on in the first section ten years later. Lily tries to remember the faces of Ramsay’s family members, which is when she reflects on the issue of life and death. As soon as they reach the lighthouse, Lily completes working on the portrait, and this is when she understands what it means to achieve satisfaction. This ending provides a relief to the anxiety that had been created at the beginning of the novel. Woolf succeeds in using literary devices in this novel to expound on the different issues affecting the characters in the novel and how they develop throughout the novel. Woolf utilizes the use of literary devices such as symbolism, irony, and metaphors to illustrate the urge people have to acquire their desires yet realizing that time is elapsing.
From the beginning to the end of the novel, the use of symbolism is present and this plays a role in building the title of the novel. The lighthouse is the most complex symbol that is evident in the novel, and it has a different meaning to different characters because of the feelings and attitudes it bring into the characters. The lighthouse is important to Ramsay because it is a symbol of contentment and stability. She insists going into the light house because she wants to see his son and this gives her contentment. Lily views the lighthouse as a symbol of solution to her painting because as the novel ends, as Mr. Ramsay approaches the lighthouse with the boat, as soon as they arrive, she completes painting. Mr. Ramsay believes that the lighthouse is a demonstration of power and authority towards his family. Tansley cannot interact well with people and hence he feels that the light house demonstrates his inability to fit into social situations. Generally, the lighthouse is a symbol of the time that passes and that which is wasted and the characters’ desires they wish to achieve before the time has passed. Lily is yet to complete his painting, Mr. Ramsay has not said I love you yet, James is not into the lighthouse, and Tansley has not contributed anything to the conversation. The tower at the lighthouse reminds the characters they have goals to achieve but are yet to achieve them even when time is passing. At the end of the novel, some characters have achieved their goals and some realize that the goals they had set are wrong. At the end, James reaches the lighthouse but he soon realizes the image he had seen is the wrong one and not what he wished to see. With this situation, the characters are taught of the difference between making an observation about a desire one wishes to achieve and the end product of getting that desire. In most instances, the desires of the body and soul never come to be, even when time is passing. Time passes, and the desires never pass. The lighthouse in this case relates to the life experiences and the journey of moving towards one’s desires even when there are challenges. The lighthouse is ever present to always remind the characters the need to work on their desires and goals before the time has elapsed because the clock never stops ticking. Those who get to achieve their goals are happy about it because they realize that no time of their life has been wasted. For example, Mrs. Ramsey enjoys watching the lighthouse together with his husband because she is aware that no time of hers has gone to waste because his husband and her are in love and have a happy family. “She did not mind looking at the lighthouse with him looking because she knew he was thinking she is the most beautiful ever” (115). With the idea of time passing, Woolf creates the device of personification since the time passing is personified to human neglect.
“Time passes” as the second section of the novel is described with the time when the summerhouse is left with no person to take care of and this term is a personification of human neglect of the property they are supposed to take care of since they have the mandate and responsibility of looking after inhuman objects. A place that was once a beautiful place is now decaying because the people no longer takes care of it. Additionally, human relationship with the environment is seen in this section because of the way the house has been invaded by the weeds. It is because there are no humans in the house that the weeds are invading the house. Humans have the skills to manage weeds, thus maintaining the environment, but because they no longer live in the house, the weeds are not controlled. Moreover, this section is a personification of human life. This is the section where a lot of tragedies take place and the major death is the death of Mrs. Ramsey. People have to die, and time is the element that will lead o their death just like how the nature has led to the decay of the house. In the novel, the house has been left like a shell for it to fill up with salt because life has left. Human neglect of the house made the nights long, there were clammy breathes, nibbling and fumbling. Metal instruments began to rust day after day because the saucepan had now rusted and the mat already decayed. Small earthly animals such as the toads had clogged their way into the house, tortoise shells were all over the place, and the weeds were now part and parcel of the house (128). There are no longer parties at the summerhouse and the children, Cam and James show no interest in going for vacations at the summerhouse because of the pain and bad memories it reminds them. When Ramsay tells Cam and James about going back to the summerhouse, the children take so long to prepare themselves because the place reminds them of their deceased mother and brother. The house is deserted and Lily too does not visit the place because it reminds her of her deceased friend and how they could spend summer holiday together having fun and watching the lighthouse. The same thing happens to our dreams and desires when they are neglected and not worked for. Failing to work towards the dreams and desires leads to decay, and before realizing, it will be too late since time never waits for anyone. Time passes is a personification of human neglect and the harm it can cause to non-living things. Time has passed and the unexpected things have happened; deaths and death in this case is metaphorically represented with water.
Water is life and is meant to bring life, but this is not the case because Woolf metaphorically uses water to represent the unconscious state of humans and water is seen as an easy way towards death. Mrs. Ramsay’s life seems to be flooded with water as she watches the light of the lighthouse, she feels as though it was striking with silver fingers and the thoughts were flooding in her mind. At this moment, she felt that enough was enough, (75-76). Additionally, water is metaphorically used to represent temporal world, the mutable nature of the world, and the inevitability of time passage. Mrs. Ramsay uses a metaphor, “will stem the flood a bit” (80). The flood in this case is the hostility of the experiences faced by the people in their journey of achieving their desires. Mrs. Ramsay feels that her children will help her in realizing her true identity and the flood will soon end. Water is metaphorically used again in the incident where Mrs. Ramsay interacts with the scientists trying to control nature. Mrs. Ramsay pities them because she realizes that the scientists have lost it since everything has vanished and wavered waterlily. Water in this case is a metaphor for destruction and instability. Consequently, the reader is introduced to another water metaphor because the nature’s opposition to civilization, order and form are equated to the nature of water. Mrs. Ramsay is persistently complaining of how the summerhouse is always dripping with water and how it is constantly invaded by the nature and sea. Things got worse summer after summer as the children continued to bring in with them shells, crabs, sand, stones, and seaweed. Just like water, nature is seen as animalistic and opposed to reason as time passes and the hostility of the nature is felt by how it attacks the summerhouse. Nature’s fluidity state is contrasted to the dry order of civilization. Another metaphor of water is when it is used in the novel to represent women’s watery nature and irrationality and motherhood linked with flow. Ramsay always wanted to have children.
To conclude, Woolf uses different literary devices to illustrate the human life of tranquility and the desires that humans possess and wish to accomplish within a set timeframe. Some of the literary devices that are discussed in this essay are; symbolism, personification, and metaphors. Lighthouse basically is a symbol of authority, and with this in the novel, Woolf’s idea is to help the characters realize their hidden potentials and work towards achieving their desires. As the light passes, the characters are reminded that time is passing and they need to achieve their set goals and desires. Lighthouse represents different things to different characters in the novel. The section, “Time passes” is a personification of human neglect because it illustrates how the summerhouse is in chaos since no humans are living or visiting the place. It has been invaded and is no longer a place to admire because happiness no longer dwells there. The children are hesitant to visit the place because of the major tragedies that have taken place for the last ten years. Water is metaphorically used to represent the hostility of nature and how it causes harm to the people. Instead of bringing life, it has destroyed it. Generally, this is an interesting novel to read because it informs the reader of life experiences and the passing of time. It encourages the reader to work on their desires before it is too late because time is passing.
Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. London, Hogarth Press, 1987.