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Course Hero. "To the Lighthouse Study Guide." Course Hero. 2 Dec. 2016. Web. 11 Dec. 2018. <>.

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Course Hero. "To the Lighthouse Study Guide." December 2, 2016. Accessed December 11, 2018.


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To the Lighthouse | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How does the narrative style in To the Lighthouse strengthen and weaken human connections?

The stream-of-consciousness narrative both strengthens and weakens human connection in To the Lighthouse. The narrative distances the characters from one another because most of the novel's action and interaction occur internally in thoughts, observations, and emotions. Very little external interaction happens; thus, the characters may seem lost in themselves. However, at the same time, the narrative draws characters together by showing them thinking similar thoughts or experiencing similar emotions, if not at the same times or in the same ways. For example, listening to the waves causes Mrs. Ramsay to worry about the destruction of the island and, on a larger scale, mortality. Later, looking at the bay, Mr. Ramsay thinks about how the "sea eats away the ground we stand on." Despite their disagreements and differences—Mrs. Ramsay experiences the waves from inside the house, Mr. Ramsay from outside—both feel ignorant, helpless, and lonely. This similarity draws their characters together while creating tension because they do not share the moment.

How does Augustus Carmichael's character develop yet remain consistent in To the Lighthouse?

Quiet Augustus Carmichael visits and stays with the Ramsays every year. Initially, his silence is awkward, unwelcome, as are his words (as when he asks for more soup), but his silence and his words comfort Lily Briscoe by the novel's end. Regardless of Mrs. Ramsay's attempts to ensure Mr. Carmichael's comfort, he avoids her, perturbing her as the only person unaffected by her charm. Mrs. Ramsay goes out of her way to win his affection—asking if he needs anything while she is in town—without any change in his treatment of her. Readers learn that Mr. Carmichael was deeply grieved by Andrew Ramsay's death. Such depth of emotion and attachment to one of the Ramsay sons provide another aspect to Mr. Carmichael's character, barely discernible during his seemingly disengaged interactions with the Ramsays and their guests in "The Window." Indeed his later fame as a poet stems from war and loss. However, Lily Briscoe observes that his character has not seemed to change. After Mr. Ramsay, James, and Cam reach the lighthouse, Mr. Carmichael joins Lily looking at the the bay and comforts her by saying they "have landed." Lily is reassured knowing she is correct in believing she and Mr. Carmichael are "thinking the same things" without speaking. The lighthouse represents the multiple nature of things, and one of those is Mr. Carmichael's character. Previously aloof to Mrs. Ramsay and others, he shows concern about Lily and affected by the events both in and out of the house. Although his nature may remain the same, greater depth and, at the end, connection are revealed.

In To the Lighthouse how does Lily Briscoe's artistic process develop the theme of reality versus the ideal?

Lily Briscoe's initial visions of "colour burning on a framework of steel" and the "light of a butterfly wing" on a cathedral's arches—the ideal—do not transfer to the canvas. Life's disorders keep her from achieving her vision; these disorders range from the constant interruptions on the lawn, her internal conflicts, and the decade-long interruption caused by personal tragedies and war. In "The Lighthouse," Chapter 3, Lily attempts the painting again after remembering the issue of the "lines cutting across, slicing down, and in the . . . hedge." After carrying the problem of balance around with her and pondering it for a decade, she thinks there is a huge discrepancy between "planning airily away from the canvas, and ... taking her brush and making the first mark." As Lily paints, a "few random marks" appear on the canvas, a far cry from her abstract vision. The disparity almost drives her to tears. Because painting represents catharsis for her, Lily cannot finish the image without understanding Mrs. Ramsay, so the issue of balance in the painting remains unsolved until Lily uncovers the truth about Mrs. Ramsay—and herself.

How does William Bankes's character develop the theme of love and loss in To the Lighthouse?

A childless widower, William Bankes furthers the theme of love and loss: His character loses romantic and platonic love: his wife and Mr. Ramsay. The loss of the friendship weighs on him. He explores his thoughts on a walk with Lily Briscoe. His wife's death continues to affect him because he wants children (seen in his interaction with Cam). His unrequited love for Mrs. Ramsay seems to weigh on his mind, and these feelings arise more than others. Lily observes his love and describes it as a "rapture," the "equivalent" of the "loves of dozens of young men"; Mrs. Ramsay senses it, and references to her beauty, made in passing and in his thoughts, deepen his internal conflict.

In To the Lighthouse how is the story Mrs. Ramsay reads to James significant?

Mrs. Ramsay reads the fairy tale of "The Fisherman and His Wife" to James in "The Window," Chapter 10. Fairy tales often frighten children into good behavior, and Mrs. Ramsay's reading a story warning against greed and ambition to James illustrates her motherly love. The setting of the fairy tale, "a shabby house by the sea," connects it with the novel, and the "dreary" imagery seeps into Mrs. Ramsay's thoughts, drawing her attention to ambition: her husband's and her own. Her mind wanders as she thinks about pursuing her dreams or vague ambitions, a "model" dairy or hospital, after raising children. Her musings deepen the impact of her death later in the novel. In the fairy tale, the "great" storm scene foreshadows the deaths in the Ramsay family. The "rocks" that roll "into the sea" in the fairy tale evoke the decade the Ramsay house sits abandoned. During that time, loose boulders are one of the only noises.

In what ways does Mrs. Ramsay have regrets in To the Lighthouse?

A servant to traditional gender roles, Mrs. Ramsay, who is the "happiest" having a baby "in her arms," tries to usher her single friends into engagements. Her only admitted regret is that her babies will grow up and be unhappy, like her. Her sadness is not caused by regret about anything she has done or not done. Despite her emotional exhaustion resulting from her husband's continuing demands, she mentions no regrets about her marriage, nor does she question her love for her husband, even though she cannot voice it. In fact, for her family's sake she fights her sadness, and as readers see intimately in her thoughts, it is a tiring feat but one that develops her self-sacrificing character and the theme of love and loss.

What is significant about Mrs. Ramsay's avoidance of the lighthouse in "The Window," Chapter 12 of To the Lighthouse?

The lighthouse symbolizes inaccessibility and the multiple nature of things. Mrs. Ramsay connects with the "long steady stroke, the last of the three," calling it "her stroke." She thinks looking at this stroke is like "meeting her own eyes"—making her, in a way, the lighthouse. Looking at the light herself, she becomes sad, an emotion her husband witnesses. When Mr. Ramsay confronts her about it, she cannot look at the lighthouse, meaning she cannot look inward. Instead she regrets "thinking." She regrets he has witnessed her "thinking," and she looks at the town. Her sadness is no longer disturbed, proving her inaccessibility and deepening the emotional conflict between them.

What is the significance of Lily Briscoe's reaction to William Bankes's love for Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse?

As Lily Briscoe prepares to criticize Mrs. Ramsay for being "high-handed," she observes William Bankes watching her friend and subject of her painting in "The Window," Chapter 9. Lily describes his gaze as a "ray." This gaze displays his "distilled and filtered" love as energy, making the subject of his attention obvious, undeniable. His unrequited love enthralls Lily, rendering her speechless. Comparing his love to the poet's "phrases," the scientist's "absolute," Lily is inspired by Mr. Bankes's quiet pining, allowing her to return to painting and therefore understanding, in this case an understanding of their situation. Lily's positive reaction to discovering the quiet love of her possible love interest resolves an internal conflict for her and strengthens her independence as she realizes that marriage between her and William Bankes is not possible.

In what ways is To the Lighthouse an elegy, or serious poem written as a lament for someone who has died?

Contemporary writer Margaret Drabble names To the Lighthouse "one of the greatest elegies in the English language." The elegy is written in response to death of Julia Stephen, Woolf's mother, and the elegy form's three stages reflect loss: idealization of the dead, lamentation, and healing. With these three parts, the novel evokes the elegy. "The Window" features Mrs. Ramsay as its focal point, garnering the attentions of her husband, Lily Briscoe, and William Bankes. Idealized, her spirit is larger than life, affecting all those around her. Their love for her foreshadows their grief. In "Time Passes" Mrs. Ramsay is enshrined with the abandonment of the house. Her husband's, children's and friends' inability to resume their previous life patterns displays Mrs. Ramsay's dominant role in their lives. Lastly, the return to the summer home after 10 years symbolizes restoration.

In Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse how is religion portrayed?

Mrs. Ramsay disparages and has little use for religion. In "The Window," Chapter 16 she jokingly names the squabbling rooks outside her window Joseph and Mary, referring to Joseph as "disreputable," a "seedy old gentleman in a top ... playing the horn in front of a public house." Using the same names, she makes up stories about the birds and tells them to her children. Because the birds are in the tree, which symbolizes love, life, and connection, Christianity has no serious value fostering them. Earlier, for a reason unknown to her, she says, while she is alone, "We are in the hands of the Lord," irritated because she has repeated a cliche that she thinks untrue. Appalled at the state of the world, Mrs Ramsay asks how God could make a world without reason, order, and justice and allow so much suffering and poverty. Alone at the beach, Nancy pretends the pool is a sea, transforming "minnows into sharks and whales." As "God" she blocks the sun with her hand, bringing "darkness and desolation ... to millions of ignorant and innocent creatures." In this scene, too, God is portrayed as powerful and cruel. Suddenly Nancy's mood changes, and—like her mother—she listens to the waves, contemplating "that vastness and this tininess." She bemoans her role in the world, thinking it equates to "nothingness." Nancy's game evokes the wife's character in "The Fisherman and His Wife." In the fairy tale Mrs. Ramsay reads to James, the wife greedily asks for God's power, and the prince revokes everything he has given her.

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