Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseThe Lighthouse Chapter 2 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | The Lighthouse, Chapter 2 | Summary



Mr. Ramsay observes Lily Briscoe. Seeking her sympathy, he asks if she has everything she wants. She does. They stand in silence, looking at the sea. Baffled by Lily's inattentiveness, Mr. Ramsay groans. Lily ignores him. He sighs and waits, wondering why she hasn't said anything. When he says visiting the lighthouse is "very painful," Lily thinks he is "dramatising himself." In vain he adopts a "pose of extreme decrepitude." Still not knowing what to say, she admires his boots; he starts talking about boots and bootmakers, and then shows her how to tie a knot.

As pity seeps into Lily Briscoe's heart, Cam and James arrive. Imbued with purpose, Mr. Ramsay forgets Lily, who feels "snubbed," and leads his children away.


During Lily and Mr. Ramsay's conversation, their missed timing develops tension. In Mr. Ramsay's need for sympathy, Lily could have been any woman, but Mr. Ramsay admittedly likes her; she, knowing how he exhausted Mrs. Ramsay, is unable to speak to him. Presumably caused by disgust or disrespect, this failure distresses her, causing her to think she is "not a woman, but a peevish, ill-tempered, dried-up old maid."

Much of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's conflict arose from being opposites: man, woman; provider, protector; mercurial, calm. Now Lily finds herself in Mrs. Ramsay's place, and Mr. Ramsay's presence causes her anxiety. She thinks, as a "woman, she should have known how to deal with it," demonstrating how the gender-based society has influenced her perception of and expectations for herself.

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