Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseThe Lighthouse Chapter 8 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | The Lighthouse, Chapter 8 | Summary



The sail loses the wind, stalling the boat. Without wind, movement, and sound to distract everyone, the group becomes aware of each other, except for Mr. Ramsay, who reads. Cam thinks, "Everything in the whole world seemed to stand still."

In thinking about his father, James realizes it is not Mr. Ramsay he wants to kill but the dark rages that overcome his father. James begins to understand that his father's behavior toward him and others is not his father's fault; his father is a victim of a higher, uncontrollable force. Using the image of the wagon wheel crushing someone's foot, James realizes he cannot blame the wheel. For James the wheel was his father's crushing ("It will rain," Mr. Ramsay had said) of his childish yearning to go to the lighthouse: a "silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye that opened suddenly and softly in the evening." He sees the lighthouse clearly now from the boat—a stark and straight black and white tower, with laundry drying on the rocks.

James waits for his father to "say something sharp," but he doesn't. As James senses his father's awareness, the sail catches wind, and the boat moves again.


The stalled boat parallels James's internal life. Stalled emotionally by hatred for his father, he reflects on old but continuing anger, stalled in time. The anger centers on the lighthouse, which for James represents the inaccessible, something far different from the unremarkable tower he sees now. Accepting the reality of both—a mystery of his childhood and a commonplace reality of the present time—James seems able to accept the multiplicity of vision and understanding.

That multiplicity applies to his relationship with his father as well. By understanding that his father's tyranny is something more than deliberate behavior toward him, James can come to terms with the subjective reality of his father at the same time as he continues to long for his mother, a memory in which his father's presence intrudes but does not destroy.

As the wind picks up and the boat moves, James's thoughts parallel the boat's movement, allowing him to move on as well, toward the lighthouse and toward resolution.

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