Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseThe Window Chapter 11 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | The Window, Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

Mrs. Ramsay looks at the pictures James has cut from the catalog, thinking "children never forget," as she reflects that James will always remember his disappointment at his father's words confirming the trip to the lighthouse will not take place. The situation causes her to say to herself, "We are in the hands of the Lord," a statement she regrets, thinking she was forced to say it. She is relieved to be alone, having only to think of herself. Knitting, she thinks of foreign places and of the unhappiness of the world. Periodically watching the lighthouse's beam, Mrs. Ramsay grows annoyed with her thoughts and continues to knit, contemplating the world's pain.

As her husband observes her, he feels saddened by her remoteness, his inability to "protect" her, and his constant demands on her that worsen her mental state. Knowing "sound" or "sight" fights solitude, Mrs. Ramsay searches for a sound but hears only the sea. Observing her again, Mr. Ramsay wants to talk to her but leaves her alone. Mrs. Ramsay, knowing he wants to "protect" her, follows him, taking her shawl.

Analysis

James's cuttings, including a refrigerator, lawn mower, and man in a suit, hint at a conflict, developing tension about the Ramsays' financial and household concerns. Throughout "The Window" Mrs. Ramsay worries about the 50-pound greenhouse repair; these items may allude to the emotional and/or financial tensions surrounding the acquisition of more modern appliances and the expense of maintaining a vacation home on top of feeding, clothing, and educating eight children. While the interior life of most characters may be more comforting than external daily life, Mrs. Ramsay's interior life is not. Her personal thoughts are dark, whereas her outer life is light. The solitude of her interior life contradicts her exterior life in which she is surrounded by admirers and involved in their lives. In fact, others see her presence connected with light, but twice she describes herself as a "wedge of darkness," evoking the image of her in Lily Briscoe's painting, which represents Lily's understanding of her.

Unable to recall the origin of her thoughts, Mrs. Ramsay feels "trapped into saying something she did not mean." The repetition and falseness of "We are in the hands of the Lord"—she thinks, "How could any Lord have made this world?—illustrates her mental state. As the narrative switches between husband and wife, the couple appears united. She correctly intuits Mr. Ramsay's desire to protect her, thus her following him instead of being alone as she wishes to be; Mr. Ramsay knows his neediness wears his wife down.

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