Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseThe Window Chapter 18 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | The Window, Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

After dinner the guests linger, deciding what to do next. Mrs. Ramsay hurries off, desiring solitude.

In the stairwell she thinks the dinner guests will remember the night. To her annoyance she discovers James and Cam still awake, arguing about the pig skull. The skull's shadows frighten Cam, and James refuses to take it down, shrieking anytime someone touches it. Hoping to please both children, she winds her shawl around the skull. She comforts Cam, whispering descriptions of the skull's new appearance, comparing it to a "beautiful mountain ... with valleys and flowers and bells ringing and birds singing and little goats," until she falls asleep. Reassured the skull is still there, James asks if they are going to the lighthouse. Mrs. Ramsay tells him no. Disappointed she has given him no hope, she knows he will remember the disappointment forever.

She descends the stairwell, and the remaining guests admire her. Prue Ramsay, speaking with adults, transforms into a child again at the sight of her. She tells Mrs. Ramsay they are going to the beach. Possessed by their grand idea, she urges them to go, "saying she only wished she could come too." Instead, she joins her husband.

Analysis

Mrs. Ramsay exits again, annoying Lily Briscoe, who thinks she leaves "at once with an air of secrecy to do something alone." She actually leaves "slowly," developing tension because Lily seems jealous of and angry toward Mrs. Ramsay. Overwhelmed, Mrs. Ramsay watches the elm trees outside. The branches help her "stabilise her position," reinforcing the trees as symbols of life, love, and connection—her roles in life. She ominously thinks her "world" is "changing" and wants to put things "in order" as life around her changes. Yet other than the negative thoughts about Mr. Ramsay during dinner and her sense of being removed from the situation, how exactly her world is changing is unclear. Her frustration with her husband may be a fleeting thought, like so many other conflicting thoughts presented in the narrative.

Again, the time she spends with her children develops her maternal character. She opens and closes the door with care, manages to solve the problem of the skull while making both children happy, hopes Tansley reads quietly so they can sleep well. When she returns to the party, she persists in her motherly airs, asking when she can expect those going to the beach to return and ensuring someone has a watch.

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