Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseThe Window Chapter 3 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | The Window, Chapter 3 | Summary



Mrs. Ramsay slicks James's hair and whispers about the possibilities of sunshine. Searching a catalog for lawn equipment, she listens to the sounds of the children playing outside, Mr. Ramsay and Tansley's chatter, and the waves. Usually the sound of the sea calms her, but sometimes her mind wanders to the "destruction of the island and its engulfment in the sea."

When she hears a foreign sound—a "thundered hollow"—she grows tense. Assuming she heard it only because Tansley had left, she feels comforted by the sounds of Mr. Ramsay walking the terrace. A moment later she hears a "loud cry" and checks whether anyone else has heard. She discovers Lily Briscoe, who also heard the sound, painting at the lawn's edge and remembers to pose for the portrait Lily is painting of her.


Mrs. Ramsay's protection of James's budding "passion" for the lighthouse shows her maternal nature and level of involvement in daily tasks. This minute attention develops the theme of love and loss and foreshadows the void her absence will leave. Restoring James's hope of boating to the lighthouse, which comes to symbolize inaccessibility, shows her hope of preserving her youngest child's innocence.

As Mrs. Ramsay sorts through background noise, her impression of what she hears and the ensuing emotions emphasize her character. Her fixation on the waves, which now bring thoughts of catastrophe, reflects her troubled state of mind, how close she is to negative emotions. Her continual edginess creates tension. Mrs. Ramsay forgets about posing for Lily, showing her preoccupation with domestic responsibilities and her own thoughts. However, even though she does not take Lily's painting "very seriously," she still sits for the portrait, showing how much she desires to please others.

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