Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseThe Window Chapter 5 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | The Window, Chapter 5 | Summary



As Lily Briscoe and William Bankes walk by, Mrs. Ramsay tells James if the weather keeps them from the lighthouse, they can go another day. Mrs. Ramsay is suddenly struck with the idea of Lily and William marrying. She measures the stocking she is knitting against James, who fidgets.

Observing her surroundings, she notices how "shabby" everything looks. Quickly, she shakes the thought away because her family loves the house. Overwhelmed by the books she has no time to read, she considers solutions to improve the house's appearance. Open windows remind her of Marie, their maid, whose father is dying.

Mrs. Ramsay scolds James for moving. When she discovers the stocking is short, she is sad. As Mrs. Ramsay returns to knitting, and Mr. Bankes admires her beauty, she kisses James and tells him he can cut out more pictures.


Mrs. Ramsay's sudden "admirable idea" of Lily and Mr. Bankes marrying indicates her support of marriage, as a social convention, rather than an understanding of people. Despite her upholding the social structure, the immediate action of getting James to stop fidgeting (wondering "what demon possessed him") and the growing list of tasks create tension. After realizing she must knit more, the narrator repeats, "Never did anybody look so sad," highlighting her exhaustion, as Mr. Bankes ponders her beauty and her seeming unawareness of it. He thinks, "she's no more aware of her beauty than a child." He thinks perhaps "her beauty" bores her, remembering how she wears deerstalker hats outside to fetch children. A practical and busy woman, Mrs. Ramsay does not cultivate her beauty; in fact, it seems of little interest to her, whereas it awes others.

In this chapter, Marie serves to develop the theme of reality versus the ideal. Her father suffers from throat cancer in Switzerland while she works as a maid on a Scottish island. Her fixation with the ideal, the distant Swiss mountains, illustrates her wish to be home with her dying father, whereas reality keeps her where she is. Marie's reality is class related; she needs to work, and her position prevents her from spending time with her dying father. The situation reflects the theme of love and loss, as well. Marie is losing her father, whom she loves.

Also, Mrs. Ramsay thinks, he's "leaving them fatherless." This somber realization foreshadows Mrs. Ramsay's sudden death and furthers the theme of love and loss, illustrating the children, Marie and the eight Ramsay children, who will lose a parent.

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