Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseThe Window Chapter 6 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | The Window, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

In the drawing room Mr. Ramsay repeats, "Some one had blundered," angrily recalling his encounter with William Bankes and Lily Briscoe. His wife sees he is "outraged and anguished" as she smooths James's hair. Mr. Ramsay tickles James, who rebuffs him.

Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay argue about the weather. Mrs. Ramsay insists there is "nothing" to say. When he volunteers to visit the Coastguard for more information, her mood toward him changes suddenly—"She was not good enough to tie his shoe strings, she felt"—and Mr. Ramsay calms down. After he pesters James a last time, Mr. Ramsay returns to the terrace.

From outside he glimpses his wife and son and returns to his thoughts. Using the alphabet as an analogy for intellectual achievement, he ponders his next feat, R. Dividing thinkers into two classes—those who conquer the alphabet one letter at a time and those who see the entire alphabet at once—he admits he is not a "genius" (understanding it at once) and ponders the rarity of someone achieving Z. Thinking of fame and failure, he stops at the window to gaze again at his wife and son, who return his gaze.

Analysis

Mrs. Ramsay's failure to understand Mr. Ramsay's "poetic" melodrama shows their differences. She focuses on his face, trying to understand him, but finds his repetitive phrases "ridiculous" and pays more attention to James, displaying her priorities. James's animosity toward his father continues, which shows a universal stage of development in the Freud's oedipal theory. Six-year-old James highlights his father's difficult character. The demands of both her husband and son wear on Mrs. Ramsay; she describes herself as a "sponge sopped full of human emotions."

During moments of anger, Mr. Ramsay directs his hostility toward his wife's optimism at all women, thinking the "folly of women's minds enraged him." Although Mrs. Ramsay is assertive, defending herself and telling him to stop, she feels unworthy of him, demonstrating how traditional attitudes of women's subservience to men govern her thoughts and feelings.

Yet their relationship is not without tender moments. Mr. Ramsay glances at Mrs. Ramsay while he thinks outside: she is his touchstone. His character is complicated as he comes to terms with his professional failure. Mr. Ramsay's insight gives credence to Mr. Bankes's observations. Mr. Ramsay's bulging forehead vein shows how much he wants another success, further developing the internal conflicts of his character.

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