Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseThe Window Chapter 7 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | The Window, Chapter 7 | Summary



James Ramsay hates his father for interrupting his mother, who reads to him while she knits. He hopes his father will leave, but Mr. Ramsay lingers, "demanding sympathy." He tells his wife he is a "failure," looking at her expectedly. Her mention of Charles Tansley's admiration fails to soothe him. James senses his mother gathering strength as she tells his father to relax. Mr. Ramsay repeats himself, and Mrs. Ramsay, "spent," comforts her "egotistical" husband.

Rejuvenated, he volunteers to watch their children play cricket. She returns to the story. Physically and mentally exhausted, Mrs. Ramsay thinks about the "origin" of her mental state. Disturbed by the lie he cornered her into telling him, she acknowledges the truth; she is worried about money, his recent failures, and the "burden" of shielding the children from everything. Augustus Carmichael arrives.


Mrs. Ramsay naively tries to hide things from her children, while James perceives the energy his father's demands cost her. The situation creates conflict and dramatic irony, as readers are aware of James's knowledge, but Mrs. Ramsay is not. James's hatred reflects Freud's Oedipal theories; the young boy resents his father for stealing his mother's attention, which he wants for himself. However, Mr. Ramsay is in some ways as infantile and dependent as a child, and readers may observe he wants his wife's attention in a childish, rather than an adult, way.

James's concern about his mother's body, from "sitting loosely" to becoming a "rosy-flowered fruit tree laid with leaves and dancing boughs," is Oedipal, intensified with the voicing of the death wish: James describes his father as a sword that stabs and kills his mother.

The symbolic tree (in this case, Mrs. Ramsay) represents love, life, and connection. After the manipulative encounter in which she must support her husband's ego, she is described, again, flower-like—shutting. The multiple images develop conflict in Mrs. Ramsay's character as one that provides love, life, and connection and at the same time feels there is "scarcely a shell of herself left for her to know herself by."

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