"To the Lighthouse" Photo Essay By will graff and jack smith

Virginia Woolf’s modernist novel To the Lighthouse focuses on a family’s summer home in the early twentieth century. The home is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, a respected philosopher and a loving mother to all respectively, and their eight children. The family welcomes friends, associates, and admirers of Mr. Ramsay to spend the summer with them. Virginia Woolf uses this mixed group of characters to examine their relations both in conversation and thought. One major theme is the idea of a lighthouse. Throughout the novel, the Ramsays’ youngest son, James, wishes to visit the lighthouse on an island in the distance. This metaphor of a lighthouse represents a hopeful dream or goal. Woolf creates each character with an individual “lighthouse” that is brought out through their thoughts or interactions with other characters. Each goal directly relates to their personalities and actions. However, as Woolf intends, each lighthouse is a merely a tiny encapsulation of something much larger and more meaningful. Each character’s lighthouse represents a microcosm inside of a macrocosmic world or idea. In this photo essay, images will be used to represent each character’s personality, “lighthouse”, as well as the Modernist microcosms and macrocosms they live in.

Mrs. Ramsay adheres to the classic gender role and plays the loving mother of her eight children and perfect wife to the working husband. Mrs. Ramsay is always on call to help with anything anyone needs to be the perfect hostess. She is gentle and caring and above all else a mother to everyone. In the novel however, Mrs. Ramsay struggles with her feelings towards Mr. Ramsay and his distance from the rest of the family. She battles with him over the struggle of their youngest son and his hope to get to the lighthouse. Mrs. Ramsay encapsulates “The Madonna” and her above all care to her children and her willingness to do anything for them. While Mrs. Ramsay takes on the madonna role which ensues taking on her children’s goals, her personal lighthouse is a similar goal of care and nurturing outside of her family. Mrs. Ramsay says that she hopes to one day be able to build a hospital on the island and work their in order to help other people. While it is her job now to help her family, she hopes to continue her philanthropy towards her community after the rest of her family has found their own lighthouses.

Mr. Ramsay is a passionate metaphysician who is constantly working and thinking. He distances himself from his family and never shows his true emotions on any matter other than his work. At the same time when Mr. Ramsay is working and Mrs. Ramsay is doing everything she can for him, he is selfish and short tempered. All he seems to care about is himself and his career. For him, the lighthouse is an unattainable destination for James and he never says other wise completely destroying all of James’ hope. For this reason, James resents his father and only hopes that his mother will feel the same way. Mr. Ramsay himself hopes to one day discover something that will be remembered for ages to come along with him. The truth is he is very scared of dying because the odds are no one will remember him or bother to keep his wretched memory around. In Mr. Ramsay's profession, he is always trying to find out new things and the way he does it is through the alphabet. For Mr. Ramsay attaining Z and answering all of life's questions is not attainable, so he realistically tries to get to R. Mr. Ramsay’s lighthouse of R, is more realistically the end of his life and his legacy. All he is ever doing with himself is looking to find his legacy out of the only hope to be remembered instead of searching for genuine reasons.

Lily Briscoe is a passionate young artist who admires the work of Mr. Ramsay. She is self-conscious of her success and ability in the beginning of the novel, and feels confined by traditional gender roles. She receives much criticism of her work from Charles Tansley, a pupil of Mr. Ramsay, about how women cannot succeed in fine arts. This criticism creates much anxiety for her and halts her progress. She begins a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay and James in the beginning of the novel, however, she is skeptical about her work on it and has trouble attaining the vision and confidence to finish it. Her “lighthouse” is to become as respected and successful as Mr. Ramsay, but in her own field. However, her goal is merely a microcosm of her macrocosmic search for her identity. She admires Mrs. Ramsay and a role model, but rejects her image of femininity of motherliness. Through observing and learning from Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, Lily Briscoe becomes more and more self confident and knowledgeably. Lily Briscoe comes back to the summer house after After Mrs. Ramsay has died. She returns to try and complete her “lighthouse”. By the end of the novel, she uses all the resources around her to create a painting of the bay and the lighthouse. This painting pleases her and confirms in her mind that she has become successful in her field like Mr. Ramsay as a woman.

James Ramsay is the youngest son of the Ramsay family. He spends the majority of the play wanting to visit the lighthouse on the horizon. Every day he asks for his mom to take him to the lighthouse, but his hope is always shot down by his father. He has a loving relationship with his mother who supports his every need, but hates his father. He hates his father’s insensitivity towards him, and loathes the almost joy it brings him when he shuts down the trip to the lighthouse. Finally, when the family returns to the summer house after ten years, James travels to the lighthouse with his father. By the time the boat lands on the island with the lighthouse, his attitude changes toward his father and feels a new connection to him. Once he fulfills his “lighthouse”, he also fulfills a subconscious macrocosmic goal; he sees his father in a new light, which brings prospects of a better relationship between them.

Virginia Woolf creates a multifaceted dynamic among her characters to bring out their true wishes and personalities. Each character has a small goal in the novel that operates within a larger macrocosm. However, Woolf places the novel just before World War One, and, in fact, creates this novel as a microcosm of World War One in itself. As displayed by Andrew Ramsay, the oldest Ramsay son who dies in World War One, war and death reaches all edges of the earth, even a peaceful secluded summer home. Virginia woolf uses the war to put each character’s perspective into comparison with true meaning. Each character is intensely focused on their goals, such as becoming a successful artist or philosopher. The war and death shows what really matters: family, love, and life.

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