“To the Lighthouse” is not a lengthy story; very less action takes place in it. Indeed, it is the story of James Ramsay, who wants to visit the lighthouse. Mr Ramsay refuses to fulfil his wish while saying that the weather is not suitable to go there. He predicts that tomorrow, the condition of the weather will remain the same. On the other hand, Mrs Ramsay’s vision is different. She consoles her children and says that the weather would be changed and they may visit the lighthouse.
Apparently, nothing happens in the whole novel except a visit to the lighthouse. The novel opens with a wish to visit and ends with its fulfilment. It seems that the whole story of the novel is a journey “To the Lighthouse” but it is not true. The novel is much more than a visit. It deals with the psyche of different characters, through which a number of themes have been portrayed by Virginia Woolf.
Honestly, it is true that the novel is James Ramsay’s story. A story, in which the psyche of different people, their relationship with each other, their views, their temperaments, their experiences, and their knowledge have been discussed in detail. Moreover, the clash between art and life and illusion and reality has also been conferred by the writer in this novel.
The first and foremost element of the novel is that through James Ramsay’s story, Virginia Woolf, very skillfully, spreads light on the theme of illusion and reality. A bare study of the novel reveals that the novel, in hidden meanings, is a clash between these two elements. Finally, it ends when the clash is resolved. From the very start of the novel, we can differentiate Mrs Ramsay’s vision from her husband’s. Mrs Ramsay is a kind-hearted woman, who prefers truth yet does not hesitate to tell a lie in order to console her husband and children.
Mr Ramsay, on the other hand, is stuck to reality. He wants to aware his children of the harsh realities of life. He is of the view that instead of soothing them with a lie, it is preferable to tell the truth. It is the only reason that he tells his children not to expect a trip to the lighthouse because due to stormy weather, they would not be able to go there.
Mr and Mrs Ramsay are opposite characters in this regard. One is pessimistic as he chooses the truth whereas the other is optimistic and prefers kindness. Mrs Ramsay does not dishearten her children despite knowing that the weather is not going to be good. He is the symbol of hope for her children. Even Mr Ramsay demands sympathy from her and she very beautifully consoles her husband. Mr Ramsay considers life as a land and the sea as a destroyer whereas Mrs Ramsay considers life as a sea.
The main story of the novel may be the fulfilment of James Ramsay’s wish yet many other things are discussed in the background. For instance, Virginia Woolf indirectly explains human relationships. We see different relations between different characters. The relationship between Mr and Mrs Ramsay is the main concern of Virginia Woolf so far as the theme of human relationships in this novel is concerned. She knows that relationship is shattered nowadays and that persons like Mrs Ramsay are necessary for every society to strengthen bonds.
It is notable that the writer herself does not discuss the relationships but discusses them through other characters. For example, the relationship between Mr and Mrs Ramsay is shown through Lily Briscoe’s opinions. Likewise, Lily’s relationship with all other characters is portrayed through the eyes of Mrs Ramsay.
Virginia Woolf has proved that silence is also a language. We see Lily Briscoe and Carmichael sitting at the table but do not utter any word; still, they share sympathies and feelings. The writer establishes many relationships with a single character. Mrs Ramsay is a true wife, a good mother, a beautiful friend and a kind-hearted woman. Lily Briscoe is an artist; she is also a friend and would prove a good wife. We can experience every relation in this novel, established by the writer. It is noteworthy that every relation has been depicted thrice. The purpose of the writer is to show it from every perspective and for which she uses the multi-views technique.
Another important aspect, related to this novel is the development of an artist. Lily Briscoe, at the start of the novel, feels uncomfortable while painting her vision on the canvas but at the end, she completes the same without any hurdle. Her artistic hallucination has been divided into four visions by Virginia Woolf and the fourth vision is the final one, in which she completes the painting. Her happiness has been quoted by Virginia Woolf.
“Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision”.Lily Briscoe in To The Lighthouse
If this novel is viewed in psychological terms then it can be said that Virginia Woolf is a true psychologist. She has knowledge about the human psyche. In fact, she has studied human nature and it is the primary subject of discussion in “To the Lighthouse”. How hatred develops in James Ramsay and how he plans to kill his father in his imagination are mental pictures, which are remarkably captured by the writer in the shape of words. Moreover, every character has different nature in the novel and the writer is well aware of it. He, like a professional psychiatrist, demonstrates their inner consciousness.
In short, the novel is not merely the story of James Ramsay but it is more than that. The plot may revolve only around the trip to the lighthouse but its subject matter is not only a visit. Many other things are matters of discussion in this novel. Thus, principally, “To the Lighthouse” is James Ramsay’s story but in a roundabout way, the writer has targeted human nature, relationships and psychology.