To the Lighthouse is not a traditional novel. It has an element of complexity. As compared to other novels, written in that era, To the Lighthouse contains unique themes. It is very difficult to understand the main idea of the novel due to its complexity. In this novel, the writer narrates a story, which is based on the technique of stream of consciousness. Virginia Woolf is not the pioneer of the technique of stream of consciousness but the way she uses this technique in her novel to portray themes is praiseworthy. The story deals with the psyche of different characters in depth.
Themes, coupled with the technique of stream of consciousness, make this novel memorable. Apparently, the writer does not mention anything in detail regarding the themes of this novel; the only thing which reveals something with respect to the main idea is the completion of the story. In the second part of the novel, the readers acknowledge the most important themes that the writer uses in her novel.
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What is a theme?
Although the stream of consciousness is a unique literary technique yet when a writer uses it expertly in his literary work, it becomes its theme. Prior to finalising the different themes used in this fictional work, it is better to know what is a theme.
“A theme is the central idea of a literary work, which can be divided into two categories: a work's thematic concept is what readers, "think the work is about" and its thematic statement is "what the work says about the subject".
To the Lighthouse Themes
On the basis of the aforementioned definition, the themes of a literary work are also based on the thinking of the readers, hence, critics and students of literature have different opinions with respect to the themes of To the Lighthouse; however, some common themes of this novel are:
- Theme of Relationship
- Individual Vs. Society
- Art and Nature
- Theme of Change
Theme of Relationship
The main theme of the novel that is obvious is the relationship between man and society. Virginia Woolf writes a novel that mainly deals with the transition of a person from one perspective to another. For instance, the writer discusses the character of Mr Ramsay from different angles. Most of the critics agree with the point that the main and prominent theme of the novel can be the relationship of people with each other. It is the only technique that the writer uses freely.
Thus, the writer time and again discusses the issue of the relationship between characters which becomes one of the most dominant themes of To the Lighthouse. She (the writer) explains different characters from different perspectives. On several occasions, they perform differently from their routine behaviours. In this way, their actions are always dependent on the circumstances.
There is a strong relationship between Mr and Mrs Ramsay. Although they both are different in their thinking yet they are much closer to each in one way or the other. The relationship between Lily Briscoe and Mr Bankes is also notable in this regard. So much so that the relationship between Tansley and Mr Ramsay, the relationship between Lily Briscoe and Mr Bankes, the relationship between children and their father, and the relation between nature and life are examples, which force us to believe that the theme of relationship is prominent in To the Lighthouse.
Individual Vs. Society
The writer uses two methods to illustrate the characters in the novel. Firstly, she tries to depict their inner consciousness. Secondly, she mentions their behaviour through other characters. As a result, the readers realise the psyche of a character from different points of view. The writer portrays the relationship of a character from two angles; firstly, what the character himself thinks and secondly what society thinks about him.
To illustrate, let’s have an example, the character of Mrs Ramsay can be judged in different ways. Virginia Woolf writes about her when the character thinks about herself. On the opposite, Lily Briscoe also has some opinions about Mrs Ramsay whereas Mr Tansley analyses her differently. Thus, the writer portrays a character individually and secondly from the perspectives of society and the people who are around him.
In the same way, Lily Briscoe and Mr Ramsay can also be observed through Mr Tansley. It is an amazing technique that gives pleasure to the readers. Further, the writer discusses the relationship between each individual in detail. Consequently, Individual Vs. Society becomes one of the prominent themes of To the Lighthouse.
Themes of Art and Nature in To The Lighthouse
Another theme which is worth mentioning here is the relationship between an artist and nature. At the same time, the writer also portrays the relation of an artist with art and life. Lily Briscoe contributes by portraying art and nature as two main themes of To the Lighthouse. At the start of the novel, Lily Briscoe is unable to complete her painting. She tries her best but she can’t. There is a lack of harmony between her mind and her canvas to sketch an idea.
She is unable to depict anything as her mind is not clear. She is not satisfied that she will be able to paint a clear image of what she is thinking in her mind but ultimately she completes it with the help of nature and harmony.
Theme of Change
In addition, change is also a noticeable idea of To the Lighthouse. It is rightly said that change is the law of nature and Virginia Woolf does not deny this fact. In the first part, Mr Ramsay is observed as a rude character; so rude that he can be supposed to be a person with feelings and emotions; however, in the end, he brings a change in his behaviour. It seems that he has fully adopted the attributes of Mrs Ramsay. Many of the characters are dead in part two and children’s views about their father have also been changed.
Likewise, Lily Briscoe in part one of the novel could not sketch her painting but subsequently, she completes it without any fear and anxiety. She develops a relationship with nature due to which she is capable of imitating her imagination on canvas.
Every writer can bring variety in his literary work with the best themes that he thinks fit but Virginia Woolf uses a unique technique to portray universal themes in her novel To the Lighthouse. The three main themes; change, the relationship between different characters as well as the relation of an artist with life are the main themes of To the Lighthouse.
Lily Briscoe asks Andrew Ramsay what type of books his father writes. He replies
“Subject and object and nature of reality”.To The Lighthouse
Andrew Ramsay wraps all the themes of To the Lighthouse.