We have in To The Lighthouse a galaxy of fictional characters whose earnest endeavour is to establish, with varying degrees of success, happy and healthy relationship with the people around them. Accepting this as its main theme the novel may justly be called a study of the ways and means by which satisfactory human relationship might be established with the people around them. This is because human beings seemed to Mrs. Woolf isolated and communication between them partial and often far from satisfactory.
Words are Inadequate
In human society words are the main sources of communication between one person and another. Unfortunately words are very often inadequate for the purpose. And hence this is one of the main reasons for the failure to establish healthy and satisfactory human relationships. The difficulty is that very often words cannot express the full complexity of a character’s thoughts and feelings. Then again what the words express is only a fraction of what a character thinks and feels, and as a result they become misleading. These aspects of verbal inadequacy were quite evident to Mrs. Woolf. And many of her characters reveal this inadequacy in a distinct manner. Lily feels this strongly as in the third part of the novel she is seen standing near to Carmichael on the lawn and trying to explain Mrs. Ramsay: “And she wanted to say not one thing, but every thing. Little words that broke up the thought and dismembered it, said nothing. ‘About life, about death; about Mrs. Ramsay’—no she thought one could say nothing to nobody. The urgency of the moment always missed the mark. Words fluttered sideways and struck the object inches to low. Then one gave it up; For how could one express in words these emotions of the body?”
Silence is More Eloquent
Very often it is found that silence is more expressive and eloquent than words. And Lily realises it fully. She feels in greater communication with Carmichael than if they had spoken. There sitting on the lawn in perfect silence they seem to understand each other perfectly well without exchanging even a single word. And in the final chapter of the novel Lily justly feels: ‘They had not needed to speak. They had been thinking the same thing and he had answered her without, her asking him anything’. Thus it is revealed to us that silence is often more expressive and more eloquent than words —words that fall to express ‘these emotions of the body’, and leads to the establishment of happy human relationships.
The Trival and its Importance
In the novel we also find that how things trivial or of very little importance are greatly helpful in establishing congenial human relationships. In the beginning of the third or final movement of the book we find Mr. Ramsay the widower coming to Lily demanding sympathy. She really feels very helpless and words fail her in the beginning. Suddenly his boots catch her eyes and she praises his boots. This brings great relief and Mr. Ramsay feels satisfied. Apparently Lily’s remarks may seem silly or comic. But ‘Mr. Ramsay smiled. His pall, his draperies, his infirmities fell from him’. Thus it helped to establish perfect sympathy and understanding between Lily and Mr. Ramsay and Lily ‘felt her eyes swell and tingle with tears’.
Need of Sympathy and Understanding
Congenial and satisfactory human relationships are essential for happiness in our life. Logic, reason and intellect are of very little help to us for this purpose. It is through the emotions we can establish such relationships. Emotional understanding and a genuine sympathetic attitude are greatly needed for satisfactory relationships even between parents and children, and husband and wife. And in the very first scene of the novel we find how far the lack of these mental aspects Mr. Ramsay becomes an intolerable tyrant or a ‘sarcastic brute’ in the eyes of his children. He tells James the dire truth ‘it won’t be fine’—without caring a bit for a young child’s dreams and desires. And James feels like gashing a hole in his father’s breast to kill him there and then. But Mrs. Ramsay with her loving soul and sympathetic understanding wins the heart of the children and is tremendously loved and admired by her children. She undoubtedly soothes them by telling them that the weather might change for the better. But it is only to make the world a better and happier place.
Mrs. Ramsay’s great Role
Virginia Woolf shows us in many ways that Mrs. Ramsay plays a very significant part in To The Lighthouse to establish communication between people. This is first revealed in her genuine attempts to get Paul and Minta as well as Lily and Mr. Bankes married. And it is shown very nicely and convincingly at the dinner party where she makes the most sincere effort to get people talking, to involve them and so to create something of the time they are together. In fact, almost throughout the novel we find the movements of characters towards one another from the state of isolation in which each one of us is trapped by his own sense of inadequacy or his private worries. In this respect Tansley is a very good example. His is the picture of a man who is sensitive with his feelings of social inferiority. He is poor and unattractive. That is why he wants to assert himself in a rude and rough manner. He repels and displeases almost all except Mr. Ramsay. Mrs. Ramsay’s ideas and feelings about him vary, but she is pictured as the rare person who can make others show their best side, and she draws from him simple and selfless behaviour and feeling, which are just as much part of her personality as rudeness. And this is nicely revealed when they are found walking together in the very opening scene of the novel.
Then again in the dinner scene we find how Mrs. Ramsay prevails on Lily to help Tansley out of a very odd and unhappy situation. At the dinner party he is desperately trying to assert himself, to make an impression on the conversation without very little success. And this irritates him more and more. To Lily he is already repulsive and she won’t help him in any way in the beginning. But when Mrs. Ramsay with her good sense and sympathetic understanding silently implores Lily’s help in making the party comfortable, she accomplishes her task in rehabilitating the preverted person. And Tansley takes this opportunity and begins to blossom forth in talk; his egotism is now satisfied and he is able to shine in the company of the guests. So it is revealed to us that due to tact and good sense of Mrs. Ramsay satisfactory relationship between Tansley and others at the table is thus established and the party becomes a real success. This happens in spite of the fact that there is a note of pretence and falsehood even in Lily’s second invitation to Tansley to accompany her to the Lighthouse. But this may be justified as the necessities of polite social relationships demanded it. .
Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay: Their Relationship
There is a note of pretence and falsehood even in the husband-wife relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Mrs. Ramsay cannot but praise Mr. Ramsay to his face just to booster up his confidence in a way she feels should not be necessary. He is in constant need of being reassured. His fear of failure, his resentment that he has achieved less than he should have and that his books will not last, pervert his judgement, leading him to see in praise of other men’s works disparagement of himself. This undoubtedly puts a strain on his wife and she has to conceal things for him. Again on Mr. Ramsay’s, side too there is some sort of reserve. Mrs. Ramsay’s pessimistic conviction of the misery of life distresses him, and then he is unable to communicate with her in her moods of sadness. “It saddened him and her remoteness pained him…..He could do nothing to her. He must stand by and watch her. Indeed, the infernal truth was, he made things worse for her”. But on the other hand, his dependence on Mrs. Ramsay and her respect and reverence for him balance these areas of difference between them.
The first movement of the novel The Window, traces the pattern of their relationship very skilfully from one extreme to another. In the very first scene we find them at their farthest apart when their disagreement about going to the Lighthouse brings out their difference quite sharply in their attitudes to life. Mr. Ramsay is upset, is rather infuriated. “The extraordinary irrationality of her remark, the folly of women’s minds enraged him…..and now she flew in the face of facts, made her children hope what was utterly out of the question, in effect, told lies.”
Mrs. Ramsay’s Attitude: Final Reconciliation
Mrs. Ramsay is also upset in her own way. With her loving heart and sympathetic bent of mind she wants to make people happy in this world and longs for protecting her children from losing the contented innocence of childhood. Hence her husband’s irrational and stern attitude seems to her equally repugnant, “to pursue truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people’s feelings, to rend the thin veils of civilization so wantonly, so brutally, was to her so horrible an outrage of human decency’. But very soon after this incident they begin to come together again. It starts with Mrs. Ramsay’s apology. And after this we find that the remaining sections of ‘The Window’ move towards the moment at the end, when the firm asperity of the masculine mind, which she admires in him, curbs her gloomy thoughts and she is able, though indirectly, to assure him of her love. “And as she looked at him she began to smile, for though she has not said a word, he knew, of course that she loved him”.
We may now rightly assert that To The Lighthouse very reveals a close study of the ways and means by which satisfactory and congenial human relationships might be established. And Mrs. Ramsay, who is the centre around which action and movement are built, plays the most significant role as a force by holding together almost all the characters and incidents of this great novel.