Lily sits at the breakfast table feeling how strange and unreal everything seems. Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James are supposed to go to the Lighthouse but are late and disorganized. Nancy asks Lily what should be sent to the Lighthouse and Lily finds the ordinary question absurdly unanswerable. Lily finds the strange unreality of everything scary but also exhilarating.
Because it has been so many years since she’s been at the summerhouse and because so much has happened in that interval, Lily can see the summerhouse and the Ramsay with fresh eyes. Everything thus seems strange and unreal.
Avoiding Mr. Ramsay’s “wild gaze” of “imperious need,” Lily takes her easel out on the lawn in just the place she’d painted from ten years ago. She feels now that she knows how to paint the picture she’d tried to paint back then.
Mr. Ramsay remains as hungry for female praise as ever. Lily feels that the past decade has given her the perspective she needed to finish her long-ago painting.
Yet Lily is distracted by Mr. Ramsay’s constant approach as he paces the terrace. She recalls how, when she’d arrived the night before, he’d said to her in front of the six children, “’You’ll find us much changed.’” Then he had ordered teenage Cam and James to be ready for an early trip to the Lighthouse the next morning, which they consented to with obvious resentment. Lily thought “this was tragedy—not palls, dust, and the shroud; but children coerced, their spirits subdued.”
Mr. Ramsay is as unable to contain his emotions as he was ten years ago. Lily sees grand, tragic meaning in the children’s adolescent resentment of their father and their circumstances.
Unable to paint because she is so distracted by Mr. Ramsay’s imposing presence, Lily thinks angrily that he only knows how to take, while Mrs. Ramsay had always given. She, Lily, will be forced to give, she thinks and, after inwardly lamenting the unfairness of the situation, she decides to get it over with and to give Mr. Ramsay the sympathy he needs so she can get back to painting. She tries to make her face assume “the rhapsody, the self-surrender she had seen on so many women’s faces,” including Mrs. Ramsay’s.
As she resented having to submit to the expectations of her gender and make small talk with Mr. Tansley at the dinner a decade ago, Lily now resents having to submit to those same expectations in order to sate Mr. Ramsay’s desire for female attention.