As Mr. Ramsay approaches the window on his march round and round the lawn, Mrs. Ramsay can see right away that her husband is in anguish, “all his vanity, all his satisfaction in his own splendor….shattered.” She knows not to speak to him but focuses instead on James and, looking up after a bit, sees that Mr. Ramsay has come round again with his mood “veiled; domesticity triumphed.” He stops at the window to fondly tickle a still-bitter James.
Mr. Ramsay’s interior life is expressed clearly by his body: Mrs. Ramsay can see right away what he is thinking. Many years of marriage have taught Mrs. Ramsay how best to react to her husband’s moods. Mr. Ramsay’s anguish is evidently about something other than his family, since “domesticity” provides him with a relief from his pain.
Hearing that Mrs. Ramsay is trying to finish the stocking in case they go to the Lighthouse the next day, Mr. Ramsay swells into a rage, infuriated by the irrational “folly of women’s minds.” “He had ridden through the valley of death, been shattered…and now she flew in the face of facts…told lies.” He stamps and says, “Damn you,” to his wife. Mrs. Ramsay is shocked to silence: “to pursue truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people’s feelings…was to her…an outrage of human decency.” Then, after a moment, Mr. Ramsay offers to go check with the Coastguards and Mrs. Ramsay feels he is the most admirable person she knows.
This spat reveals Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s different perspectives on life’s meaning. For Mr. Ramsay, the meaning of life lies in reason and facts and he is thus furious with his wife for acting irrationally. For Mrs. Ramsay, the meaning of life lies in human relationships and she is thus astonished that Mr. Ramsay could so ignore James’ feelings. By offering to check on the weather, Mr. Ramsay makes peace in the marriage by suppressing his own certainty in the forecast and conceding to Mrs. Ramsay’s hope that it could be a fine day after all, and yet ultimately Mr. Ramsay will rely on the true fact of the forecast.
Mr. Ramsay strides off again, repeating his phrase, though now it sounds to him “changed” and he hums it, then drops it altogether. Mrs. Ramsay smiles, listening. The vague shape of his wife and child at the window “fortified him and consecrated his effort” to solve the problem he’s contemplating. If thought were an alphabet, his “splendid mind” had reached Q. He is trying to reach R and, thinking onwards, his thought vacillates between extremes: he is proud at having reached Q (which so few people do) and confident in his role as patriarch (who protects his wife and children), and simultaneously self-doubting and crushed by the fear of other people whispering about his failure.
Though Mr. Ramsay believes the meaning of life lies in fact and rational thinking, he is most comforted by the human relationships that can so effectively alter his bad moods (as they have “changed” his phrase). As Mr. Ramsay thinks about thought, the motions of his mind reveal the contradictions inherent in interior life: he is at once boldly confident and utterly intimidated.
The text zooms out and compares him to the leader of a polar expedition who, having resolved to freeze to death, still squares his shoulders so as to be discovered later in the posture of a hero. The text asks: “who will not secretly rejoice when the hero puts his armour off, and halts by the window and gazes at his wife and son…who will blame him if he does homage to the beauty of the world?”
The metaphor suggests that Mr. Ramsay tries to conceal his weaknesses under a façade of heroic strength. The question suggests that most people ultimately value love and beauty over strength and heroism, even if they pretend otherwise.