To the Lighthouse


Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse: Personification 3 key examples

Definition of Personification
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... read full definition
Time Passes, 2
Explanation and Analysis—The Dark Tide:

When the Ramsays leave the house in the beginning of "Time Passes," the rooms are plunged into darkness. In the beginning of Chapter 2, Woolf describes the steady onslaught of darkness using a potent combination of hyperbole, metaphor, and personification:

...with the lamps all put out, the moon sunk, and a thin rain drumming on the roof a downpouring of immense darkness began. Nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness which, creeping at keyholes and crevices, stole round window blinds, came into bedrooms, swallowed up here a jug and basin, there a bowl of red and yellow dahlias, there the sharp edges and firm bulk of a chest of drawers. Not only was furniture confounded; there was scarcely anything left of body or mind by which one could say 'This is he' or 'This is she.'

First, the darkness gains the liquid qualities of water: when the "thin rain" drums on the roof, the darkness begins to "downpour" and begins a great "flood." Then, Woolf personifies darkness and it becomes a burglar sneaking through the house unseen: stealing "round window blinds" and creeping into bedrooms. Finally, darkness becomes something else entirely—something primordial, suffocating, and sinister. It "swallows up" everything it touches, consuming the house until "there was scarcely anything left of body or mind."

This passage rests on a bit of hyperbole—darkness is an immaterial thing, a lack of light, that does not in fact possess any such destructive qualities. This characterization fits with the shift in focus that occurs in "Time Passes," away from the thoughts and relationships of the Ramsay family and their friends that dominate the first and third sections of the book and toward the environment of the house, the land around it, and the passing of time itself. Abandoned by the Ramsay's, the house begins to deteriorate—and darkness and shadow may reign supreme.

Time Passes, 3
Explanation and Analysis—The Night Dealer:

In Chapter 3 of "Time Passes," as the narrator reflections on the passage of time and the articulation of the changing seasons, Winter itself transforms, through personification, into a card dealer: 

But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers. They lengthen, they darken.

Winter is a card dealer, holding a pack of night. They deal these nights out evenly—constantly, regularly—and do not tire, even as the nights "lengthen" and "darken."

In "Time Passes," as the narrator shifts focus onto the passage of time and the changing environment through that time, the individual characters of the Ramsays and their friends fade away into the past. In their place is the environment itself, as Woolf uses personification to make the natural world into its own cast of characters with their own agency. In this way, even celestial properties like day and night may be described in terms of relatable actions, and the large-scale movement of time through entire seasons and years feels as quick as a game of cards.

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Time Passes, 10
Explanation and Analysis—The Murmur of the Sea:

In "Time Passes," the middle portion of To the Lighthouse, the timescale of the novel abruptly zooms out from the thought-to-thought stream of "The Window" to a grand, practically geologic, scale. The narrator meditates on the environment throughout this section, and how it varyingly changes and remains constant amid the passage of time. In Chapter 10 of "Time Passes," Woolf uses sound imagery and personification to characterize the sea after the conclusion of World War I:

Then indeed peace had come. Messages of peace breathed from the sea to the shore. Never to break its sleep any more, to lull it rather more deeply to rest and whatever the dreamers dreamt holily, dreamt wisely to confirm — what else was it murmuring — as Lily Briscoe laid her head on the pillow in the clean still room and heard the sea. Through the open window the voice of the beauty of the world came murmuring, too softly to hear exactly what it said — but what mattered if the meaning were plain?

Through the auditory imagery of a murmur to characterize the ocean waves and their gentle crashing sound, the sea is personified into a sort of soothsayer who carries the "voice of the beauty of the world" and speaks to Lily Briscoe as she falls asleep. This voice carries "messages of peace," of the end of the war, from the sea to the shore. Though the sea is at times sinister and threatening in the novel, here it is a gentle and calming constant in the background of the island setting—communicating indistinctly, but nonetheless spreading calm over the world.

Although the sea tends to be indifferent toward the human world in To the Lighthouse, in "Time Passes," as the narrator shifts focus toward the environment and away from the individual lives of the Ramsays and their friends, the environment gains human traits through personification. Here, the sea is very much a character, and even a healer, bringing peace as the world begins to recover from the horrors of World War I.

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