To the Lighthouse


Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse: The Window, 16 Summary & Analysis

Finishing up dressing for dinner in her bedroom with Jasper and Rose, Mrs. Ramsay tries to push aside an inward fear that something bad has happened to Nancy, Andrew, Paul, and Minta while outwardly entertaining Jasper and Rose by letting them choose her jewelry and imagining personalities for the rooks flying around outside whom she has named Mary and Joseph. She tells Jasper to tell Mildred absolutely not to delay dinner, laughing it should not be held even “for the Queen of England.”
Unlike her husband, Mrs. Ramsay is an expert in concealing her interior thoughts behind her external behavior. As a conventional wife, Mrs. Ramsay is in charge of all the small decisions about daily household life, such as when dinner will be served.
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Observing how carefully and seriously Rose chooses her mother’s necklace for her, Mrs. Ramsay tries to think back to her own childhood, “some quite speechless feeling that one had for one’s mother at Rose’s age.” Rose’s gravity saddens Mrs. Ramsay, who feels she cannot give anything adequate in return and that “what Rose felt was quite out of proportion to anything she actually was.” She thinks how Rose will grow up and “suffer...with these deep feelings.”
Mrs. Ramsay’s perspective on time allows her to relate to Rose’s feelings (by remembering her own childhood) while also recognizing Rose’s misunderstanding (by drawing on her experience of adulthood). Once again, Mrs. Ramsay fears for what time will do to her children.
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Then, her outfit complete, Mrs. Ramsay invites the children to escort her downstairs. Catching sight of the rooks again outside the window, she asks Jasper if he thinks they mind being shot at (as Jasper shoots at them). Jasper is momentarily “rebuked, but not seriously” thinking his mother lives “in another division of the world” and just doesn’t understand that birds “did not feel.” Still, he asks her if she thinks the birds he shoots are really Mary and Joseph. But Mrs. Ramsay, distracted, doesn’t answer him.
Mrs. Ramsay’s words disrupt Jasper’s own sense of the meanings in his life. He has not attributed any individual value to the birds he shoots, thinking of them just as toys. Yet his mother’s comment makes him worry that those birds might actually have feelings, which would turn his lighthearted pastime into something brutal.
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Entering the hall, Mrs. Ramsay discovers Nancy, Paul, Minta, and Andrew returned, and immediately feels “much more annoyed with them than relieved.” She wonders what has happened but knows she will not be told just yet and passes them silently, bowing slightly like “some queen.” The dinner gong sounds which means that everyone must leave all their private, separate activities in their rooms and gather with the others for dinner.
The fact of the walkers’ return obliterates the fears that have been preoccupying Mrs. Ramsay’s interior thoughts and makes her feel not relief but irritation at their tardiness. Ritual time in the Ramsay house is strict: everyone must abandon their personal activities in deference to the communal schedule.
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