Mrs. Ramsay attempts to comfort James by reminding him there is still a chance the weather the next day will be fine. She looks in a catalogue for a picture of an especially complex object that “could be cut out if James was very careful” (James is still clipping magazine pictures).
Mrs. Ramsay persists in her role as nurturer. She comforts James, as she comforted Mr. Tansley, by appealing to his ego: cutting out a complex picture will fill James with pride.
Mrs. Ramsay is suddenly alarmed to hear the sound of waves unaccompanied by the rhythms of human conversations and cricket games. As white noise behind human sounds, the waves seemed to “beat a measured and soothing tattoo and seemed consolingly to repeat…’I am guarding you—I am your support.’ But heard on their own, elevated into attention, the sound of the waves inspire terror “like a ghostly roll of drums remorselessly” beating out “the measure of life…and warned her…that it was all ephemeral.”
The first appearance of the sea, which symbolizes the enduring natural world and its apathy to human life. Yet the human perception of this symbol shifts depending on the perceiver’s context. Thus, Mrs. Ramsay feels the waves sound supportive when they are only the backdrop to human noise. Yet, heard on their own, the sounds terrifyingly remind her that the sea will outlast all human life.
Mrs. Ramsay realizes Mr. Ramsay has shaken off Mr. Tansley, ending their conversation. She listens for “some regular mechanical sound” and, “hearing something rhythmical, half said, half chanted,” feels “soothed” and “assured again” and continues looking for pictures for James. Mr. Ramsay suddenly shouts, but Mrs. Ramsay sees that only Lily Briscoe is present to hear the outcry and thus it “did not matter.” Mrs. Ramsay recalls she’s supposed to be posing for Lily’s painting. She reflects that homely Lily will never marry and that her painting can’t be taken seriously, but she is fond of her all the same for being “an independent little creature.”
The sound of the waves, too, is rhythmical, but Mrs. Ramsay is only comforted by a rhythmical human-made sound (the waves’ rhythm just reminds her of the relentless rhythms of human mortality). Because she believes that the meaning of life lies in domestic caretaking, Mrs. Ramsay doesn’t value Lily’s art and instead thinks of her in terms of her marriageability. Still, Mrs. Ramsay’s respect for Lily’s independence extends beyond conventional gender expectations.