James resents his father for interrupting him and his mother, hating “the twang and twitter of [Mr. Ramsay’s] emotion” which interrupted “the perfect simplicity and good sense of his relationship with [Mrs. Ramsay]” and draws his mother’s attention away from him. James feels his parents’ chit-chat as a primordial ceremony in which “the arid scimitar of the male…smote mercilessly, again and again, demanding sympathy” from his mother who, in turn, wordlessly assured his father of “her capacity to surround and protect,” devoting herself so completely to such assurances that there was “scarcely a shell of herself left for her to know herself by.” Satisfied, Mr. Ramsay left and James immediately feels his mother “fold herself together,” exhausted, though throbbing with “the rapture of successful creation.”
As a child too young to understand romantic love, James sees his parents’ relationship as a raw exchange unsweetened by the comforts that Mrs. Ramsay derives from marital love. He views their interaction in brutal, mythic terms, so that his parents’ individual personalities are extinguished and they become pure archetypes: the male and the female. James sees his father’s neediness for praise as a violent weapon crushing his mother. Yet Mrs. Ramsay herself emerges from the interaction feeling enraptured, if rather tired.
Mrs. Ramsay feels in perfect sync with Mr. Ramsay as he walks away, though the joy of it is tempered by her exhaustion and a discomfort she tries to suppress: “she did not like, even for a second, to feel finer than her husband,” or to feel that people around them think he is dependent on her (rather than she on him), since he is, she knows, so much more important than she is. She is also disturbed by having “to hide small daily things” from him like the price of mending the greenhouse. Further, she is worried that he might perceive her suspicion that his last book was not his best (an impression she “gathered” from Mr. Bankes).
Though Mrs. Ramsay takes immense pleasure in her marriage, she wants herself and her husband to fit the conventional gender stereotypes for wife and husband. As the husband, Mr. Ramsay should be the all-powerful and infallible head of the household. Thus, Mrs. Ramsay feels disturbed by his dependence on her and on his inability to confront household problems, even as she exults in her ability to care for him.
Mr. Carmichael trudges by in his slippers outside just as Mrs. Ramsay is painfully considering “the inadequacy of human relationships, that the most perfect was flawed” and “some demon in her” makes her ask as he passes, “Going indoors, Mr. Carmichael?”
Mrs. Ramsay’s quip reveals the link between interior and exterior life: her outward cheekiness towards Mr. Carmichael is in fact spurred by interior thoughts that have nothing to do with him.