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Literature

Essay by 24  •  July 12, 2011  •  894 Words (4 Pages)  •  578 Views

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THEMES ANALYSIS

Virginia Woolf's center of focus in To the Lighthouse is a woman artist, Lily Briscoe. Lily Briscoe is on the cusp of change for women, moving out of the old position which women occupied as wives and mothers into a new mode of being a woman. The old position is filled by Mrs. Ramsey. Lily Briscoe both admires and disdains the roles Mrs. Ramsey has taken up in life. She most values Mrs. Ramsey's artful ability to bring a group of people together around a moment, to make a moment of time coalesce into something which has meaning for a lifetime. It is just this ability to capture a moment in all its liveliness that Lily strives for in her art.

Lily Briscoe in her painting and Mrs. Ramsey in her ability to bring people together both strive to make the moment last. At Mrs. Ramsey's dinner party, Lily Briscoe makes the choice not to marry; instead she decides to pursue her art. She does not make this choice easily and she is never able fully to move outside of patriarchal relations with men because she continues to exist in a social world organized with men's needs at the center. Lily watches as Mrs. Ramsey fully gives herself up to her husband's and her children's needs. She notices Mr. Ramsey's inadequacy in the realm of life outside his abstract ruminations into philosophical questions. She struggles to transform a clear vision she has for her painting onto the canvas. In doing so, she must combat the words of misogynists like Charles Tansley who insist that women cannot create and that they are not intellectual beings.

Woolf explores the different kinds of thinking that men and women do when they live in a patriarchy. Mr. Ramsey thinks in starkly abstract terms. His pursuit in his philosophy is to explore the relation between the subject and the object and the effect that relation has on what is known as reality. He explores that vital question with the methods of rationality which he has learned in his education and which he has sharpened with further scholarship and teaching. The primary method is a linear one represented in the metaphor of the alphabet. Mr. Ramsey compares his progress in understanding this philosophical problem to the progress one makes through the letters of the alphabet. That is a sequential progress, the letters are in a fixed order in the alphabet, and Mr. Ramsey imagines only two ways of getting through the alphabet-- plodding through the letters one by one or knowing the whole in a moment of genius. In Mr. Ramsey's time, only men are educated formally in logic and reasoning.

Virginia Woolf looks at that kind of thinking from the outside, from the perspective of someone who was prohibited from attending the university. She does not hold his kind of thinking sacred. She knows of alternative methods of exploring the relation between the subject and the object in their effect on reality. Lily Briscoe works on just this problem in her attempt to paint Mrs. Ramsey's portrait. In that pursuit, Mrs. Ramsey is the object of her painting and Lily Briscoe is the subject, the one who perceives that object. What

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