Symbols in To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Symbols in To the Lighthouse

Symbolism in To the Lighthouse


In Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, a few critics have realized the momentousness of symbolism, a corollary to its poetic and lyrical nature which they may extol or censure but can’t come up to scratch to acquiesce in.

Virginia’s intuition is more abstract than that of Henry or James Joyce. She had an almost mystic assurance of a “reality” behind and within the façade of the temporal. She proclaims,

“I want to put practically everything in but made transparent”

In the novel, To the Lighthouse the emblematic design oversees everything but it has no definite schema. It is rather like the great scroll of smoke.

Symbol of Lighthouse

All the symbols are interwoven and this great work of fiction concentrates on them. In To the lighthouse, the light house is a substantial symbol that manifests Mrs. Woolf’s central idea that she insinuates in the novel or upon which the whole novel is woven. The tower is frequently shadowed in mist; its glints are intermitted in the murk. Its light signifies reality or truth that strengthens its states even through the twilight of nascence.

The lighthouse is an enigma but it also pertains to day-to-day living. It is manmade, something is immutable and steadfast that man has built in the flux of time to guide and overcome those at the clemency of its cataclysmic forces. From this facet, it gives the impression to be related to the human tradition and its values, which subsists from generation to generation and tell of both the integrity or community and progression of man. Man tends to its light, which propels its streaks out over the dark waters to those on the Island and so establishes communication with them and illumines them.

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Symbol of Window

To Mrs. Ramsay as she takes the seat and crochets in the window, it seems at one moment the light of truth, stern, searching and beautiful with which she can unite her own personality. The odyssey towards lighthouse is also emblematic. It is the emblem of movement toward veracity, which Mrs. Ramsay preaches against the factual truth.

Symbol of Ramsay’s Family Aptitude

Ramsay’s family’s aptitude at the lighthouse that they contemplate to go in the first part of the novel, symbolizes the aptitude of an artist. If a person is an artist in true aura, he must return towards reality or truth after imagination.

Firstly, Mrs. Ramsay and her family set out to stop by the lighthouse in the winds but due to bad weather unfavourable climatic conditions, they have to set aside their programme. In second chapter, though most judicious ménage pushes up the daisies and Mrs. Ramsay herself kicks the bucket, but in the last part of the novel, remaining persons, at length, succeed in visiting the lighthouse with flying colours.

Symbol of Lily’s Painting

Lily Briscoe’s accomplishment of her painting is also symbolic to a great extent. She neither in first nor in second part of the work of fiction can be able to complete her picture. In the whole period that contains more than a decade, she is perplexed about to fill the gap of her picture, but at the lighthouse, she executes her production. This symbolizes that an artist can be impeccable in his art when he reaches and finds the final limitations of reality or truth.

Symbol of Ramsay’s knitting of stockings

Mrs. Ramsay’s knitting of stockings is also the symbol of the notion that she crochets in her consciousness. The thoughts, through which she knits novel’s first part like knitting stockings for lighthouse’s keeper’s son. Her analysis of every person or character of the novel, her matchmaking, her role at the dinner party and many other actions weave the novel as she knits the stockings.

Symbol of Sea

“The sea is to be heard all through it”

Mrs. Ramsay said, the sea is the symbol of eternal flux of life and time a mid which all we exist. Life ceaselessly changes its characters. Sea is the sign of life as it has altered its visitors from first part to third part of the novel. Mrs. Ramsay hankers for its visit with his clan but she has been incapable to do so as a person in her life of ten falls flat to frame her firmness of findings. After a decade, other characters supplant her and visits Sea or lighthouse.

To Mrs. Ramsay, the sea at one moment sounds soothing and consoling like a cradle song. Sometimes “Like a ghostly roll of drum constantly beating a warning of death,” it brings terror, sometimes “a fountain of bright water which seems to match the sudden springs of vitality in the human spirit”. As life is sometimes ravishingly beautiful with all its munificence and blessing to human beings so is the case with the sea according to Mrs. Ramsay.

In the long run, we can sanguinely remark that Virginia Woolf‘s symbols in the novel “To the Lighthouse” revolve round life, flair and facts. In the point of fact, she clears out her outlook of bond of life, art and reality.

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