Mr. Ramsay Character Sketch in To the Light House

Mr. Ramsay Character Sketch in To the Light House

Character of Mr. Ramsay

Mr. Ramsay: An Eminent Intellectual

Mr. Ramsay, a middle aged man of sixty-two, is the head of the Ramsay family and the father of eight children. He is a scholar, a great intellectual, one who has acquired eminence both as a writer and thinker. He has a number of books to his credit, some of which are quite successful. His wife thinks that he is a genius, and has therefore, great admiration for him. He has students like Charles Tansley who write dissertations under his guidance and have great love and respect for him.

Mr. Ramsay’s Passion for Facts

Mr. Ramsay is a great intellectual and realist with a passion for facts. He must speak out the truth, even though it may be disagreeable, and may cause pain to others. Thus in the very beginning of the novel he tells James that it won’t be fine tomorrow, and so he would not be able to go to the lighthouse. This causes great pain and disappointment to James, but he does not care for it. He himself harbours no illusions and cannot tolerate anybody who flies in the face of facts and harbours such illusions. And in shattering these illusions, he is ruthless. When his wife says that the wind might change direction and that they might be able to go to the lighthouse, the irrationality of her remarks greatly irritates him. The folly of women’s mind particularly enrages him. Says Virginia Woolf.

“He had ridden through the valley of death, been shattered, and now she flew in the face of facts, made the children hope what was utterly out of the question, in effect, told lies. He stamped his foot on the stone step”.

His intention, naturally, is that the children should understand the grim realities of life, face the facts, rather than remain under illusions regarding the nature of reality.

Mr. Ramsay’s Tyranny

This excessive passion for reality is, perhaps, one of the things that explain the element of tyranny in his character of which the children repeatedly complain. The children, particularly James, do not like him, for he makes sarcastic remarks and has a strange joy in “pouring ridicule” on them. He has some secret conceit about his own accuracy of judgment, and never changes a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure and convenience of any living mortal. This, the children resent. He wants them to know that life is difficult, facts uncompromising, and courage is needed to face them.

James and Cam take their father to be an absolute tyrant and form a joint defence pact against him. They decide to fight against him jointly and not to yield to him any ground when they are going to the lighthouse. Indeed, James would very much like to stab him and thus kill him. Cam too is offended by his sharp, curt, and sarcastic way of talking to them.

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The Comic Note: Self-dramatisation

Mr. Ramsay has a comic habit of self-dramatisation and play-acting. He imagines that he is a failure, and that his books would soon be forgotten. Therefore, he craves sympathy, and wants all others to sympathise with him. He demands sympathy from his wife, from Lily Briscoe, and even from Cam. He has worked very hard rode through the valley of death”, so to say, but still he has not achieved the success he deserves. He has not achieved due fame and recognition. So he walks up and down the terrace reciting lines from the well-known poem of Tennyson. “Boldly they rode and well”, and, “Someone had blundered”. He becomes a comic figure as reciting these lines he bears down upon Lily Briscoe and upsets her easel. Similarly, Mr. Ramsay remembers the comic episode when reciting a line of poetry “Bright and beautiful……”, he came upon Miss Gidding and frightened the poor maiden. Equally comic is the way in which he tickles the sole of James with a feather.

Mr. Ramsay’s Faults

Mr. Ramsay certainly has a number of faults of character. He is a ruthless realist, a hard intellectualist, an egotist, and a tyrant. He demands sympathy but does not give any sympathy to others. He over-works his wife to death. and makes the life of his children hard and unpleasant, and is therefore, hated by them. Looked at through their eyes, he seems to be the villain of the peace. We are likely to condemn him for the way in which he shatters Jame’s hopes and illusions by telling him ruthlessly that it won’t be fine tomorrow that he would not be able to go to the lighthouse, and the harsh way in which he says “damn you” to Mrs. Ramsay. We are likely to regard him as a cruel, hardhearted person who drives his children-James and Cam -to enter into a pact to resist his tyranny upto death.

His Essential Humanity

But this is not the whole truth. When examined closely, Mr. Ramsay is seen to be a complex and fascinating personality. As seen through the eyes of Mr. Bankes and Lily Briscoe he appears to be a humane figure, fond of his wife and children

First we have Mr. Ramsay seen through the eyes of William Bankes. “Looking at the far off hills, William Bankes thought of Ramsay: thought of a road in Westmorland, thought of Ramsay striding along a road by himself hung round with that solitude which seemed to be his natural air. But this was suddenly interrupted, William Bankes remembered and this must refer to some actual incident), by a hen, spreading her wings out in protection of a covery of little chicks, upon which Ramsay, stopping, pointed his stick and said. “Pretty pretty,” an odd illumination into his heart, Bankes had thought it, which showed his simplicity, his sympathy with humble things, but it seemed to him as if their friendship had ceased there, on that stretch of road. After that, Ramsay had married”. Says Bernard Blackstone,

“It is beautifully done, this figurative contrast between Mr. Ramsay as a young man, solitary and whole, and Mr. Ramsay as he is now, enmeshed by domestic happiness, his being scattered among his wife and children. The men’s friendship had ended there, because William Bankes, though he too marries, preserves his identity inviolate (his marriage was not a happy one), while Ramsay’s, he feels, is dissipated and lost. Yet he feels envy too”.

A Complex, Fascinating Figure

In Lily Briscoe’s mind, the image of Mr. Ramsay appears as a scrubbed kitchen table, lodged at the moment in the fork of a pear tree. She had asked Andrew once what his father’s books were about. “Think of a kitchen table when you’re not there,” he had replied, and added that he studied, subject and object and the nature of reality. So she concentrates her mind on this table, its shape obliterating the leaves and bark of the tree, and thinks what a curious way of looking at the world this is. She compares Mr. Ramsay with Mr. Bankes: Mr. Bankes, who is good, not vain, entirely impersonal, finer than Mr. Ramsay, without wife or child, living entirely for science; but then she remembers he is also a crank, has brought a valet with him to the Habrides, and proses for hours about salt in vegetables and the iniquities of English cooking. And so she finds it difficult to judge people. Mr. Bankes has greatness, and Mr. Ramsay hasn’t. “He is petty, selfish, vain, egotistical; he is spoilt; he is a tyrant: he wears Mrs. Ramsay to death; but he has what you (she addressed Mr. Bankes) have not: a fiery unworldliness; he knows nothing about trifles: he loves dogs and children. He has eight. You have none. Did he not come down in two coats the other night and let Mrs. Ramsay trim his hair into a pudding basin ?” Thus, by these little touches, given through the musings of William Bankes and Lily Briscoe, as well as by overt actions, the personality of Mr. Ramsay, complex and fascinating, is built up for us.


Similarly, in the end he is looked at through the eyes of Cam and he seems to be a brave, heroic figure, the leader of an expedition, facing dangers, and leading it to a successful conclusion. The very fact that he compels James and Cam to undertake this expedition, brings out his love for his wife and his reverence for her. It ennobles and uplifts him in our eyes. The final impression he leaves upon us is neither that of a villain nor that of a figure of fun but that of a loving husband and a kind-hearted gentleman,

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