In her novel To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf examines the power of human creativity through the character of Lily Briscoe. Lily is a struggling young artist, who resists convention in order to achieve something lasting and beautiful through her painting. Lily, like the other characters in the novel, is looking for meaning and purpose in life. Through her art, she comes closest to finding answers to her questions about existence and immortality. As a woman artist, Lily has been forced to abandon her traditional role in society, since, according to her friend Charles Tansley; women can neither paint nor write.
In an attempt to transcend the boundaries of her gender, Lily refuses to conform to the world’s definition of womanhood. By staying single, she has ignored her potential as a wife and mother and carved out a new identity for herself that does not reflect society’s views and expectations. She is interested in maintaining her individualism, something expressed in both her life and her art. It is through her art that Lily manages to understand human experience and the world around her. When she places the final line down the center of her painting, she realizes that she has created something of value.
She knows the painting will not last forever, but it is the closest she can get to preserving something of true significance. The painting is Lily’s way of achieving immortality. Long after she is gone, the painting will continue to reflect her thoughts and emotions. This knowledge about existence and life helps Lily to connect with the character of Mr. Ramsey, whose intellectual snobbery had previously repulsed her. Mr. Ramsey, too, has worried about mortality and human achievement. Lily’s feelings about her art allow her to feel empathy for Mr.
Ramsey, because she is finally able to recognize their shared struggle to achieve something meaningful and lasting. For Lily, art is the act of crystallizing a moment, making it permanent instead of passing. The reader is shown to the process of turning a moment into a still point in time. The process of making art for Lily is tied intricately with her thoughts, feelings and memories as she is painting the scene of memory. In chapter 3 of part 3, Lily recognizes Mrs. Ramsay’s artistry in bringing people together, just at the same time when she is producing art herself.
She also wonders why she does it. She thinks her painting will be hung in the servants’ bedroom or rolled up and stuffed under a sofa. The point of crystallizing a moment through art is not the only thing that worries Lily, she fears that her work lack worth. Whether one will take it seriously. Lily feels that it is not honest to tamper with what she sees in representing it. Lily sees that beneath the colors there is shape. She can see it clearly, as she looks at it, but when she tries to represent it with a brush stroke she loses it.
Lily has the difficulty of interpreting the sensual into physical piece. Her ideas on the fleeting and permanence are also related to the theme of subjective reality. She often feels that it takes tremendous courage against great odds to insist on what she sees and hold onto the recent of the original version. Mr. Ramsay’s addresses the temporary and permanent through his works. He is constantly thinking about his achievements: how long are they going to last? How long will his work be valued? He reflects dismally that the stone he kicks with his boot will out last Shakespeare.
In chapter 6 part 1, Mr. Ramsay thinks his grand philosophical contribution to the world seems family trivial when described in letters of an alphabet. Mr. Ramsay sees himself as a hero struggling to reach the next letter; it to be found dealt at his post, not having given up. He worries about fame. He seems self-involved and small minded for a moment, but the narrator ends the chapter sort of taking up for him, asking who can blame the man for thinking of his reputation to admire the beauty of his wife and son. Then in part three, Mr.
Ramsay notes there are two types of thinkers: those who work their way from A to Z diligently. Those few geniuses who simply arrive at Z in a single instant. Mr. Ramsay knows he does not be long to the latter type, and resolves (or hopes) to fight his way to Z. Still he fears that his reputation will fade after his death. He reminds himself that all fame is fleeting and that a single stone will outlast Shakespeare. However, he hates to think he has made little real, lasting difference in the world. Virginia Woolf makes Mrs. Ramsay’s talent of bringing people together an art.
It is a momentary and evanescent sort of art, but an art nonetheless by virtue of the fact that it brings. She is a sort of artist of conversations. She orchestrates the conversations of the table, makes sure everyone is included, makes the separate people of the table come together for a moment and form a whole, brings in those who feel low or out of it. After the dinner party (chapter 18), Mrs. Ramsay thinks how the people who dined together always come back to this night. She also feels compelled to pick out one thing of importance, separate it off from all the emotions, and bring it to thought to ask if it was good or bad.
The chapter is written with a clear plot line with a beginning in which all is settled, all the people are separate and stand offish and proceeds in a rising action when one person engaged in conversation and then another and another until the moment of climax, where everyone feels at one. Ultimately, as is evident from her meeting with Mr. Ramsay at the close of “The Window”, Mrs. Ramsay never compromise herself. Here, she is able – masterfully – to satisfy her husband’s desire for her to tell him she loves without saying the words she finds so difficult to say. This scene shows Mrs.
Ramsey’s ability to bring together disparate things into a whole. In a world marked by the ravages of time and war, where everything must and will fall apart, there is perhaps no greater gift than a sense of unity, even if it is only temporary. Lily and other characters find themselves grasping for this unity after Mrs. Ramsay’s death. If Mrs. Ramsay is an artist, the dinner party in her medium; indeed, if the purpose of art for her, as it is for Lily, is to break down the barriers between people, to unite and allow them to experience life together in brief, perfect understanding, then the part is nothing less than her masterpiece.
In conclusion, Mr. Ramsay and Mrs. Ramsay employ different strategies for making their lives significant. Mr. Ramsay devotes himself to his progression through the course of human thought, while Mrs. Ramsay cultivates memorable experience frown social interactions. Neither of these strategies, however, proves an adequate means of preserving one’s experience. After all Mr. Ramsay fails to obtain the philosophical understanding he so desperately desires, and Mrs. Ramsay’s life, though filled with moments that have the shine and resilience of rubies, ends. Only Lily Briscoe finds a way to preserve her experience and that way is through her art.