In this essay it has been analyzed how time plays an important role in To the Lighthouse. In section A it has been described what is time’s role in the novel and how it affects the characters. In section B it has been concluded how time has changed the characters.
The novel To the Lighthouse is largely based on the theme of time and how it affects people by Virginia Woolf. In the novel it has played a huge role in the lives of Ramsays and people related to them. The novel is divided in three parts; it starts with a long night at the summer house of the Ramsays where everyone is invited to the dinner party. At this point of time everyone present at the house is relatively young, then the second part of the novel takes place during the span of ten years where many incidents take place with the start and end of the first world war and affects the lives of many people in the novel, at last in the third part of the novel it is shown that the events of the second part has brought a lot of change in the lives of people specially the Ramsays as only a few remain after the deaths of others in the second part due to different circumstances. This part is based on the events of one morning where the Ramsays finally leave for the Lighthouse and it shows how the memories of the past influence the Ramsay’s present views and how they change due the events of the journey and they discover a lot of new feelings towards each other. The past and the present in the lives of the protagonists contradict their views and feeling towards each other due to the differentiating capability of understanding of each other’s lives and problems as time and age limits a person’s understanding at times and enhances it at other times.
In the first part of the novel, during the events of the dinner party at the summer house of the Ramsays, the people in the novel are introduced. Mrs. Ramsay is willing to take her children to the lighthouse and her relationship with Mr. Ramsay is somewhat strained. Lily Briscoe is young and uncertain at this time. Other guests have strong opinions and most of them admire Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay as an ideal married couple with eight children. Everyone at this point is not very aware of what the future can bring for them. Their views at this point are very present oriented and naïve. Lily Briscoe is very doubtful about herself and her thoughts are fueled by Charles Tansley, another guest who thinks women are not capable of painting or writing. It is clear that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay are not in a clear state of mind as they keep getting irritated at very small things like when Augustus Carmichael, a guest asks for an extra cup of soup and Mr. Ramsay almost lost his temper. These incidents clearly show the unstable and vulnerable state of mind of the protagonists at this age and time. During the course of 10 years in the second part there have been many incidences of emotional turmoil for the Ramsays as well as Lilly Biscoe, the protagonist for this part like that of the Death of Mrs. Ramsay, Prue and Andrew. This part makes it clear that the protagonists feel the sense of the passing time, loss and loneliness. They learn to deal with death and loss and notice how time can change everything. This passing of time and the changes that come with it influences the views that the people in the novel form and creates a new mindset for them and it is understood how each character grows and become more clear about them or loses their stability of mind. In the third part which is also the end of novel it is portrayed that the Ramsays learn to accept grief and each other as family. Their memories of the past are the foundation of their present character. Mr. Ramsay specially copes with his loss and seeks to fulfil the aim of Mrs. Ramsay to visit the lighthouse. The children James and Camilla are quite resentful towards their father but the journey brings them closer and completes the family again.
Also at the moment the sailing party reaches the lighthouse Lilly completes her painting and realises the truth about Mrs. Ramsay and life.
Time has been the main source of growth for each character in the novel. It has been portrayed in the novel that time brings changes with it and they are not always positive therefore a person learns to adapt to life slowly. Their understanding of their life becomes clear and so does its purpose like Lilly finally completed the painting that she had in mind since the beginning of the novel and understood that her vision matters more than her legacy and that satisfies her.