Sunday, November 24, 2019
The Meaning of Life in To the Lighthouse Essays
The Meaning of Life in To the Lighthouse Essays The Meaning of Life in To the Lighthouse Paper The Meaning of Life in To the Lighthouse Paper Essay Topic: Light in August Virginia Woolf was never reticent about her atheism, stating that certainly, emphatically, there is no God. This does not mean, however, that she did not feel the need for something that would give a purpose to life, and in To the Lighthouse, each of the characters appears to be searching for this. The apparently trivial details, to which she pays such attention, carry the weight of a struggle to draw form out of chaos, to grant shape and meaning to human experience. Each of the characters clings to one philosophy or another, be it art, scholarship or family duties, although they all lack the self-knowledge that previous literature had presented as the crucial form of wisdom. The self in this novel is elusive, complex and volatile, but it is with this that the characters must discover the meaning in life. An unmarried woman has missed the best of life, argues Mrs. Ramsay, who has faith in marriage above all things. Marriage, she believes, is not merely a contract, it is an affirmation of order and stability. There is a clear demarcation of masculine and feminine domains in the novel. The feminine domain is the home, where Mrs. Ramsay fulfils her purpose as a woman by being a good wife and mother (She would be happy if always to have a baby in her arms). She also has the whole of the other sex under her protection, not only due to admiration of them, but also because she pitied men always as if they lacked something women never, as if they had something. There is, she believes, profound value in the traditional womans role. Within this role, the process of establishing relationships between people is of paramount importance. In fact, drawing people together, overcoming their personal differences, has become her reason for being. She struggles against the complexity of life, described as her old antagonist, in order to act as a consoling presence for her family and friends. In XVII (The Window), she contemplates the meaning of her existence. All she has, she thinks, is only this an infinitely long table of plates and knives. But she seems here to be standing separate from her life, for when she gives herself a shake, the old familiar pulse begins to beat again, suggesting a return to life. That pulse is hospitality without it she looked old and worn, but when she regains it, it was as if the ship had turned and the sun had struck its sails again. Mrs. Ramsay had given. Giving, giving, giving, she had died and had left all this, complains Lily. Helping the less fortunate was something that Mrs. Ramsays lived for. Her compassionate nature made her alert to the plight of the poor and the suffering, and she desired to help in some practical way to alleviate their distress. In I, 1, she knits a stocking for the lighthouse-keepers son, who is unwell, and visits the home of a sick woman in the nearby town. She is active in promoting certain improvements in social welfare, which should ameliorate the lot of the underprivileged. She gives her whole self for the happiness of others. Indeed, happiness, when applied to other people, is meaning is itself. She contemplates the lives of her children: knowing what was before them love and ambition and being wretched alone in dreary places she often had the feeling, Why must they grow up and lose it all? And then she said to herself, brandishing her sword at life, Nonsense. They will be pe rfectly happy. Mr. Ramsay is also concerned with social issues, caring so much about fishermen and their wages that he lost sleep, and believing that the lot of the average person should be of paramount concern in social policy. He evidently finds great value in poetry (though he considers art a superficial embellishment, unnecessary in a truly civilised society). These are not central to his understanding of purpose, however. He has a linearity of thinking best suited to logical argument and extraordinary concepts, and sees mental achievement in terms of an alphabet, where meaning comes from climbing up, letter by letter, and reaching Z is the ultimate goal. This brings its insecurities: In that flash of darkness he heard people saying he was a failure that R was beyond him. Although he appears to be driven by a fiery unworldliness, suggesting a deep purpose to his life, at one point Lily sees him as a petty, selfish, vain, egotistical tyrant. Indeed, he is obsessed with the nature of greatness, fearing that his own work will not be valued by posterity. There is a sense that if he is not remembered after his death (through his books), his life will have been meaningless. Art is Lily Briscoes means to emulate Mrs. Ramsay in making coherent form from lifes chaos without adopting her faith in marriage, which she perceives as a shortcoming. Importantly for her, as a woman, the creative affirmation of painting allows her to move out of the domestic confines which constrained Mrs. Ramsay. So what would seem to Mrs. Ramsay to be misfortune, she considers as luck: She had only escaped by the skin of her teeth though, she thought. She had been looking at the table-cloth, and it had flashed upon her that she would move the tree to the middle, and never need marry anybody, and she felt an enormous exultation. It is a meaningful break from the cycle of tradition. Virginia Woolfs own decision to become a writer enabled her to experience the world beyond those limits within which her mother led her life. In the novel, it is Lily who has the final joy, the final fulfilment of purpose: With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line the re, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision. Augustus Carmichael (rubicund, drowsy, entirely contented), has broken from a different cycle. He is evidently indifferent to worldly success, and has surrendered all ambition in a manner unthinkable to Mr Ramsay. In doing so, he has found peace. Minta and Paul followed the advice of Mrs. Ramsay, but the marriage had turned out rather badly. What brought them some happiness was untraditional it was Pauls infidelity which made them excellent friends. The idea that meaning belongs in a traditional life is now shattered. Allusion in the novel to the Great War suggests that the dominance of conventionally masculine values has reached an impasse. The gaining of power is not the essence of life, only the cause of death. How aimless it was, how chaotic, how unreal it was, she (Lily) thought, looking at her empty coffee cup. Mrs. Ramsay dead; Andrew killed; Prue dead too repeat it as she might, it roused no feeling in her. In any case, time and nature obliterates any individual determinati ons in its sweep. Deaths are mentioned in parenthesis, as if they are of little consequence to the whole. Chaos and disintegration are the realities of life. For James, in The Window, visiting the lighthouse is a distant goal, the object of an adventure. The intensity of James hostile response to his father is a measure of the strength of his desire to reach the lighthouse. By The Lighthouse, this purpose has changed into fighting tyranny to the death, and it is Mr. Ramsay whose purpose is that of visiting the lighthouse. Both are fulfilled Mr. Ramsay ends his tyranny by praising James; they reach the lighthouse. Mr. Ramsay rose and stood in the bow of the boat, very straight and tall, for all the world, James thought, as if he were saying, There is no God. This confident declaration of independence appears to be the conclusion to his search for meaning. Lily, far away, perceives this: He has landed, she said aloud. It is finished. Mrs. Ramsay lives on after death in the way she is remembered. This is Mr. Ramsays idea of meaning in life the gaining of immortality. But of all the people in this book, it is the mystic and the visionary who have the surety. They, walking the beach on a fine night, stirring a puddle, looking at a stone, asking themselves What am I, What is this? had suddenly an answer vouchsafed them: (they could not say what it was) so that they were warm in the frost and had comfort in the desert. The ineffability suggests that each man must find the answer for himself. Perhaps Mr. Ramsay stumbled on that answer as he stepped from the boat, and Lily also, for she has had her vision.