I have mixed emotions about many things in life. For instance, there are some specialty food stores that make fabulous salads and sandwiches topped with havarti or Greek olives that I love, yet I don’t identify with the majority of the people who shop in those stores. So far, I feel the same way about To the Lighthouse.
The characters in the novel, for the most part, all belong to a leisure class that doesn’t seem to need to work. Of course, the Ramsey’s are no described as having much money, and Mr. Ramsey does have to lecture in order to provide an income, yet one does not really feel that pressure on the family. What makes this novel interesting is the desperateness and isolation of the characters. I was thinking about any Jane Austen novel, and how her works trend toward comedy and misunderstanding where things are kept at a level of acceptable politeness. In To the Lighthouse, none of the characters are able to confide in one another. The result of this isolation is a bouncing around between points of view so that the reader sees how a character is slighted or feels without letting the other characters know.
That idea of isolation and desperateness is combined further with an urgency of need. The characters are not always aware of the reasons behind their needs, most often they seem clueless, however there is a drive to do more, be more, to live, to reach the lighthouse that fills each character. And while some are driven through their own inner desires, other characters feel compelled through the force of personality of those with whom they live.
The writing in this novel has a dreamy quality. One can easily imagine a summer’s day at a beach house with the sun pushing through the billowing curtains. But for all the beauty of the writing, not much happens in the novel. It takes place mostly over a weekend, and then fast forwards through the years summarizing what has happened to the different characters. It ends years later after the family has greatly changed. Once again they are back at their summer house; once again they make plans to go to the lighthouse. The roles are reversed this time, and it is the children who do not understand the desire to go or even want to. What does the lighthouse mean? I would argue it is an ideal, something to be strived toward, but perhaps never reached.