A lighthouse can symbolize many ideas. It could mean overcoming challenges or finding a way forward; simple adversity, guidance, or navigating through the world, but what does that really mean?
In Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, it embodies all of these thoughts. Breaking apart “to the lighthouse,” “to” implies that a person is on this journey, but they have not reached their destination yet.
So, who is taking this journey?
It is not simply one character, but each one growing throughout the book.
For the Ramsays, there are many challenges within their marriage such as Mr. Ramsay valuing his work more than his family, which Mrs. Ramsay knows, “…for she guessed what he was thinking– he would have written better books if he had not married” (Woolf 69). They have to overcome these conflicts together in order to find their “lighthouse” and learn to appreciate each other. Unfortunately Mrs. Ramsay is gone before this can fully occur.
After the deaths of Mrs. Ramsay, Andrew, and Prue, the family takes a long time to recover. They do not return to their summer home for many years. When they do, Mr. Ramsay, James, and Cam finally take the trip to the lighthouse. It is said that Lily Briscoe can not go, it is something Mr. Ramsay has to do alone, “There was no helping Mr. Ramsay on the journey he was going” (Woolf 154), as if he is finding a way forward after his heartbreak.
The most obvious adversary in the story was none other than Mrs. Ramsay. Many people looked to her, and some did not even know why. She had a way with making her presence the most understanding of people, welcoming them into her arms. She wanted to be people’s figure when they needed help, “…she wished so instinctively to help, to give, that people might say of her… and need her…” (Woolf 41). Her impact on all of these characters was only fully recognized once she was gone.
Then there is James, the little boy who so badly wanted to go to the lighthouse. His lighthouse is the navigation through the world as he grows mentally and physically while the book progresses, hating his father more and more for not taking him to see the lighthouse. Only on their journey to the there does he realize that he, too, has become like his father, “…what was always in the back of both their minds– that loneliness which was for both of them the truth about things” (Woolf 202-203). James had grown to be exactly what he feared, a narcissist wanting other’s attention, but his attitude changes and he is finally able to accept his father with all of his flaws.
Everyone has a different meaning to what their lighthouse is.
Once they find it, it will be their goal to find their way there.