Analysis Of Similes In Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse

1953 words - 8 pages

Analysis of Similes in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse

`Thoughts are made of pictures.' Our consciousness may be visualized as a photomontage of simultaneous impressions, mostly visual, according to poet John Ciardi (238). In verbalizing conscious experience, authors tend to use metaphor and simile to create images that, like words, possess both denotation, visual identification, and connotation, an emotional aura (Ciardi 239). In To the Lighthouse, by my count, Virginia Woolf employs over one hundred similes, figures of speech making an explicit comparison between two things essentially unlike, to enliven her description of things, places, and people. The majority of these similes relate to people; furthermore, of those relating to people, over thirty describe Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey. The similes Woolf uses to describe Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey fall into three major categories--forces or objects of nature, human, and animal--and reveal Wool's feelings about her parents.

To reveal the climate created in the home by the emotional interplay between a gloomy, childish man and an impulsive, nurturing woman, Woolf compares Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey to forces or objects in nature. When Lily Briscoe and Mr. Banks discover Mr. Ramsey, a professor of philosophy, in the hedge and interrupt Ramsey's thoughts, Ramsey withdraws childishly. Seeking comfort and sympathy from his wife, Ramsey storms into his summer home "fell as a thunderbolt" (30). A later passage reveals that the Ramseys' relationship "was no monotony of bliss": Woolf portrays Mr. Ramsey as a sarcastic man whose violent outbursts shook the house "as if a gusty wind were blowing" (199). Nurturing her child-like husband exhausts Mrs. Ramsey whom Woolf metaphorically calls a flower: "[she] seemed to fold herself together, one petal closed in another" (38). Woolf describes Mrs. Ramsey's declining energy as "like the pulse in a spring which has expanded to its full width and now gently ceases to beat" (38). Not only does Mrs. Ramsey tend to the needs of her husband but also to those of other men in her life. She shelters and fosters "the still feeble pulse," rallies, and tends to Mr. Banks, her guest, "as a sailor not without weariness sees the wind fill his sail and yet hardly wants to be off again" (84). In fact, Mrs. Ramsey intuits the unspoken needs of all around her "like a light stealing under water" (106). Alone at the end of a tiring day, "she grew still like a tree which has been tossing and quivering and now, when the breeze falls, settles, leaf by leaf, into quiet" (118). Thus, "giving, giving, giving, she [Mrs. Ramsey] had died" (149) from exhaustion. Years later when the Ramseys return to the summer home, Lily remembers Mrs. Ramsey's concern for the poor and the ill. "It was her instinct to go," Lily reflects, "like . . . the artichokes to the sun, turning her infallibly to the human race, making her nest in its heart" (196). Ten years after the death of his wife,...

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