Lily’s Artifice And Mr. Ramsey's Work In To The Lighthouse

2890 words - 12 pages

A Comparison of Lily’s Artifice and Mr. Ramsey's Work in To the Lighthouse  

        In Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse,  Mr. Ramsey’s lone philosophical work is contrasted against Lily’s encompassing paintings.  Both Lily’s and Mr. Ramsey’s professions require sacrifices;  Lily gives up the ideal marital life whereas Mr. Ramsey has his wife forfeit her happiness to restore his.  Through his work,  Mr. Ramsey is able to build himself up and look as though he is a strong male figure.  Lily also finds strength within her artistry,  rejecting the traditional “mother-woman” image and taking on an identity that is unique in her society. Mr. Ramsey’s and Lily’s process of thinking are particular to their work;  a philosopher must think in linear terms to get to a final conclusion whereas a painter has to envision and dream up their art in symbols,  shapes and more abstract images.  As Mr. Ramsey grows older,  he loses sight of his original intentions as an artisan and ends up worrying more about the immortality of his work than the content.  Lily,  on the other hand,  focuses on the continuity and harmony that her paintings portray.  Lily wants to capture the essence of life;  Mr. Ramsey cannot do so because he cannot fully express his emotions without a conduit such as Mrs. Ramsey.   Without Mrs. Ramsey,  he is not a whole self,  which makes his work lack the original enlightenment it once held.  Mrs. Ramsey fuels Lily’s and Mr. Ramsey’s work in different ways;  Lily receives her “vision”(209) through Mrs. Ramsey’s past motherly presence and Mr. Ramsey needs her to energize his often sinking spirits. Whether they are occupied within the artists themselves or others surrounding them,  martyrs are needed to construct the art itself and for it to simply exist.  To thrive as an artisan, one must renounce ideals,  conformity,  and often the very people that influence their work.

    A female artist gives up society’s forced vision of marriage in order to achieve ultimate individuality and freedom within her art.  Lily is only able to part herself from this tradition by “gathering a desperate courage” (50) which would eventually “urge her own exemption from the universal law”(50).  This “universal law” was the belief that women could only be whole and complete by having a male counterpart.  Lily’s rejection of marital life is a tragedy in Mrs. Ramsey’s eyes;  Mrs. Ramsey represents a consensus of society’s beliefs and feels that “an unmarried woman has missed the best of life” (49).  Mrs. Ramsey sees her as “cold and aloof and rather self-sufficing” (104),  all of which are characteristics that women should not possess.  Women are expected to be self-sacrificing and in a constant cheery mood so that they will uplift and provide contentment for their husbands.  Her civilization looks down upon her for being an “independent little creature” (17) who “would never marry” (17).  Lily is reduced to being “little” throughout the novel not because...

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