Reader Response to Woolf’s To The Lighthouse
There is a saying that the worth of a man’s life is best measured by the degree to which he has if he has touched the lives of others and not by the quantity of worldly possessions that he has acquired. It is important to keep this in mind when considering Virginia Woolf’s novel, To The Lighthouse. Throughout the novel, it seems as though the characters, mainly Mr. And Mrs. Ramsay, are trying to find worth in their lives. As a first time reader of the novel, it immediately seemed clear to me that the eight children that Mr. And Mrs. Ramsay have bore and raised gives significant worth to their lives; however, they feel that they need more. They both appear to be good and decent people, and yet there is an inner struggle that is apparent in both characters, as well as others, to find a way to leave a lasting mark on this earth after their death.
For Mrs. Ramsay, the quest appears in her charity for other people. Her character is caring and giving. She shows great concern for social inequality and is charitable to those less fortunate than herself. She has a certain aura about her which draws people to her. She is able to talk to most people and get them to talk to her. She is aware of this quality and secretly prides herself on it. In fact, she needs it, and when it does not come to her, she tries to find fault or reason for it. Mrs. Ramsay becomes irritated when Carmichael shrinks away from her and at one point, she admits her awareness of this, and we see her searching for a way to make Carmichael feel closer to her.
He never told her anything. But what more could she have done? There was a sunny room given up to him. The children were good to him. Never did she show a sign of not wanting him. She went out of her way indeed to be friendly. Do you want stamps, do you want tobacco? Here’s a book you might like and so on. And after all, - after all (here insensibly she drew herself together, physically, the sense of her own beauty becoming, as it did so seldom, present to her) – after all, she had not generally any difficulty in making people like her; for instance, George Manning; Mr. Wallace…(41)
She goes on to think about other people whom she has touched and who have opened up to her and cried to her and who love her, adore her and need her. At this point, she realizes that she does thrive on this and she needs this to feel her own worth; that all of her acts of charity and kindness are for her own self-satisfaction. And her reward is the praise and trust and admiration that receives in return. This is where it becomes apparent that Mrs. Ramsay is measuring her self-worth based on the number of people who need and depend on her.
Mr. Ramsay is also looking to be needed, only for him, this need is not measured on how he can nurture other people; rather, it is measured by his intellect. From the very beginning, when Mr. Ramsay says, “it won’t be fine.”,...