She was not inventing; she was only trying to smooth out something she had been given years ago folded up; something she had seen. For in the rough and tumble of daily life, with all those children about, all those visitors, one had constantly a sense of repetition-of one thing falling where another had fallen, and so setting up an echo which chimed in the air and made it full of vibrations. (199)
What causes that crumpling? What makes the accumulated images fold up over the years? How can one smooth out the folds? These are the pivotal questions raised in the above passage, which captures the central exploration in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. Change and chaos create folds in Lily's life. She clings to images of Mrs. Ramsay as an iron. "For there are moments when one can neither think nor feel," (Woolf 193), but even in the agony of intense change, one can always see. Like a muse, Mrs. Ramsay's lasting presence inspires Lily to create a painting that irons out the folds. Lily eventually accepts some distance from Mrs. Ramsay, as well, which becomes another liberating step in the process of smoothing out her jagged soul. When those images are rediscovered, and sometimes re-invented, change is produced. Ultimately, Lily is released from the past, while smoothing out the creases.
Lily's ambivalent feelings toward Mrs. Ramsay make her life creased and conflicted: "Lily feels forced to choose between rejecting the beloved mothering figure or becoming again a panicky, dependent child whose poor self-image undermines her ability to have a vision of her own" (Caramagno 253). She tends toward the position as dependent child because it brings permanence, but she vacillates repeatedly, caught in the painful paradox of both revering and blaming Mrs. Ramsay. On one hand, Lily can't help but admire Mrs. Ramsay, the model hostess. Lily even feels like she is soaking up some of Mrs. Ramsay's glory-a collective, feminine splendor-just by being in her presence. On the other hand, Lily harbors an aversion for Mrs. Ramsay. For instance, this reproof surfaces during the dinner party, when Lily observes that Mrs. Ramsay "led her victims...to the altar" (Woolf 101). Although both contradictory impulses are strong, her criticism of Mrs. Ramsay gains intensity in the novel's end. Consequently, Lily's wrestle with Mrs. Ramsay's invisible presence makes the two becomes antagonists (Andre par. 12).
A general sense of chaos also creases Lily's life. Andre notes that the Greek word "khaos" denotes an abyss, which is related to "chasm" (par. 3). This chasm, or distance, is the source of Lily's conflict, because Woolf associates it with change. When Mr. Ramsay sets out to the lighthouse, for example, Lily relates the distance with change: "Already the little distance they had sailed had put them far from it and given it the changed look, the composed look, of something receding in...