Conflict Between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay

Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse is very effective in

showing the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, not with

actual interaction with each other, but through their different

approaches toward everyday life. Through the constraints of the

Victorian society, Mrs. Ramsay must appear subservient and

inferior. Anything radical would go against the principals of her

husband. Yet, underneath, Mrs. Ramsay is much more superior

mentally, which she tries to keep inconspicuous and undetectable

our of fear. The greatest difference between their personalities

is the expression of their desires. Mr. Ramsay makes it blatantly

obvious that he's feeling insecure in his own masculinity and

depends on others to keep him on his pedestal. Mrs. Ramsay

chooses to find solutions herself since she has such a remarkable

understanding of how the universe works. The most poignant

display of this comparison comes at the end of the first part of

the book, where Mr. Ramsay longs to hear her speak the words, "I

love you." Mrs. Ramsay, though, knows a smile is enough to

express her tender emotions. She protects her children, her

guests, even her enemies, but no one protects her! Her gift of

leadership has earned the reverence and enamor of Mr. Bankes.

For this reason, Lily worships her and wishes to know the secret

to her everlasting passion, wisdom, and optimism. Mrs. Ramsay

understands how Mr. Ramsay's pride has been hurt, through the

example of the alphabet and his intellectual sterility. He knows

that he is not immortal and cannot meet the expectations of

perfection that he's set for himself. Mrs. Ramsay, though,

remains humble and even denies the fact that she is the anchor of

his family. Mr. Ramsay, fortunately, remains completely unaware

of these threatening revelations. Their relationship to each

other can be also examined through the relationship with their

son, James. There is hardly a doubt that James feels animosity

toward her father; one does not often see a six year-old boy with

the aspiration to drive a knife through his father! The clingy

relationship that James has with her mother may follow the

Oedipus complex: love your mommy, kill your daddy. With Mr.

Ramsay's straightforward "life's not fair" approach, he is brutal

to his son for his naive hope about going to the Lighthouse. Yet,

Mrs. Ramsay's protective "petals" makes sure that the son hasn't

lost his curiosity and enthusiasm for the world. Mrs. Ramsay

finds a far more positive and appealing way to gain knowledge and

find solutions. She refuses to act like an elitist; instead she

will take the time to treat everyone as worthy individuals.

Imagine how Mr. Ramsay would have dealt with his children who

were frightened of the skull; instead of the utopian image that

Mrs. Ramsay sings to Cam, Mr. Ramsay might have told her that

there was nothing the matter and she wasn't acting maturely. It

is particularly ironic that hard, cold facts are necessary to the

existence of Mr. Ramsay, since that he denies the problems of the

world around him and his position in life.

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