A lighthouse is a structure that warns and navigates ships at night as they near land, creating specific signals for guidance. In Virginia Woolfs To The Lighthouse, the Lighthouse stands a monument to motivation for completion of long-term goals. Every characters goals guides him or her through life, and the way that each person sees the world depends on goals they make. Some characters goals relate directly to the Lighthouse, others indirectly. Some goals abstractly relate to the Lighthouse. The omnipresent structure pours its guiding light over every character and every action.
The spouses Ramsey have Shiva and Parvati-like roles in life, and their goals correspond to these roles. Mr. Ramsey differs in that he separates unconscious goals from conscious goals. Subconsciously, Mr. Ramsey manifests the character of destruction. His role is necessary to the well being of the family; though he seems at times to suck life from others with his bitter pessimism, his role is as important as the role of his wife, the giver and the nurturer. Mr. Ramsey exists in order to balance his wifes personality. His rage complements her love.
Consciously, Mr. Ramsey aspires to intellectual enlightenment through his philosophizing. His attitude in traveling to the Lighthouse mirrors his attitude towards attaining this goal. Mr. Ramsey has no hope that he will be able to reach either, and almost gives up both before trying, shifting the blame from him to outside forces. The trip to the lighthouse was unattainable because of conditions that do not have to do with neither him nor the goal: the weather conditions were not easily sailable. Intellectual enlightenment will be unattainable because of conditions that do not have to do with either him or the goal, as well. He would have written better books if he had not married (Woolf 69). His marriage and children become the scapegoat for this goal not being attained. Mr. Ramsey makes excuses for not becoming intellectually enlightened in the same vain that he makes excuses for not sailing to the Lighthouse.
Mrs. Ramsey is the ideal wife and mother. She uses her love to create and build, not in the physical sense, but more in the sense of relationship, community, and hope building. She is perhaps the most successful of the characters, in that her goals are she feels she has become her goal: one who helps people, brings them together, and to infuses them with hope and love. She looked up over the knitting and met the third stroke [of the light at the Lighthouse] and it seemed to her like her own eyes meeting her own eyes (63). Mrs. Ramsey always attempts to make connections between people, and to bring together parts into a whole. She is at the metaphorical Lighthouse, in terms of accomplishing her goals. She radiates inspiration and joy to those who notice her. For him to gaze as Lily saw him gazing at Mrs. Ramsey was a rapture (47). In the book, Mrs. Ramsey refers only to the journey to the Lighthouse in terms of helping those who are at its helm, bringing them and their family knitted socks and food and other things to show that she cares.
James, as a young child, at the beginning of the book, does not understand his fathers role, and thus cannot understand how his father loves. The Lighthouse also perplexes young James. The Lighthouse was then a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye, that opened suddenly, and softly in the evening. (Woolf 186). James harbors feelings of hatred for his father even when James and his sister, Cam, sailed out to the Lighthouse with him.
James looked at the Lighthouse. He could see the white-washed rocks; the tower, stark and straight; he could see that it was barred with black and white; he could see the windows in it; he could even see washing spread on the rocks to dry. So that was the Lighthouse, was it? (186)
As James sails closer to the Lighthouse, the Lighthouse becomes more and more clearly detailed, and as they land, Mr. Ramseys love for his progeny shows itself. For the first time in James life, Mr. Ramsey compliments him. James feelings of patricide blow away with the words, Well done! (206) as they came from his father about his steering ability.
Lily Briscoe has an assortment of goals surrounding her life as a woman and a painter. One goal is to paint life and the perfect balance that exists in Mrs. Ramseys family in an abstract painting. The other is to prove that she can be as skilled and successful as any man with the same vision. Choosing carefully each shape, line, and their placement on the page, she stares out at the Lighthouse, painting an abstraction of the landscape, and of Mrs. Ramsey. Ten years later, she pulls out this same painting, and begins to fool with the placement of objects on the canvas to portray unity. Just when she thinks that she cannot make a painting worth painting, she hears of Mr. Ramsey, Cam and James landing to the lighthouse. He has landed, she said aloud. It is finished (208). The thoughts of the Lighthouse and the Ramseys at it inspire her suddenly, and she completes the picture, tying everything together and complimenting each piece at the same time, like Mrs. Ramsey had done when she was still alive. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision (209). The completion of this painting resulted in Lilys attaining self-confidence, and the successful portrayal of Mrs. Ramsey
From far away, the lighthouse looks mammoth: a towering structure whose duty is noble and inspires reverence. Similarly daunting are the goals that one sets ten years before the goals can be completed, such as Lily Briscoes painting and James mending of the relationship with his father. The Lighthouse represents the struggle to attain a goal, and the light it shines the path one must take. The goals accomplished and the Lighthouse up close are both more friendly, pretty, and manageable, as characters in To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf demonstrate.