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Free Study Guide-To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 7

Summary

"But his son hated him." James hates his father for interrupting his time with his mother, commanding them to attend to him. He hates his father's emotion "which disturbed the perfect simplicity and good sense of his relations with his mother." He tries to make his father move on by staring fixedly at his page or by calling his mother's attention to a picture. Yet he is angry to see that his mother's attention immediately goes to his father.

Mrs. Ramsey braces herself and seems to raise herself up "to pour erect into the air a rain of energy, a column of spray." In reality, she sits quietly knitting her stocking. Into the "delicious fecundity" of her energy, "the fatal sterility of the male plunged itself." Mr. Ramsey communicates to Mrs. Ramsey that he needs sympathy because he is feeling like a failure. She communicates to him also without words that he should see that Charles Tansley worships him as a genius. Mr. Ramsey needs more than that. He needs first to be assured of his genius and second to be "taken within the circle of life, warmed and soothed." He needs to have "his barrenness made fertile." When he sees that all the rooms in the house are full of life, he is assured of his virility. Mrs. Ramsey communicates that Charles Tansley thinks he is the greatest metaphysician of all time. That is not enough to soothe Mr. Ramsey's sense of inadequacy. He needs to be assured that "he too lived in the heart of life, was needed, not here only, but all over the world." As Mrs. Ramsey knits, she "created the drawing room and kitchen, set them all aglow." She tells him to take his ease there, to enjoy himself. She laughs. All the while James stands between her knees stiff with anger. He feels all her energy go to his father.

Mr. Ramsey continues to feel a failure and Mrs. Ramsey continues to assure him with her poise and confidence that the world is solid and real. Nothing of Mrs. Ramsey remains to her. All is spent in the effort of assuring her husband. James feels her rise up to his father "in a rosy-flowered fruit tree" and he felt "the arid scimitar of his father plunged and smote" as he demanded her sympathy.


Mr. Ramsey becomes filled with her words of reassurance and like a child who falls asleep satisfied, he looks at her with gratitude and is restored and renewed. He tells her he will take a walk and watch the children playing. As he leaves, Mrs. Ramsey seems to fold herself together, "one petal closed in another," and she falls exhausted upon herself, while she feels "throbbing through her the rapture of successful creation." She turns to the fairy tale she was just reading to James, the story of the Fisherman's wife. She feels dissatisfied with the encounter she has just had with her husband because it makes her feel finer than her husband. She also feels upset by the fact that he comes to her so needfully when other people could see. She is also upset by the fact that she cannot tell him the truth about certain things. She cannot tell him, for instance, that they need money to fix the greenhouse roof and she cannot tell him that his last book is not quite his best. She has to hide small daily things from him.

She sees Augustus Carmichael shuffling past her. His presence reminds her painfully of the "inadequacy of human relationships." She calls out to r. Carmichael "Going indoors?"

Notes

A very significant chapter, Virginia Woolf provides the imagery of the oedipal crisis in chapter 7. She writes the novel just at the height of the career of Sigmund Freud, who theorized the development of the male child as he sees his parents interact. According to Freud, the male child is totally attached to the mother to the extent that he almost feels that she is a part of his body. He is totally dependent on her for all of his needs and she provides those needs punctually. This relationship is interrupted by the intrusion of the father, who demands the boy's mother's attention. The boy feels threatened by this intrusion and abandoned by his mother. He wants to kill the father and marry the mother, to put it in the dramatic terms of the ancient Sophocles's play Oedipus, the King, after which Freud named his theory. Here, James feels perfectly at ease having all of his mother's attention, not supposing her to have a separate consciousness, a fact of which the reader is made aware by Woolf's technique of showing her thoughts. His father comes in and interrupts this undifferentiated communion James was having with his mother. His mother momentarily abandons him to tend to his father. James hates his father fiercely for this and wishes he could kill him. The imagery Woolf uses to describe the interaction between Mrs. Ramsey and Mr. Ramsey is the traditional sexual imagery of male and female body parts: the flower for the feminine and the scimitar (knife) for the masculine. Moreover, James's sense of having his place usurped by the father is represented in phallic imagery: James stands stiffly between his mother's knees, impotent to get her attention, while his father stands over his mother.

Woolf adds her own twist on this Freudian story of the boy's development. She describes the relationship between the woman and the man in reversed form from the conventional way of showing this relation. Instead of describing the male fertilizing the female while the female passively accept him, Woolf depicts the opposite: Mr. Ramsey is infertile and Mrs. Ramsey gives him energy and sustenance. She is the life force and he needs her to survive, to produce the abstractions of his philosophy.

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