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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 18

Summary

Lily sees Mrs. Ramsey taking her leave and thinks "As usual." She sees that a sort of disintegration sets in as soon as Mrs. Ramsey leaves the room. Everyone goes in different ways. Mr. Banks and Charles Tansley go off together to talk. Mrs. Ramsey goes upstairs alone.

Mrs. Ramsey feels compelled to pick out one thing of importance and separate it off from all the emotions and bring it to thought to ask if it was good or bad. She stands up and looks out the window. The stars flash out between the leaves of the trees. Lily Briscoe thinks of how the gathering is over, and feels solemn. She thinks of how the people who dined together will always come back to this night. As she reaches the nursery door, she feels a community of feeling with other people.

Inside her children's nursery, she sees that Cam and James are still awake. They have been arguing over a skull that James has brought into the room. She goes to Cam's bed and whispers to her to go to sleep and dream of lovely places. Cam is upset because the light casts shadow on the walls and she can see horns everywhere. James will not sleep without the light. She covers the skull up with her shawl, winding "it round the skull, round and round and round," then she comes back to Cam and assures her that it is now something that looks lovely. She says the fairies will love it and it is like a bird's nest, or like a beautiful mountain. She speaks monotonously and rhythmically to Cam telling her how she must sleep and dream of "mountains and valleys and stars falling and parrots and antelopes and gardens, and everything lovely." She rises and sees that Cam is asleep and goes to James.


She tells James that he must go to sleep too because he can see that this skull is still there untouched under the shawl. He wants to know if he will be able to go to the lighthouse tomorrow. She tells him not tomorrow, but soon. She knows he will never forget this disappointment and she feels angry with Charles Tansely and her husband and with herself for having raised his hopes. She gets up and pulls down the window and then leaves the room.

She thinks Charles Tansley might bang his books and wake the children. She feels conflicting thoughts about Tansley. She walks downstairs and they see her standing above them on the stairs. Prue thinks, "That's my mother." She thinks "That is the thing itself as if there were only one person like that in their word; her mother." Having been feeling very grown up a few moments ago talking to the others, Prue becomes a child again. She thinks how lucky she is to have her mother and decides that she will never grow up and never leave home. She says to her mother that they had thought of going down to the beach to watch the waves.

Instantly, Mrs. Ramsey becomes a girl of twenty again and is full of gaiety. She says of course they should go. She asks if anyone of them has a watch. Paul pulls out his gold watch to show her and feels that she knows he has proposed to Minta. As he shows her the watch, he tells her without words that he owes it all to her. Mrs. Ramsey thinks how extraordinarily lucky Minta is. "She is marrying a man who has a gold watch in a wash-leather bag!" She tells them how she wishes she could go with them. She goes in to the other room where her husband is reading.

Notes

This image of the boar's head with the shawl wrapped around it functions as a sort of local symbol; it is symbolic within the local context of this novel. The shawl has been mentioned several times in its attachment to Mrs. Ramsey. It covers over the hard reality of death that the skull of the beast represents, or it covers over the harsh reality of the truth, just as she did with her words when she told James that maybe it would be nice out tomorrow so he could get his wish and go to the lighthouse. Mrs. Ramsey speaks to them in a very gender-distinctive way. She interprets the symbol for Cam in one way--whimsical, fantastic, magical--and for James in another way--logical and objective. The same shawl wrapped around the boar's head is described for Cam as not really a boar's head, but a mountain, or a wonderful thing the fairies would love, and is described for James as really a boar's head, whose reality the shawl does not change.

Moreover, as she puts her children to bed, she uses a different language for each of them. For Cam, she uses the language of fable in which unlikely elements are placed side by side as if no logical categories divide them. She tells Cam to think of "mountains, valleys, stars falling" and these are elements of the same reality. Then in the same list she adds, "and parrots and antelopes and gardens, and everything lovely." Here, she collapses all categories to encourage her daughter to free up her imagination and float off to an undifferentiated dream world. For her son, she tells him only that the skull is really still there and that the shawl did nothing to change its reality. Then she tells him that after all he probably will not be able to go to the lighthouse but will in the future.

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