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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
SECTION TWO - "TIME PASSES"
Mr. Banks says they must wait for the future to show. Andrew says it is almost too dark to see. Prue says, she can hardly tell what is land and what is sea. Lily Briscoe asks if they should leave the light burning as they come indoors. Prue says, no, that everyone is in. All the lamps are extinguished except that of Mr. Carmichael's who stayed up reading Virgil.
This very brief chapter describes several of the people coming in from the nighttime walk on the beach. All they say is heavily significant outside the immediate context of their meaning. The sentences are fragmented from one another. For instance, the reader does not know to what Mr. Banks is referring when he says they will have to wait for the future. It is the end of the day and the characters do not know it, but it is also the end of their summers in the Hebrides with Mrs. Ramsey at the center. Mrs. Ramsey's children, Andrew and Prue, are describing the vision of the beach in the dark, but they might as well be describing their feelings about the loss of their mother. Andrew and Prue are both to die in the next section of the novel as well, so they might also be describing, unwittingly, of course, their uncertainty about what will happened to them after life.
The lamps are put out, the moon sinks, and the rain drums on the roof. "A downpouring of immense dankness began." Darkness creeps into the house and swallows things up, a basin, a bowl of red and yellow dahlias. The people are also scarcely present. Sometimes a hand is raised, sometimes someone groans, and sometimes someone laughs "aloud as if sharing a joke with nothingness." Nothing stirs, but certain airs creep around the corners of the rooms and come indoors. These airs brush the walls they passed as if they were "asking the red and yellow roses on the wall-paper whether they would fade." The little airs mount the stairs and go through all the belongings that seem permanent. They then descend, blanch the apples on the dining-room table, fumble the petals of roses, try the picture on the easel, brush the mat and blow a little sand along the floor." Mr. Carmichael who has been reading Virgil, blows out his light at midnight.
Here begins the section of the novel in which human agency is gone and the elements which indicate the passing of time, the personified "airs" become the rulers of the house in the absence of the Ramsey family and their guests. Woolf structured the first section of the novel on the temporal notion of vivid moments. She structures this second section of the novel on the notion of the long duration of time, the kind of time the non-human, inanimate world experiences.
Woolf represents the occurrences of the human world in brackets. Such a technique enables her to take the emphasis off the humanly in the world. What happens in the human world becomes unimportant, beside the point, bracketed off, when one is experiencing the long duration of time in the inanimate world.
"But what after all is one night?" It is only a short space; however, "night succeeds to night." The winter deals with each night evenly. The autumn trees begin to look like the tattered flags that are represented in cathedrals on marble. These messages written in marble describe death in battle and bones whitening in Indian sands. Waves lap the shore.
It seems like divine goodness parts the curtain and shows "the hare erect; the wave falling; the boat rocking" which should last forever, but instead, divine goodness draws the curtain back. He rains down hail upon these treasures and everything becomes so confused and chaotic that it seems impossible that calm will ever return. It seems like they will never be able to make the fragments compose a perfect whole or "read in the littered pieces the clear words of truth."
The nights are full of wind and destruction. The sea tosses and breaks itself. If a sleeper were to get out of his bed and go down to the beach, the sea would answer none of his questions.
In brackets: "Mr. Ramsey, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs. Ramsey having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty."
The shocking news that Mrs. Ramsey has died, a character who is at the center of this novel, is treated in a "by the way" manner in this chapter. Even the sentence structure Woolf chooses de- emphasizes the importance of the passing of this personage. The sentence structure keeps the reader from feeling sad that she died. Its nonchalant tone makes Mrs. Ramsey's death seem like a natural part of the cycle of this long duration of time. Perhaps it also distances the painful reality of this event for the writer.