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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 4

Summary

Out on the boat, the sails ripple with the breeze, but the wind dies down. Mr. Ramsey sits in the middle of the boat. James thinks his father will be impatient in a moment. Cam thinks so too. They both watch their father. Sure enough, he fidgets and then says something sharp to Macalister's boy who begins to row. Cam and James think of how he forced them to come. They are so angry they hope the breeze will never rise so that their father will be thwarted in every possible way. All the way to the beach, they had lagged behind, and he had kept calling out to them to "walk up, walk up." They had been unable to speak to him. They vow in silence "to resist tyranny to the death." They decide they will sit on either end of the boat in silence.

The wind picks up and Mr. Ramsey picks up his tobacco and is contented. James knows his father will ask old Macalister about the storm last winter and he, James, will have to watch the sail sharply because if he does not, his father will speak gruffly to him. Cam and James refuse to listen to Mr. Ramsey's conversation with old Macalister. They are conscious of their father. They know their father likes to talk to working men. "He liked men to work like that, and women to keep house, and sit beside sleeping children indoors, while men were drowned, out there in a storm." Mr. Ramsey even affects a Scottish accent while speaking to Macalister.

As he talks to Macalister, Cam begins to feel proud of him without knowing why. She thinks that if her father had been out on the sea when a ship wrecked, he would have launched the lifeboat and would have reached the wreck. She thinks of him as brave and adventurous. However, she remembers the compact she has with James, to resist tyranny to the death. They have a grievance against their father because he had forced them to come, so the pleasure of the day is spoiled.


The breeze picks up and the boat moves quickly through the water. Cam looks down into the water and the speed of the boat through it hypnotizes her. The tie between her and James loosens. She begins to get excited about the trip. James, on the other hand, looks grim. He thinks he might escape. He wants to land somewhere and be free. They look at each other at this moment and they feel a sense of escape and exaltation with this speed and the change. However, the breeze also makes Mr. Ramsey feel excited and he exclaims, "We perished each alone." He feels embarrassed that he said this aloud and he straightens up and points at the shore and points out a little house. Cam reluctantly looks, but she cannot tell which is their house because they are so far off shore. Everything looks distant and peaceful and strange. The shore seems unreal. Mr. Ramsey says aloud, "But I beneath a rougher sea." He has seen the house and has imagined himself there alone on the terrace walking up and down the urns. The image of himself seems old and bowed and he acts his part, the part of the desolate man, widowed, bereft, and he imagines lots of people sympathizing with him. He stages for himself a little drama in which he is decrepit and exhausted and sorrowing. Then he feels an abundance of women's sympathy and he imagines how they would soothe and sympathize with him. He gets in his dream a sense of the pleasure women's sympathy is to him. He says aloud, "But I beneath a rougher sea was whelmed in deeper gulfs than he." Everyone on the boat hears the words and Cam is startled and outraged.

Mr. Ramsey notices her shock and calls out, "Look! Look!" They all look at the island. Cam sees nothing. She thinks of how all those paths and the lawn are gone and in the past. Only now is real, out there on the water. Cam thinks, "We perished, each alone." Her father begins to tease her about not knowing the points of the compass. He wishes she would be more accurate. He tells her to tell him which is East and which is West. He does not understand the state of mind of anyone who is not an imbecile who does not know the points of the compass. He thinks, "women are always like that; the vagueness of their minds is hopeless." He thinks it was like that with his wife. According to Mr. Ramsey, women cannot keep anything clearly fixed in their minds. However, he realizes he has been wrong to be angry with Cam. He actually likes women to be vague. He decides he will make Cam smile at him. He sees she looks frightened. He wants to find something simple and easy to say to her. He thinks of the puppy they have.

James thinks now Cam is going to give way and he will be left to fight the tyrant alone. He thinks Cam will never resist the tyranny of their father to the death. He sees her face is sulky and yielding. Cam feels herself overcast and she wonders what to answer her father about the puppy, how to resist him. She sees James as the lawgiver as if he has the tablets of eternal wisdom on his knee. He has his hand on the tiller and Cam sees that as symbolical. She can tell he is urging her to resist her father. She knows he is right. She reverences justice most of all the human qualities. She sees her brother as god-like and her father as suppliant. She feels torn between them. She sullenly answers her father's question about who is taking care of the puppy. She answers, "Jasper." He asks her what she will name the puppy. He tells her he had a dog when he was a boy and its name was Frisk.

James thinks his sister is going to give way under his father's pressure. He thinks, "They look down at their knitting or something. They suddenly they look up." He realizes it must have been his mother with his father standing over her that he is remembering. He searches among the infinite impressions time has laid down on his brain. Among all the impressions of his memory, he remembers how a man had marched up and stopped over them. In the meantime, he notices Cam dabbling her fingers in the water. He thinks maybe she will not give way. Maybe she is different.

Mr. Ramsey decides that if Cam will not answer him, he will not bother her. He gets a book out of his pocket and begins to read. Cam, on the other hand, wishes she could answer him. She wants to say the dog's name is to be Frisk, just like his dog's name had been. Instead, she cannot think of anything to say because she is fiercely loyal to her pact with James. Yet, she passes on to her father a private token of the love she feels for him.

In brackets: Macalister's boy had caught a mackerel and it lay kicking on the floor of the boat with blood on its gills.

Cam looks at James as he watches the sail and the horizon and tells him silently that he is not exposed to their father's persuasion, his pressure, and the extraordinary temptation to answer him. She sees her father fishing in his pockets for his book. No one attracts her more than he does. She thinks his hands are beautiful, his feet, and his voice, and his words, and his temper, and his oddity, and his saying out loud in front of everyone, "We perished, each alone." As she sits up and watches Macalister's boy tug the hook out of the gills of another fish, she thinks that what is intolerable is "that crass blindness and tyranny of his which had poisoned her childhood and raised bitter storms, so that even now she woke in the night trembling with rage and remembered some command of his; some insolence: 'Do this,' 'Do that,' his dominance: his 'Submit to me.'" so she says nothing in answer to his question about the dog's name. She looks at the peaceful-looking shore and it seems like everyone on shore has fallen asleep and were free to come and go like ghosts. "They have no suffering there, she thought."

Notes

Cam and James know their father's romanticized view of patriarchy and of the working class life of sailors. From their scornful point of view, he once again seems farcical in his emotions. He likes to divide women and men up into vastly separate camps. Men should be out alone upon the water dying for some vague cause and women should be quietly sitting at home over rocking babies. Depicted like this, patriarchy seems silly and childish, out of touch with reality.

Like Lily's memory of her one afternoon in which she actually enjoyed Charles Tansley's company, Cam and James's unwilling slide into liking their father happens here. Woolf is describing the evanescence of human relationships. People might resolve to have one particular emotion about someone else, but the immediacy and power of the moment will shift people's feelings and demand that they feel something else.

Woolf depicts Mr. Ramsey's arrogance in his belief that his kind of thinking is vastly superior to any other kind. He cannot understand anyone who does not know the points of the compass. In such a depiction, Woolf seems to be asserting a belief that there is something like patriarchal thinking. If we were to characterize it, we would say it is thinking in clearly defined categories, wishing to display one's knowledge for other people's admiration, assuming the superiority of one's own kind of thinking and the inferiority of any other kind of thinking. It is analytical thinking, which takes things apart and sees them, rather than synthetically thinking, which would see things as they are whole.

In this late chapter, James remembers the oedipal scene in which his mother abandoned him to tend to his father (See chapter 7). This memory is triggered when he is worried that Cam will abandon their pact to resist tyranny until the death and be friendly with their father.

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