No, the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too.
“They don’t feel a thing there,” Cam muses to herself while looking at the shore. Her mind moves in swirls and waves like the sea, until the wind slows and the boat comes to a stop between the lighthouse and the shore. Mr. Ramsay sits in the boat reading a book, and James waits with dread for the moment that his father will turn to him with some criticism. James realizes that he now hates and wants to kill not his father but the moods that descend on his father. He likens the dark sarcasm that makes his father intolerable to a wheel that runs over a foot and crushes it. In other words, Mr. Ramsay is as much a victim of these spells of tyranny as James and Cam. He remembers his father telling him years ago that he would not be able to go to the lighthouse. Then, the lighthouse was silvery and misty; now, when he is much closer to it, it looks starker. James is astonished at how little his present view of the scene resembles his former image of it, but he reflects that nothing is ever only one thing; both images of the lighthouse are true. He remembers his mother, who left him sitting with the Army and Navy Stores catalogue after Mr. Ramsay dismissed their initial trip to the lighthouse. Mrs. Ramsay remains a source of “everlasting attraction” to James, for he believes she spoke the truth and said exactly what came into her head.
Lily watches the sea. She notes the power of distance and how it has swallowed the Ramsays and herself. All is calm and quiet. A steamship disappears from sight, though its smoke lingers in the air.
Cam feels liberated from her father’s anger and her brother’s expectations. She feels overjoyed at having escaped the burden of these things, and entertains herself with a story of adventure. She imagines herself escaping from a sinking ship. She wonders what place the distant island has in the grand scheme of things and is certain that her father and the men with whom he keeps company (such as William Bankes and Augustus Carmichael) could tell her. She feels incredibly safe in her father’s presence and wishes her brother would put aside his grievances with him.
Back on shore, Lily loses herself in her intense memories of Mrs. Ramsay, noticing Carmichael when he grunts and picks up his book and reflecting on the freedom from conventional chatter the early morning hour provides. Watching the sailboat approach the lighthouse, she contemplates distance as crucially important to one’s understanding of other people. As Mr. Ramsay recedes into the horizon, he begins to seem to her a different person altogether.
Similarly, Lily’s understanding of Mrs. Ramsay has changed considerably since Mrs. Ramsay’s death. Lily thinks about the people she once knew at this house, about Carmichael’s poetry, about Charles Tansley’s marriage, his career in academics, and his educating his little sister. She recalls having heard Tansley denounce the war and advocate brotherly love, which did not fit her understanding of him at all. But she thinks that people interpret one another in ways that reflect their own needs. To see someone clearly and fully, she concludes, one would need more than fifty pairs of eyes. Lily thinks about the Ramsays’ marriage, saying that theirs did not constitute marital bliss. She recounts to herself the domestic forces that occupied and tired Mrs. Ramsay, then notices what looks like a figure in the window of the house. The image is fleeting, however, and leaves Lily yearning for Mrs. Ramsay and wishing that Mr. Ramsay would return.
Mr. Ramsay is almost finished with his book. The sight of the lighthouse inspires James to recognize the profound loneliness that both he and his father feel. James mutters a snatch of poetry under his breath, as Mr. Ramsay often does. Cam stares at the sea and becomes sleepy. James steers the boat, and Mr. Ramsay opens their parcel of food and they eat. The fisherman says that three men drowned in the spot the boat is in. Mr. Ramsay reiterates the line of verse, “But I beneath a rougher sea.” James lands the boat, and Mr. Ramsay praises James’s sailing. Cam thinks that James has gotten what he has always wanted—his father’s praise—but James, unwilling to share his pleasure, acts sullen and indifferent. As Mr. Ramsay stands and looks at the lighthouse, Cam wonders what he sees, what he thinks. He tells his children to bring the parcels that Nancy has packed for the voyage and bounds, like a young man, onto the rock.