To the Lighthouse
Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. What are some of the main symbols in To the Lighthouse, and what do they signify? How does Woolf’s use of symbolism advance her thematic goals?
2. If To the Lighthouse is a novel about the search for meaning in life, how do the characters conduct their search? Are they successful in finding an answer?
3. Compare and contrast Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. How are they alike? How are they different?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. To the Lighthouse opens with a portrayal of the Oedipal struggle between James and Mr. Ramsay. This conflict resounds throughout the book. How does the family drama shape the book as a whole?
2. Conventional gender roles—and more broadly, conventional social roles—present a major subject of exploration in To the Lighthouse. Choose three characters and describe how each approaches this subject. Do gender roles play a part in the lives of the younger children?
3. What effect does the ocean have on different characters at different times in the novel? Why, for example, do the waves make Mrs. Ramsay sad?
4. What makes the “Time Passes” section so different from the rest of the novel? Why do you think Woolf chose such an unusual narrative approach for this section?
5. How does work function in the novel? For example, how does Lily approach what she sees as her work? How do Mr. Ramsay and Charles Tansley approach what they see as their work?
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