One of Mr. Ramsay’s pupils, Charles Tansley is a philosophy student who has been invited to join the Ramsay family at their summer house. As the only working-class member of the party, Charles Tansley is placed at a social disadvantage, exacerbating his deep insecurity, which he masks with anger, self-absorption, and misogyny. He parrots Mr. Ramsay often, especially when crushing James’s hopes of going to the lighthouse, as if to ingratiate himself to Mr. Ramsay by taking his side in the silent ideological battle with Mrs. Ramsay in Part 1. The Ramsay children complain that he tends to make unrelated conversations about him, suggesting a constant need for acknowledgement. This need reaches a fever pitch at the dinner table, where Charles Tansley feels unable to contribute to a conversation about the fishing industry and resents the others for not actively including him. Charles Tansley likely has more knowledge of fishing than the other guests because his grandfather was a fisherman, but to speak up would be to draw attention to his working-class background. He thus finds himself trapped between feeling inadequate in terms of class but also inadequate for not participating in the dinner conversation.
Charles Tansley’s misogyny is another extension of his insecurity. For example, he blames women in general for the existence of dinner parties and the formality behind them, but directly before this complaint he notes that he does not have dress clothes to change into. Instead of acknowledging his own discomfort over the class disparity he has with the other guests, he transforms this insecurity into misogynistic anger, blaming women for domesticity and bringing him out of the male-dominated realm of academia. As Lily Briscoe observes of him, his nasty, chauvinistic refrain of, “Women can’t write, women can’t paint,” seems less a belief and more a need, perhaps to feel superior to women who make him feel insecure. At the dinner table, he spirals into greater and greater anger, silently fuming until Mrs. Ramsay begs Lily with a glance to be nice to him. The minute Lily attempts kindness, asking him to take her to the lighthouse, he appears to calm down. This dynamic mirrors Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s, demonstrating the societal expectations for relationships between men and women.