Mr. Ramsay’s wife. A beautiful and loving woman, Mrs. Ramsay is a wonderful hostess who takes pride in making memorable experiences for the guests at the family’s summer home on the Isle of Skye. Affirming traditional gender roles wholeheartedly, she lavishes particular attention on her male guests, who she believes have delicate egos and need constant support and sympathy. She is a dutiful and loving wife but often struggles with her husband’s difficult moods and selfishness. Without fail, however, she triumphs through these difficult times and demonstrates an ability to make something significant and lasting from the most ephemeral of circumstances, such as a dinner party.
Mrs. Ramsay’s husband, and a prominent metaphysical philosopher. Mr. Ramsay loves his family but often acts like something of a tyrant. He tends to be selfish and harsh due to his persistent personal and professional anxieties. He fears, more than anything, that his work is insignificant in the grand scheme of things and that he will not be remembered by future generations. Well aware of how blessed he is to have such a wonderful family, he nevertheless tends to punish his wife, children, and guests by demanding their constant sympathy, attention, and support.
A young, single painter who befriends the Ramsays on the Isle of Skye. Like Mr. Ramsay, Lily is plagued by fears that her work lacks worth. She begins a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay at the beginning of the novel but has trouble finishing it. The opinions of men like Charles Tansley, who insists that women cannot paint or write, threaten to undermine her confidence.
The Ramsays’ youngest son. James loves his mother deeply and feels a murderous antipathy toward his father, with whom he must compete for Mrs. Ramsay’s love and affection. At the beginning of the novel, Mr. Ramsay refuses the six-year-old James’s request to go to the lighthouse, saying that the weather will be foul and not permit it; ten years later, James finally makes the journey with his father and his sister Cam. By this time, he has grown into a willful and moody young man who has much in common with his father, whom he detests.
A young friend of the Ramsays who visits them on the Isle of Skye. Paul is a kind, impressionable young man who follows Mrs. Ramsay’s wishes in marrying Minta Doyle.
A flighty young woman who visits the Ramsays on the Isle of Skye. Minta marries Paul Rayley at Mrs. Ramsay’s wishes.
A young philosopher and pupil of Mr. Ramsay who stays with the Ramsays on the Isle of Skye. Tansley is a prickly and unpleasant man who harbors deep insecurities regarding his humble background. He often insults other people, particularly women such as Lily, whose talent and accomplishments he constantly calls into question. His bad behavior, like Mr. Ramsay’s, is motivated by his need for reassurance.
A botanist and old friend of the Ramsays who stays on the Isle of Skye. Bankes is a kind and mellow man whom Mrs. Ramsay hopes will marry Lily Briscoe. Although he never marries her, Bankes and Lily remain close friends.
An opium-using poet who visits the Ramsays on the Isle of Skye. Carmichael languishes in literary obscurity until his verse becomes popular during the war.
The oldest of the Ramsays’ sons. Andrew is a competent, independent young man, and he looks forward to a career as a mathematician.
One of the Ramsays’ sons. Jasper, to his mother’s chagrin, enjoys shooting birds.
One of the Ramsays’ sons. Roger is wild and adventurous, like his sister Nancy.
The oldest Ramsay girl, a beautiful young woman. Mrs. Ramsay delights in contemplating Prue’s marriage, which she believes will be blissful.
One of the Ramsays’ daughters. Rose has a talent for making things beautiful. She arranges the fruit for her mother’s dinner party and picks out her mother’s jewelry.
One of the Ramsays’ daughters. Nancy accompanies Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle on their trip to the beach. Like her brother Roger, she is a wild adventurer.
One of the Ramsays’ daughters. As a young girl, Cam is mischievous. She sails with James and Mr. Ramsay to the lighthouse in the novel’s final section.
An elderly woman who takes care of the Ramsays’ house on the Isle of Skye, restoring it after ten years of abandonment during and after World War I.
The fisherman who accompanies the Ramsays to the lighthouse. Macalister relates stories of shipwreck and maritime adventure to Mr. Ramsay and compliments James on his handling of the boat while James lands it at the lighthouse.
The fisherman’s boy. He rows James, Cam, and Mr. Ramsay to the lighthouse.