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To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  To the Lighthouse

author  Virginia Woolf

type of work  Novel

genre  Stream of consciousness

language  English

time and place written  1926, London

date of first publication  1927

publisher  Hogarth Press

narrator  The narrator is anonymous.

point of view  The narrator speaks in the third person and describes the characters and actions subjectively, giving us insight into the characters’ feelings. The narrative switches constantly from the perceptions of one character to those of the next.

tone  Elegiac, poetic, rhythmic, imaginative

tense  Past

setting (time)  The years immediately preceding and following World War I

setting (place)  The Isle of Skye, in the Hebrides (a group of islands west of Scotland)

protagonist  Although Mrs. Ramsay is the central focus of the beginning of To the Lighthouse, the novel traces the development of Lily Briscoe to the end, making it more accurate to describe Lily as the protagonist.

major conflict  The common struggle that each of the characters faces is to bring meaning and order to the chaos of life.

rising action  James’s desire to journey to the lighthouse; Mr. Ramsay’s need to ask Mrs. Ramsay for sympathy; Charles Tansley’s insistence that women cannot paint or write; Lily Briscoe’s stalled attempt at her painting

climax  Mrs. Ramsay’s dinner party

falling action  Mr. Ramsay’s trip to the lighthouse with Cam and James; Lily Briscoe’s completion of her painting

themes  The transience of life and work; art as a means of preservation; the subjective nature of reality; the restorative effects of beauty

motifs  The differing behaviors of men and women; brackets

symbols  The lighthouse, Lily’s painting, the Ramsays’ house, the sea, the boar’s skull, the fruit basket

foreshadowing  James’s initial desire and anxiety surrounding the voyage to the lighthouse foreshadows the trip he makes a decade later.