Lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife…, but also with some secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgment.
This description of Mr. Ramsay in Chapter I of The Window establishes him as a cruel cynic and a tyrannical father and husband. In this scene, he actively works to crush James’s hopes of going to the lighthouse the next day, refusing to let any hope remain in the guise of preparing him for the harshness of life. The wording here, however, suggests that instead of trying to teach James a difficult lesson, Mr. Ramsay enjoys lording his intelligence and supposed rational accuracy over his family.
It was sympathy he wanted, to be assured of his genius, first of all, and then to be taken within the circle of life, warmed and soothed, to have his senses restored to him, his barrenness made fertile, and all the rooms of the house made full of life.
This quotation appears in Chapter VII of The Window, as Mr. Ramsay appeals to Mrs. Ramsay for the sympathy that helps him through his darker moods. Struck by the reality that he may not be a genius and that his work may not last through the ages, he begs Mrs. Ramsay for reassurance in an almost brutal manner that takes all her energy. The specific wording here of barrenness and fertility hints that Mr. Ramsay’s insecurities revolve around fears of his mortality and desire for legacy.
But it was out of the question. Let him be fifty feet away, let him not even speak to you, let him not even see you, he permeated, he prevailed, he imposed himself. He changed everything.
Lily Briscoe has this thought about Mr. Ramsay in Chapter II of The Lighthouse, as Mr. Ramsay approaches her for conversation. Here she observes the way Mr. Ramsay’s deep insecurity, which appears to have grown worse without Mrs. Ramsay, makes him impossible to be around because he requires so much reassurance from everyone. This intrusiveness brings to mind Charles Tansley’s behavior at the dinner party in The Window, the way he needed to “assert” himself and his presence.
“The parcels for the Lighthouse men,” he said. He rose and stood in the bow of the boat, very straight and tall, for all the world, James thought, as if he were saying, “There is no God,” and Cam thought, as if he were leaping into space, and they both rose to follow him as he sprang, lightly like a young man, holding his parcel, on to the rock.
This quotation appears in Chapter XIII of The Lighthouse, as James and Cam watch Mr. Ramsay disembark the boat. While they see their father’s demeanor as stepping into annihilation and oblivion, the narrator’s tone is far more hopeful, saying that he springs “like a young man,” rejuvenated. The force behind this apparent contradiction is Mrs. Ramsay. Her presence lingers in the gifts for the lighthouse men, which is something she used to arrange. By bringing the parcel for her, Mr. Ramsay both faces Mrs. Ramsay’s death and fights against it. His fears are not resolved, but this gesture allows him reprieve.