Because the focus shifts from psychology in “The Window” to chronology in “Time Passes,” human beings become secondary concerns in the latter section of the novel. This effect replicates the anxieties that plague the characters. Mr. Ramsay’s fear that there is little hope for human immortality is confirmed as Woolf presents the death of the novel’s heroine in an unadorned aside. This choice is remarkable on two levels. First, thematically, it skillfully asserts that human life is, in the natural scheme of things, incidental. As Mr. Ramsay notes in “The Window,” a stone will outlive even Shakespeare. Second, the offhand mention of Mrs. Ramsay’s death challenges established literary tradition by refusing to indulge in conventional sentiment. The emotionally hyperbolic Victorian deathbed scene is absent for Mrs. Ramsay, and Woolf uses an extreme economy of words to report the deaths of Mrs. Ramsay, Prue, and Andrew.
In this section, the darkened tone that begins to register toward the end of “The Window” comes to the fore both literally and figuratively. Mrs. Ramsay’s death constitutes the death of womanhood and the dismantling of domesticated power in the novel. With the deaths of Prue and Andrew, the world’s best potential and best hope seem dashed. Prue’s death in childbirth strikes out at beauty and continuity, while Andrew’s demise brings out the impact of war and the stunting of masculine potential so important to the novel’s historical context. In a way, the novel miniaturizes a vast historical moment for Europe as a whole. “Time Passes” brings to the Ramsays destruction as vast as that inflicted on Europe by World War I. When the Ramsays return to their summer home shaken, depleted, and unsure, they represent the postwar state of an entire continent.