Mrs. Ramsay and the pasts of her guests and children haunt the novel’s final section. As Lily stands on the lawn watching the Ramsays’ boat move out into the bay, she is possessed by thoughts of Mrs. Ramsay, while Macalister spins out stories of shipwrecks and drowned sailors, and Cam reflects that there is no suffering on the distant shore where people are “free to come and go like ghosts.” At first, Mrs. Ramsay exerts her old pull on Lily, who begins to feel anxious about the choices she has made in life. But as her thoughts turn to Paul and Minta Rayley, around whom she has built up “a whole structure of imagination,” Lily begins to exorcise Mrs. Ramsay’s spirit and better understand her old friend. Though she readily admits in regard to her imagining of the Rayleys’ failed marriage that “not a word of it [is] true,” she believes that her version of their lives constitutes real knowledge of the couple; thus, the novel again insists upon the subjective nature of reality. These thoughts allow Lily to approach Mrs. Ramsay, who insisted on Paul’s marriage, from a new, more critical, and ultimately more truthful angle.
Lily’s longing for Mrs. Ramsay is a result of understanding her as a more complicated, flawed individual. When she wakes that morning, Lily reflects solemnly that Mrs. Ramsay’s absence at the breakfast table evokes no particular feelings in her; now, however, Lily calls out Mrs. Ramsay’s name, as if attempting to chant her back from the grave. Lily’s anguish and dissonance force us to reassess her art. Mrs. Ramsay’s beauty has always rendered Lily speechless, but Lily now realizes that “[b]eauty had this penalty—it came too readily, came too completely. It stilled life—froze it.” She mimics Mrs. Ramsay’s psychological gesture of smoothing away life’s complexities and flaws under a veneer of beauty. Continuing to paint, Lily feels a deeper need to locate the Ramsays’ boat on the water and reach out to Mr. Ramsay, to whom a short while earlier she feels that she has nothing to give.