Suggested Essay Topics
Chapters 1 and 2
1. Discuss how Mrs. Ramsay is viewed by her son, James; by Mr. Tansley; and by Mr. Carmichael. What is her own self-perception? As the reader, how do you see Mrs. Ramsay?
2. Provide at least three examples of Virginia Woolf’s “stream of consciousness” writing. Explain how disconnected thoughts can reveal a character’s personality.
Chapters 3 and 4
1. How do William Bankes and Lily see Mr. Ramsay? What do they see as his strengths and weaknesses? What images do they each hold in thinking about Ramsay?
2. Mrs. Ramsay is very sensitive to sound. Discuss how her awareness and interpretation of the sounds of the waves, of people talking, and of her husband’s pacing, creates a rhythmn in the novel.
1. Despite her beauty and her roles as admired hostess and idealized mother, Mrs. Ramsay experiences frustration, sadness, and even pain. Trace the source of these feelings. What aspects of her personality contribute to these feelings? What elements of her domestic life further contribute to these feelings?
2. Mr. Ramsay also experiences deep frustration. What is the source of his frustration? How does he escape from his worries?
1. Based on what we learn about Mrs. Ramsay in these chapters, do you think she is misunderstood? Is she overbearing, even manipulative? How would you describe her motives?
2. Is Mrs. Ramsay more pessimistic than her husband, as she privately wonders? What evidence can you draw on to support or refute this judgment?
Chapters 12 and 13
1. What do you believe is the secret of the Ramsays’ successful marriage? Describe how they interact with each other. Why are boundaries important in marriage? Was this a typical Victorian marriage?
2. When Lily observes Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay watching the children play catch, the scene takes on a symbolical meaning for her. Discuss why this particular scene might have appealed to her artistic sensibility.
1. Chapter XIV takes place away from the house and Mrs. Ramsay’s presence. Andrew and Nancy are more individuated, as are Paul and Minta. Nevertheless, Mrs. Ramsay’s influence is still felt. In what way are the events of the day and the reactions of the participants influenced by Mrs. Ramsay?
2. Mrs. Ramsay is particularly responsive to Jasper and Rose when they join her in her dressing room before dinner. What is the significance of this scene?...
(The entire section is 1086 words.)