What might seem like rambling details and lack of plot development in the hands of other writers becomes a gem in the hands of Virginia Woolf. This novel is divided into three parts. Part 1, “The Window” is the longest of the three, comprising about half the book. It opens at the beginning of the first world war, when a couple named Ramsey take their large family to summer at their home off the coast of Scotland. Characters are introduced, conflicts erupt, are smoothed over, and a marriage is arranged. One conflict will become part of the novel’s resolution when six year old James Ramsey becomes angry with his father, who suggests that visiting the lighthouse the next day may be impossible due to the cold. James decides his father is hateful and enjoys being cruel. Part 1 is narrated in a slow, some might say tedious manner that some might find hard to follow; as narrators change, the character’s viewpoints, thoughts and feelings change. It is easy to lose track of what’s occurring if the reader is not attentive.
Part 2, “Time Passes” is much shorter, and Woolf switches to an impersonal third person omniscient narrator who describes quickly and succinctly deaths in the Ramsey family and the deterioration of the family’s summer home.
In Part 3, “The Lighthouse”, Woolf returns to the style that informs Part 1, using details slowly revealed, shifting narrators and points of view often told through a stream of consciousness technique. In this section, Woolf brings the novel to a conclusion when Mr. Ramsey , James, and James’s sister visit the lighthouse ten years later. James, although still occasionally irritated with his father (the reader might recall he began the novel irritated with his father), also realizes that he loves the man despite his human flaws.