"No unifying plot and no unifying voice tie the three sections of the novel (To The Lighthouse) together, and many of the early characters play little role in the ending, yet in her hand the novel...

"No unifying plot and no unifying voice tie the three sections of the novel (To The Lighthouse) together, and many of the early characters play little role in the ending, yet in her hand the novel works." Discuss how the novel 'works' in Virgina Woolf's hands.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is important to remember that Woolf, writing in the Modernist period of literature, did not try to achieve a novel or a story that was based on the elements we normally judge fiction by. Her aim was not to produce a detailed plot where everything hung together. Rather, what interested her, and what she tried to portray, was the pyschological fullness and inner-workings of various characters. This is why the three sections of the novel do not relate to each other as clearly as in other novels, and why some of the characters only appear briefly and then disappear. Through free assocatiation and stream of consciousness, Woolf tries to reveal nothing less than the inner workings of the mind of the various characters she zooms in on. The novel contains many examples of this, but note the following quote:

Could loving, as people called it, make her and Mrs. Ramsay one? for it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge, she had thought, leaning her head on Mrs. Ramsay’s knee.

The stream of consciousness style allows Woolf to trace the very genesis of Lily's thoughts to their completion as she has just seen that Bankes loves Mrs. Ramsay and Lily now herself thinks about the power of love and what it can give. Note how this causes her to jump to think about how humans learn and whether this is through instinct, which Mrs. Ramsay does and which Lily Briscoe herself craves to do, or through intelligence, captured in the "inscriptions on tablets" which is how Mr. Ramsay operates. Woolf sacrifices plot unity for psychological exploration and presentation of characters, yet what remains is all the richer because of the exclusive focus she places on the psychological make up of her various characters.

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