The novel To the Lighthouse infuses the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud by employing two major self-analytical techniques in its narrative. One of these is free-association. The other is stream of consciousness. These two styles of narrative allow the reader to open a window into the inner thoughts and emotions of the main character, or of a group of characters.
The story is told in a third person omniscient narrator which tells in a non-sequential way a series of events and the emotions that were felt in the process. This type of analysis is what is known as the stream of consciousness. An example can be cited at the beginning of the story when James remembers the family trip and the narrator explains every feeling from the various things that triggered James's memory:
The wheelbarrow, the lawnmower, the sound of poplar trees, leaves whitening before rain, rooks cawing, brooms knocking, dresses rustling — all these were so coloured and distinguished in his mind that he had already his private code, his secret language, though he appeared the image of stark and uncompromising severity, with his high forehead and his fierce blue eyes, impeccably candid and pure, frowning slightly at the sight of human frailty, so that his mother, watching him guide his scissors neatly round the refrigerator, imagined him all red and ermine on the Bench or directing a stern and momentous enterprise in some crisis of public affairs.
The free association occurs mostly with Mrs. Ramsey. Contrary to her husband, Mrs. Ramsey is a very optimistic woman who is naturally nurturing and kind. She inspired in her children and other characters in the story the best of feelings. It is through the manner in which the males in the story view her that we can detect a free association. James, for example, felt that she was ten times better than her husband. Charles would associate her with the Queen Mother, Queen Victoria, and would visualize her basically on a pedestal, with flowers decorating her, and in a position of absolute power. This is the Freudian aspect of the narrative: That the woman is so kind and inspiring that she entices, unknowingly, that people place her in a very high regard by associating her with symbols of nurturing, protection, and power.
Also consider Freud's Oedipus complex theory. Early on in the novel, James has the urge/thought to "kill" his father for the snide comment, that they won't be able to go to the lighthouse tommorow due to weather he made.