The Window, Chapters 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Ramsay: main character, mother of eight children
James: six-year-old son of the Ramsays
Mr. Ramsay: husband of the main character; a professor
Charles Tansley: student and protégé of Mr. Ramsay
Augustus Carmichael: philosopher-poet; house guest of the Ramsays
Mrs. Ramsay sits with her six-year-old son James, who is cutting pictures from an army and navy stores catalogue. They are in the drawing room (living room) of their summer residence, a large, somewhat dilapidated house next to the sea on an island in the Hebrides (off the coast of Scotland).
The novel opens with Mrs. Ramsay’s promise that they will sail to the Lighthouse the next day, if the weather is fine. Immediately after this exciting promise, Mr. Ramsay announces from just outside their window that “it won’t be fine.” James is crushed.
Charles Tansley, who is accompanying Mr. Ramsay on one of his frequent “walks”, chimes in with his opinion that the wind is in the west, the worst possible direction for landing at the Lighthouse. Though exasperated with Tansley, Mrs. Ramsay reflects upon the incivility of her children’s mockery of the “uptight” scholar. She muses that she has the whole of the other sex under her protection as she admires their accomplishments, and she values their chivalrous attentions to her. Recognizing Tansley’s awkwardness, she impulsively asks if he would like to accompany her on an errand. As the two set off, she asks Mr. Carmichael, who is seated on the lawn, if he needs anything in town.
Mrs. Ramsay shares with Tansley the belief that Carmichael should have been a great philosopher if it were not for an “unfortunate marriage.” Charles begins to feel important because of
Mrs. Ramsay’s confidential manner. He experiences a strange excitement and imagines himself capable of great things, “even a professorship.”
As the two walk on, they see an advertisement for a circus. Mrs. Ramsay exclaims delightedly that they all should go. As she senses his discomfort, she asks him to speak of his background and she realizes that ordinary childhood pleasures were not part of his early life. Her sympathies are further aroused.
When they reach the quay, Mrs. Ramsay exclaims about the beauty of the sand dunes and the bay. They observe an artist in a Panama hat and yellow boots, absorbed in his painting. She reflects that, since a well-known artist had painted the area three years before, everyone was using the green and greys and soft lemons. Charles, now caught up in Mrs. Ramsay’s magnetism, tries to see what she sees. He senses the contrast of his intellectual preoccupations with her aesthetic sensibilities and acute perception.
Tansley waits for his hostess as she visits a sick woman in the village. He absorbs the atmosphere of the poor woman’s house and is attentive to Mrs. Ramsay’s ministrations. He is overcome by her presence and her beauty, though “she was fifty at least” and had eight children. As they walk home, he experiences for the first time in his life an “extraordinary pride” in walking with a beautiful woman.
The opening paragraphs of To the Lighthouse immediately establish the tension and the thematic elements of the novel.
Mrs. Ramsay’s lilting response to her six-year-old’s wish to visit the Lighthouse (“Yes, of course, if it’s fine tomorrow,” said Mrs. Ramsay. “But you’ll have to be up with the lark,” she added) is quickly superseded by her husband’s intrusive reaction (“But, it won’t be fine.”).
The tension of this exchange foreshadows the novel’s preoccupation with uncertainties, the future, how “things will turn out.” The Lighthouse, in the midst of a perpetually changing sea, is a solid, if elusive, goal. The contrast in the parents’ response to their son (she, enthusiastic and sensitive; he, careful and scientific) is a larger tension which operates throughout the book as a motif. (Which perspective, the personal or the scientific, represents...
(The entire section is 1,330 words.)