To the Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

Start Free Trial

Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 811

New Character:
Mr. Macalister: seventy-five year old fisherman; converses with Mr. Ramsay on the boat

Writing an essay?
Get a custom outline

Our Essay Lab can help you tackle any essay assignment within seconds, whether you’re studying Macbeth or the American Revolution. Try it today!

Start an Essay

Out at sea, the boat is motionless. Mr. Ramsay, sitting in the middle, becomes impatient. He tells Macalister’s boy to row.

James and Cam dread their father’s impatience. They are angry that they have been bullied into the trip. They have sworn (silently) to “oppose tyranny to the death” and passively resist their father’s commands. They hope there will be no breeze; they want their father’s plans to be thwarted.

Suddenly, the boat takes off. Ramsay and Macalister share a pouch of tobacco and talk about a severe storm from the preceding winter. Three boats had sunk. The children sense their father likes this kind of man-against-nature story, where the men are heroic and the women sit around the fire with the children.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Cam thinks that her father would have been a brave leader of such a group. Hypnotized by the motion of the sea, the “pact” becomes loosened. James, too, becomes caught up now in fantasies of he and Cam escaping.

Mr. Ramsay points out their house on the distant shore. It’s unreal to Cam; it’s too far away. Her father imagines himself there, pacing up and down. He sees himself as old and desolate. Cam looks toward the island vaguely; she feels that it’s in the past.

Mr. Ramsay teases her: Does she know the points of a compass? Cam, lost in thought, feels confused. Mr. Ramsay remembers his wife and thinks that all women are vague. Still, it’s part of their charm, he muses. He notices that she looks frightened and searches for something to talk to her about. Cam feels torn between her love for her father and her loyalty to her brother.

Homework Help

Latest answer posted December 15, 2011, 12:05 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

James worries tensely that Cam will break down; she will not keep the pact. He has a dim memory of another scene, “They look down at their knitting or something. Then suddenly they look up.” He thinks it must have been his mother and remembers he was very angry because she had “surrendered.”

Cam thinks that her brother cannot know what a division of feeling she experiences. She adores her father—no one attracts her more—but she has suffered deeply from his “crass blindness and tyranny.” She doesn’t respond; she looks sadly at the shore and thinks that they have no suffering there.

The atmosphere in the small boat is charged with intensity. James’ rage escalates. As he watches his father and sister, the family drama is re-enacted. Will Cam, being female, give in to his tyrant father as his mother had? He has a vivid memory of the day his mother predicted he wouldn’t forget.

Cam’s suffering is palpable. Her conflicted feelings about her father, result in a kind of paralysis and her pre-occupation isolates her. She adores her father, romanticizes him, but cannot condone his autocratic behavior. She loses herself gazing at the water. When her father points out their house, she can only think that all those paths, “thick and knotted with the lives they had lived there, were gone; were rubbed out; were past; were unreal.” Woolf’s evocative rendering of Cam’s depression, reminds the reader of Woolf’s own mental illness.

As the children seethe internally, Mr. Ramsay appears unaware of the agony of feeling he evokes in them. Totally self-absorbed, he reads with his legs tightly curled. This small physical detail, repeated a number of times, suggests his lack of expansiveness in general. Virginia Woolf like Lily Briscoe, prefers to suggest rather than spell out. Unlike writers who provide comprehensive descriptions of characters or settings, Woolf chooses to select a telling detail—the tightly curled legs—and repeat it so that the reader becomes aware that this particular posture has some special

When the breeze picks up and the boat sails forward, Mr. Ramsay then uncurls his legs and opens his pouch of tobacco. He enjoys talking to the fisherman. The drama and romance of last winter’s storm engage him. The children think that he likes the idea of men facing danger and women safely protected at home. Invigorated by the brisk sail, he cries out, “We perished, each alone.” His spirits dampen as he sees the house in the distance and thinks of himself there. He imagines decrepitude, exhaustion and sorrow and his body begins to mirror his mental image. He repeats a line of poetry, “But I beneath a rougher sea/Was whelmed in deeper gulfs than he.”

It is the (almost) unselfconscious way that Mr. Ramsay indulges his emotions that enrages the children. When he is comfortable, everyone else must be. When he is forlorn, others must run to his aid. His self-centeredness infuriates them; yet, his spontaneity and enthusiasm often seduce them.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 5-7 Summary and Analysis