To the Lighthouse Chapters 5-8 Summary and Analysis
by Virginia Woolf

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Chapters 5-8 Summary and Analysis

Mrs. Ramsay soothes James again. She asks him to stand so that she can measure the stocking she is knitting against his leg. It is for the Lighthouse keeper’s little boy. He fidgets and as she reprimands him, she looks up and notices how shabby the furniture is. Her thoughts race from the frustrations of housekeeping to her own inadequacies. (She never reads.) Things got shabbier and shabbier every summer. She frets over the children’s messes, yet reminds herself that their hobbies are reflections of their giftedness. She agonizes over doors being left open and windows shut. She remembers that Marie, the Swiss maid, does love the fresh air. She thinks of Marie’s father who is dying of cancer. The hopelessness of it overcomes her.

Her hopelessness is converted to irritation as she speaks sharply to her son. Sadness envelopes her. Her sadness is unfathonable to others. What personal tragedy has she suffered? She never discloses her private feelings.

William Bankes recalls a telephone conversation in which he was overcome by her voice. Her unselfconscious beauty intrigues him. She isn’t interested in admiration; it bores her. Her hasty donning of the odd hat only contributes to her unique style.

Mrs. Ramsay kisses James on the head, smoothing out her earlier irritation. She asks him to find another picture to cut out.

She becomes aware of Mr. Ramsay. She knows by the “familiar signs” that he is unreachable. He nearly collides into Lily and William Bankes; he is re-living Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” (“Someone had blundered....Stormed at by shot and shell...boldly we rode and well...” )

Mr. Ramsay comes out of his trance and his wife feels relieved that domesticity has triumphed. He brushes James’ leg, but James recoils. Mrs. Ramsay comments that she’s trying to finish the stockings to send to the Lighthouse tomorrow. Her husband is infuriated. How can she fly in the face of facts? He stamps his foot and says, “Damn you.”

She feels overwhelmed (“dazed and blinded, pelted as with hail”). How can people pursue truth at the expense of human feeling? However, she says nothing to him. Abashed, he stands in silence and then humbly offers to call the coastguards. Feelings of reverence for him well up in her. He feels ashamed of his wild gestures. His whole mood changes.

Mr. Ramsay, fortified by the picture of his wife and son, returns to his earlier intellectual preoccupations. His image of the process of thought is like that of the keyboard of a piano, or like the alphabet. He feels he has reached the letter Q. Few people in the whole of England reach Q. He struggles in vain to reach R, but something like a shutter, or the eyelid of a lizard, obscures it. It is his fear of failure.

In his despair, he imagines himself as the valiant leader of a doomed expedition. He asks himself who will condemn the brave soldier who has fought valiantly and who now requires sympathy, whiskey, and an audience for his story? He feels justified in his need to stop, to gaze at his wife and son, and to do homage to the beauty of the world.

James is swallowed up in hatred of his father. He hates his egotism, his dramatic posturing, his interruptions; most of all he hates the way he disturbs his relationship with his mother. As
her husband stops in front of her, James feels her tension. Yet, she pulls herself up and energy and life animate her. Mr. Ramsay wants sympathy. He tells her he is a failure. She exudes optimism and confidence in their life and he, reassured, is restored.

As he leaves to watch the children playing cricket, she is overcome with exhaustion. As she continues to read to her son, the waves sound ominous. She can’t bear to feel finer than her husband, or, that others might believe he was dependent on her. She felt the burden of not being able to tell him the truth—that the greenhouse needed repair, that his last book was not his best. Feeling this burden, she gives in to some demon in her...

(The entire section is 1,532 words.)