To the Lighthouse Chapters 8-10 Summary and Analysis
by Virginia Woolf

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Chapters 8-10 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Cam trails her hand in the water and looks at the distant shore. She thinks that they don’t feel anything there. The wind stops, the sails sag, the boat is calm. It seems as if the world is standing still. Under the hot sun, they feel miles from the shore, miles from the Lighthouse. Mr. Ramsay continues to read with his legs curled under him. James dreads the moment when his father will look up and demand why they aren’t moving. Each page Mr. Ramsay turns feels like a hostile gesture aimed at him. James thinks that if his father makes an unreasonable demand, he will take a knife and strike him to the heart. Aware that he’s held onto this old image, James decides that it’s not exactly the old man sitting across from him that he wants to kill, but rather something that seems to descend on him, “a black-winged harpy with talons and a hard beak that has struck him repeatedly.” He remembers the beak striking him when he was a child. He thinks that whatever he becomes in life—a banker, a barrister, a businessman—he will stamp out that kind of aggression (“tyranny, despotism”). Still, James knows that his father can be admirable, “pressing a sovereign into some old woman’s hand.” Lately, he has felt that he and his father are alike. He asks himself, “What then was this terror, this hatred?” The image he conjures up is of a wagon wheel, ignorantly and innocently, crushing someone’s foot.

James remembers gardens, an old woman gossiping in the kitchen, and a dress rustling. It was in this happy world, that the wheel went over the person’s foot. His father had said, “It will rain. You won’t be able to go to the Lighthouse.” He remembers the Lighthouse as a silver, misty tower with a yellow eye that opened suddenly in the evening. Now he sees that the Lighthouse is really a stark tower with black and white bars. James’ strain is acute. As he imagines the rustle of someone coming, he worries that his father will suddenly slap his book down and demand to know why they are dawdling. He remembers that once before his father had brought his blade down on the terrace and his mother had gone stiff all over. She had gotten up and left him on the floor feeling impotent, as he grasped a pair of scissors. James wonders where his mother had gone that day. He pictures himself following her, hearing her speak naturally to a servant. James knows that that was what he most admired, that one could say anything to her. With his hands on the tiller, James stares at the Lighthouse and feels powerless. He feels bound by a rope his father has knotted. His only escape would be to take a knife and plunge it. Then the breeze picks up and the boat takes off. James is enormously relieved. Mr. Ramsay doesn’t even look up, but lifts his right hand in the air as if he’s conducting a symphony. (Lily Briscoe, looking out over the bay, feels that distance has swallowed the boat up. She feels as if the Ramsays are gone forever. Smoke from a steamer hangs in the air like a mournful flag.)

Drawing her fingers once again through the waves, Cam looks at the shape of the island from a distance. It looks like a leaf, standing on one end. She starts to imagine a shipwreck story, then decides that she doesn’t want a story, but the sense of adventure and escape she’s beginning to feel. As the boat takes off, her father’s anger about the points of the compass and James’ obstinacy about their compact, all stream away. She asks herself, “What comes next? Where are they going?” Holding her hand in the ice-cold water, she feels joy that she’s alive.

Cam thinks of Mr. Carmichael, Mr. Bankes and her father in the study. She used to stray in from the garden to catch them in their talk, their reading and writing. She had felt safe there to think her thoughts. She had felt her father’s kindness there. As Cam watches her father read, she returns to her internal dialogue with James. She imagines pointing out that he’s not a...

(The entire section is 1,380 words.)