To the Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

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Chapters 8-10 Summary

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Last Updated May 4, 2023.

Cam dips her hand in the water, gazing at the faraway shoreline and pondering if anyone there feels anything. The wind halts, the sails droop, and the boat becomes serene; it seems that the entire world is at a standstill. They feel miles away from both the shore and the lighthouse, sedately floating beneath the scorching sun. Mr. Ramsay continues reading, legs tucked beneath him.

James fears his father's impending interruption, certain that he will soon question their lack of movement. Each page Mr. Ramsay flips seems like an antagonistic act directed at James. Internally, James declares that if his father makes an unreasonable request, he might stab him in the heart. Realizing he clings to this old thought, James understands it is not his father he wishes to kill but something dark and unsettling that descends upon him fiercely, something that has tormented him since childhood. Regardless of what he makes of his life, James knows that he wants more than anything to eradicate this latent aggression that he carries. James recognizes his father's commendable side but struggles with his conflicting emotions. He envisions a wagon wheel, unknowingly and innocently crushing a foot, then compares this accidental injury to how his father acts.

James recalls happy memories of gardens, an elderly woman gossiping in the kitchen, and the sound of rustling dresses. Amidst this joy, the wheel had crushed someone's foot. His father had once said they could not visit the lighthouse due to rain. Back then, James imagined it as a mystical silver tower with a sudden yellow eye in the evening. Now, he sees it only as a stark structure with black and white stripes. Just as his mother once feared, his wonder is gone, replaced with building anxiety and fear of his father's outbursts.

James remembers a past incident when his mother left him with his father, leaving him feeling powerless. He wonders where she had gone that day and imagines following her, admiring her ability to speak freely with anyone. As he holds the tiller and gazes at the lighthouse, he feels trapped and considers using a knife as his escape. Fortunately, the wind returns and the boat moves forward, bringing James immense relief. Mr. Ramsay does not speak, only raising his right hand like a conductor. Watching from afar, Lily feels that the Ramsays have disappeared forever, with the smoke from a steamer lingering like a somber flag.

Cam touches the water once more, observing the island's leaf-like shape from afar. She starts imagining a shipwreck tale but realizes that she craves the excitement and escape it provides and not the story itself. As the boat speeds up, her father's irritation and James' stubbornness seem to vanish in the wake of her exhilaration at the truth of her life and its exultant moments. 

Cam reminisces about William, Augustus, and her father gathering in his study. She felt safe and protected among them, free to ponder her thoughts. Observing her father read, she mentally converses with James, arguing that their father is not always a tyrant, at least not currently. She imagines her father herding sheep as he reads, urging them through a narrow path. She continues to craft a story of escaping a sinking ship while feeling secure with her father reading, just as she did in the library long ago. The island seems far away as she absentmindedly dips her fingers in the water and softly says: "How we perished, each alone."

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Chapters 5-7 Summary

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Chapters 11-13 Summary