Suggested Essay Topics
Chapters 1 and 2
1. Discuss how Mrs. Ramsay is viewed by her son, James; by Mr. Tansley; and by Mr. Carmichael. What is her own self-perception? As the reader, how do you see Mrs. Ramsay?
2. Provide at least three examples of Virginia Woolf’s “stream of consciousness” writing. Explain how disconnected thoughts can reveal a character’s personality.
Chapters 3 and 4
1. How do William Bankes and Lily see Mr. Ramsay? What do they see as his strengths and weaknesses? What images do they each hold in thinking about Ramsay?
2. Mrs. Ramsay is very sensitive to sound. Discuss how her awareness and interpretation of the sounds of the waves, of people talking, and of her husband’s pacing, creates a rhythmn in the novel.
1. Despite her beauty and her roles as admired hostess and idealized mother, Mrs. Ramsay experiences frustration, sadness, and even pain. Trace the source of these feelings. What aspects of her personality contribute to these feelings? What elements of her domestic life further contribute to these feelings?
2. Mr. Ramsay also experiences deep frustration. What is the source of his frustration? How does he escape from his worries?
1. Based on what we learn about Mrs. Ramsay in these chapters, do you think she is misunderstood? Is she overbearing, even manipulative? How would you describe her motives?
2. Is Mrs. Ramsay more pessimistic than her husband, as she privately wonders? What evidence can you draw on to support or refute this judgment?
Chapters 12 and 13
1. What do you believe is the secret of the Ramsays’ successful marriage? Describe how they interact with each other. Why are boundaries important in marriage? Was this a typical Victorian marriage?
2. When Lily observes Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay watching the children play catch, the scene takes on a symbolical meaning for her. Discuss why this particular scene might have appealed to her artistic sensibility.
1. Chapter XIV takes place away from the house and Mrs. Ramsay’s presence. Andrew and Nancy are more individuated, as are Paul and Minta. Nevertheless, Mrs. Ramsay’s influence is still felt. In what way are the events of the day and the reactions of the participants influenced by Mrs. Ramsay?
2. Mrs. Ramsay is particularly responsive to Jasper and Rose when they join her in her dressing room before dinner. What is the significance of this scene? Why do you think Woolf has chosen to provide us with this particular glimpse of Mrs. Ramsay?
1. In an essay, explain why the dinner scene is pivotal to the novel. Explore how it pulls together the loose ends of the day. What is Woolf saying about human needs?
2. Create a one-act play based on Woolf’s description of this scene. If you are interested in film, identify the kinds of shots and transitional cuts necessary to convey Woolf’s depiction of this scene.
Chapters 18 and 19
1. The scene in the nursery suggests the power of Mrs. Ramsay’s maternal instincts. How does this scene, coupled with the scene in her dressing room prior to dinner, illuminate Mrs. Ramsay’s extraordinary empathy? Do these scenes provide the reader with a more accurate picture of Mrs. Ramsay than her own ruminations?
2. The close of the day finds Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay in the library. How do each of them put to rest the turmoil of the day? What is a prerequisite to their drawing closer? What, do you surmise, is Woolf’s definition of a happy marriage?
1. Discuss in detail how Nature is personified in Time Passes. Include in your discussion an analysis of why the writer might choose to use Nature as the main character in this section.
2. Compare and contrast the story development in The Window, with the story development in Time Passes. What is the difference in point of view? in thoughts about Nature? In thoughts about the future?
1. Write an essay in which you discuss Virginia Woolf’s portrayal of Mrs. McNab. How does the writer depict the housekeeper’s...
(The entire section is 1,086 words.)