Male and Female Relations in Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse Male and Female Relations in To The Lighthouse
To The Lighthouse exemplifies the condition of women when Woolf was writing and to some extent yet today. It offers a solution to remedy the condition of both men and women. To say the novel is a cry for a change in attitude towards women is not quite correct. It shows the struggle of both men and women and how patriarchy is damaging to both genders. Mrs. Ramsey. Both suffer from the unequal division of gender power in Woolf's society. Lily is also very much a product of society, yet she has new ideas for the role of women and produces one answer to the problems of gender power. Besides providing these examples of patriarchy, To The Lighthouse examines the tenacity of human relationships in general, producing a novel with twists, turns, problems, and perhaps a solution. Mrs. Ramsey is the perfect, patriarchal woman. She scarcely has an identity of her own. Her life is geared towards men:
If he put implicit faith in her, nothing should hurt him; however deep he buried himself or climbed high, not for a second should he find himself without her. So boasting of her capacity to surround and protect, there was scarcely a shell of herself left for her to know herself by. (Woolf, Lighthouse 38).
Identity is a strong desire in all humanity, yet in a patriarchal society it has been denied to women. Women who are owned by men are mere possessions, having no control over themselves and no way to develop their own personalities. Mrs. Ramsey needs people about her at all times because she has nothing internalized. She must create herself through other people. She is always bouncing off someone else, preferably a male who has power, yet needs her to keep that power. By gaining acceptance and love form those in power, Mrs. Ramsey creates a shadow of a self.
Woolf says, "Not as oneself did one find rest ever, in her experience. Losing personality, one lost the fret, the furry , the stir" (Lighthouse 63). When alone Mrs. Ramsey must lose her personality because it is a show, a created essence which takes work to maintain. A symbol of this is apparent when Mrs. Ramsey covers the skull in her children's room. She covers the reality with a veil, much like all men and women cover their true identity in order to play the role patriarchal society has given to them. Mrs. Ramsey even avoids looking at her own face in the mirror. Is it possible that she would not even recognize herself? I think, yes, because she does not have a fixed identity. She does not know who she is or what she really looks like. She must change in every situation, with every different man she is expected to support.
Mrs. Ramsey supports these men in her life because that is the only way she can create an identity. Woolf suggests that even this support may be false. Of course it is false, because Mrs. Ramsey has no other choice. She cannot lose herself in her work like a man. Her work is to make men feel superior and this is ingrained in her mind. Of her husband we are told that, "She was not good enough to tie his shoe strings, she felt" (Woolf, Lighthouse 32).
In spite of the power of men, To The Lighthouse suggests that many men feel sterile. Perhaps men are psychologically sterilized by power. Patriarchal men can form no equal relationships with women because they must always defend themselves. They cannot admit an equal into their life for fear of losing power. This could be why Mrs. Ramsey pitied men, "She pitied men always as if they lacked something. Women never, as if they had something" (Woolf, Lighthouse 85). The sense of sterility in men's minds may also come form the biological fact that women are the childbearers. Nature has, in defiance of patriarchy, given women the central role in childbearing. At most, men are equals when it comes to having children. It seems as if Mr. Ramsey tries to disprove his sterility by having eight...
Cited: Mill, John Stuart. "the Subjection of Women." On Liberty and Other Writings. New York: Cambridge UP, 1989. 119-94.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One 's Own Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1929.
---. To The Lighthouse. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1927.
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