Woolf, To the Lighthouse
We finished Thursday's class on two points: [a] the meaning of "R" (which Mr. Ramsay can't reach through reason; it also happens to be his own initial) and of "Q" (on which he is stuck); and [b] Jeff's wonderful point that Mrs. Ramsay is, in some sense, the Lighthouse of the title: she is conceived as a columnar, radiant object (she "pour[s] erect into the air a rain of energy...burning and illuminating," p. 37); she looks at the Lighthouse and feels that "her own eyes [are] meeting her own eyes" (p. 63); she devotes her energies to keeping people off the social rocks (see esp. the dinner party, pp. 86-111).
These observations set us up to make even more progress with the symbolic language of the novel:
Mother text vs. Father text
While some of you remain skeptical of my claim that Woolf, in this novel, sets up a "mother text" to rival or complement the "father text" to which we have been exposed almost throughout Lit. Hum., I'd nonetheless like you to give some thought to the issue. First of all, think about some major examples of the "father text":
and try to derive some features of the "father text" from them (use induction!):
and think about how all this gets complicated by metaphysics (the Symposium: appropriation of "pregnancy" and "giving birth" from the female sphere to the male), and especially by the introduction of God the Father into Western discourse, with the spread of Christianity: e.g., Augustine suppresses his human father in order to position himself as a character with one human parent (Monica) and one divine one (God)--like Achilles, Aeneas, et al.
By contrast, we have seen only one "mother text" all year: the Hymn to Demeter (Demeter--Persephone). Can we use this in any way to help us figure out what Woolf is trying do in To the Lighthouse? What are the features of the "mother text" Woolf is proposing as an alternative to the venerable "father text" in Western literature? And is it an alternative? (What, e.g., does Lily need to get by?)
Additional study questions
All the original content on these pages is licensed under a Creative
Commons License. Under this license, you may copy, alter, and redistribute any of the
original content on this site to your heart's content, provided that you
(a) credit me and/or link
back to this page; and (b) allow others to make similarly free use of any
work you create that is based on material from these pages. In other words,
share the love. You might also like to drop
me a line and let me know if you're using my stuff -- it's the nice
thing to do!
|Bible lookup tool -------------------------------------------------|
|Archived Pages | Syllabus | Course Info | Email Instructor | Go to Discussion|
|Other Resources | Literature Humanities Homepage at Columbia | Current Events Pages|