To the Lighthouse is intended to ‘criticize social system, and to show it at its most intense.’
Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse can readily be seen as a lambaste upon the then society. With regard such characters as Mrs. Ramsay, Woolf embodies servitude and self-sacrifice; womanhood is lost in this age. It appears that Mrs. Ramsay’s chief role in life is as matchmaker, and housekeeper for the men. Mrs. Ramsay is set in opposition to her husband, who becomes a classic patriarch. He manifests the insecure male stereotype earnestly craving a distinct position. Thus an attack upon the institution of gender becomes apparent. However these characters are a lot subtler and multi-faceted than a simple feminist critique would allow. Also with these characters, Woolf appears to challenge the idea of a happy marriage. It is a marriage in which there is little conflict but even less discourse. Consequently offered to the readers are a series of repressed characters, each of who personifies the lighthouse ‘a stark tower on a bare rock’ .
With regard to the dinner party Woolf offers insight into a situation that is socially constructed. In this situation it is Mrs. Ramsay who takes the burden of hostess.
‘William sit by me,’ she said. ‘Lily,’ she said wearily, ‘over there’ … .It’s all come to an end, she thought, while they came in one after another, Charles Tansley – ‘Sit there, please’ … .[M]eanwhile she saited, passively, for some one to answer her, for something to happen.
This extract offers the reader a critique the dinner’s artificiality. Mrs. Ramsay plays the conductor, but ‘wearily’ so; she acts through obligation. Life has instilled in Mrs. Ramsay the role of social conductor, and although the beleaguered hostess carries this out, it has little relation to her desires and dreams. It becomes apparent that these rotate around ‘the hospitals, the drains, the dairy’ ‘[b]ut this is...