An Analysis of the Use of Epiphanies in To the Lighthouse, a Novel by Virginia Woolf

Epiphanies are found by the dozens in this Virginia Woolf novel. Characters ranging from Mrs. Ramsay, the soft and amiable matriarch, to Cam, one of her youngest daughters, all learn something new about themselves or about each other they did not previously know. The flashback style and in-depth psychological perspective of To the Lighthouse allows for the reader to fully understand the feelings of each character in a given period of time and setting. This is important mostly due to the time flux between 1910 and 1920 which might make the plot more difficult to follow without Woolf’s literary thought bubbles.

Lily Briscoe, an aspiring painter, decides to complete the art she abandoned from over ten years ago. The significance of past moments returns to her as she paints Mr. Ramsay and his children on the boat sailing away. Woolf recounts her innermost thoughts in Chapter XI, “…so much depends, she thought, upon distance: whether people are near us or far from us… So coming back from a journey, or after an illness, before habits had spun themselves across the surface, one felt that same unreality… Life was most vivid then.

” (191). Ms. Briscoe exclaims out to the world “It is finished.” (Woolf 208). Lily has faced some tough situations throughout her life. She almost got married and now her future as an artist was on the line. However, only until Lily watched the Ramsay family reach the Lighthouse shore and draw the final line on her masterpiece does she not care about whether she will attain any notoriety for her works in the future.

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Rather, she appreciates herself as an artist and realizes that her hard work was worth it. Her time with the Ramsay family forms a link to her epiphany on what life and art is truly about.

Epiphanies were not limited to just profession based concerns but also included habits fostered under dysfunctional relationships. James looks back on how he used to view his father and realizes he had it all wrong. In the novel, we see him think to himself, “And if he does, James thought, then I shall take a knife and strike him to the heart… Only now, as he grew older, and say staring at his father in an impotent rage, it was not him, that old man reading, whom he wanted to kill, but it was the thing that descended on him—without his knowing perhaps.” (Woolf 184). James no longer holds a bitter grudge against his father because he finally recognized why his father treated him so harshly growing up. Mr. Ramsay was the complete opposite of Mrs. Ramsay.

If things were not going to be alright, she would let James know in a way which did not leave the slightest bit of aggression or hatred. Mr. Ramsay on the other hand, was the dream killer, who even when James was a young boy told James that the trip to the Lighthouse, when speaking about the weather, said “It won’t be fine.” (Woolf 4). Mr. Ramsay supported eight children and made his living as a philosopher. He did not make loads of cash and one could argue that his failure at fame warped his personality at an early age. James now understands that his father is not an evil man who wishes to stab in the heart but an elderly man who is sitting next to him reading a book.

James goes as far as to compare his dad to objects. Woolf tells us James’ thoughts in Chapter VIII, “Suppose then that as a child sitting helpless in a perambulator, or on someone’s knee, he had seen a wagon crush ignorantly and honestly, some one’s foot?…the wheel was innocent” (185). Mr. Ramsay was a victim of circumstance. His life didn’t come out the way he thought it would but nevertheless, James loves his father wholeheartedly.

Epiphanies are plentiful in this book but some are more profound or more important than others. James epiphany was important because it gave him insight into his father’s behavior. This better grasp of his dad can make their estranged relationship better than ever. Lily’s epiphany allows for her to live her life and enjoy making art without the cumbersome concerns of everyone acknowledging her love for painting.

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An Analysis of the Use of Epiphanies in To the Lighthouse, a Novel by Virginia Woolf. (2022, Jun 08). Retrieved from

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