The relationship between the genders is a major focal point in this first chunk of the book, beginning with Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s very different ways of engaging with James about the trip to the lighthouse and concluding with the very odd description of their “encounter” on pages 37-40. What is Woolf trying to say about what men and women want and need from one another – or, rather, what is Woolf trying to say about what men and women of the Ramsay’s generation want and need from one another?
Throughout this part of the book, we, as readers, see that Mr and Mrs.
Ramsay’s son James is very eager to visit a certain lighthouse. However, Mr. Ramsay is ignorant to his sons wish and rather more concerned with his being right about the weather being forbidding of them to go visit the lighthouse. It was interesting to see how many times this came up. The first time that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay talk to James about it, Mrs. Ramsay kindly says “”’Yes, of course, if it is fine tomorrow” so as to not directly say no which would hurt her son’s feelings. However, her husband is quick to go against her answer, stating “”But it wont be fine”.He is very stern and straightforward about his answer and about quickly disagreeing with his wife to prove that he is right.
The second time that this conversation comes up, Mr. Ramsay is the first one to give an answer. Again, he is short and stern in his answer. “”No going to the Lighthouse, James”. His wife, Mrs. Ramsay feels like it is immediately her responsibility to comfort her son from his father’s harsh words and reassure him that there may be some possibility of him someday seeing this place he has been longing to say – a desire of his that his father continues to be ignorant toward. “Perhaps you will wake up and find the sun shining and the birds singing,” she said compassionately, smoothing the little boy’s hair, for her husband, with his caustic saying that it would not be fine, had dashed his spirits she could see. This going to the Lighthouse was a passion of his, she saw.” Again she says “Perhaps it will be fine tomorrow”. Later on in the chapter, this is still on Mrs. Ramsay’s mind for she seems to be the one whose company is more enjoyed by her son and who has a closer relationship to her than his father, whom he clearly strongly hates. Mrs. Ramsay continues “And even if it isn’t fine tomorrow it will be another day. And now, and now stand up, and let me measure your leg,” for they might go to the Lighthouse after all, and she must see if the stocking did not need to be an inch or two longer in the leg”.
Mrs. Ramsay tried lifting her son’s spirits and making him think more positively about the possibility of him going to the lighthouse by continuing to make the stocking for the son of the man who ran the place. When Mr. Ramsay came over and saw what she was doing, giving her son false hope about going somewhere when he had sternly stated previously that that was not going to happen, he was very angry with her. This left Mrs. Ramsay feeling quite poorly about herself but she seemed to not let that change her perspective of or her attitude towards her husband. Later in this section of the reading, Mr. Ramsay realizes he has been caught theatrically reading by someone standing outside of his window. He is very embarrassed so his first instinct is to go to his wife for help. After he had expressed his sadness, his wife comforted him and assured him that he was a worthy and smart person. However, shortly after saying this, Mrs. Ramsay seems scared for her husband’s reputation after his coming to her for help like that. “It was their relation, and his coming to her like that, openly, so that anyone could see, that discomposed her; for then people said he depended on her, when they must know that of the two he was infinitely the more important”. This just goes to show that the men of this time must have loved nothing more than proving how much more intelligent they were than women yet how they went to women first for comforting. It also proves that, no matter how poorly they were treated, the women would stick by their men and be sure that is was known – or at least believed – that the males were in fact superior to and more intelligent than them.