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Gender Roles in To The Lighthouse Essay


Virginia Woolfs To The Lighthouse casts an intriguing perception of the roles played out by both male and female counterparts. Their relationship is quite polar, and the physical separations are merely shadowed by the differing emotional viewpoints of one another. Mr. Ramsay is the father of a family of eight. Hes a selfish and tyrannical person who wants to be known as being someone of significant value. Because of this he constantly demands sympathy and support from his family and his wife, Mrs. Ramsay. Mrs. Ramsay on the other hand, is a sweet and loving wife and mother. She strongly believes in the traditional gender roles of men and women, and to what extent they play a role in society. From this she conceives men and especially Mr. Ramsay as needy people who constantly need supporting feedback and other forms of sympathy. This conception creates a constant struggle between the two sexes in the novel. Mr. Ramsay along with other men needs to feel a sense of satisfaction and meaning to their lives. When this is not provided for Mr. Ramsay, he feels a lack of respect and erupts in a fiery temper. Because of his temper and rage, Mrs. Ramsay is burdened to continuously provide feedback and compliments to Mr. Ramsay in order to satisfy his ego. Mrs. Ramsay must continue to do this in order to lead a peaceful and happy life with her children, whom she cares for dearly. She feels worried and bothered for her family when she doesnt provide this to her husband, because of its repercussions of his anger. Mr. Ramseys idea of male superiority places a burden on Mrs. Ramsey to provide a stable balance for respect of power to Mr. Ramsey.

The idea of male superiority has been embedded into the roots of Mr. Ramsays head. He needs to be reminded of the fear and power he puts on his family, and there is no one he would much rather care to hear it from than his own wife. Mrs. Ramsay is placed with this burden and must comfort him and show her undying love and support for Mr. Ramsay. Mrs. Ramsay speaks to her husband and Mr. Ramsay thinks to himself, It flattered him; snubbed as he had been, it soothed him that Mrs. Ramsay should tell him this (10). The words flattered and snubbed signify a strong emotion felt by Mr. Ramsey to the point where he feels soothed in a way that he feels relieved that his power and might has been seen and felt by others and that they acknowledge to its existence to him. In another situation Mr. Ramsay tries to lovingly connect with his son, James thinks, Hating his father, [he] brushed away the tickling (31). The phrase James uses when he says Hating his father shows the utmost feeling James has for his father. This results to James cringing away as soon as Mr. Ramsay comes near him. Mr. Ramsays obligatory measure to appear attentive adds to the hatred inside of James. As Mr. Ramsay stands in the room and whines to his wife, James feels, for his [Mr. Ramsay] exactingness and egotismcommanding them to attend to himdisturbed the perfect simplicity and good sense of his [James] relations with his mother (37). Mrs. Ramsay spends a lot of time with her son, so James loves and respects her thoroughly. But when Mr. Ramsay alters Mrs. Ramsays undivided attention upon James and tries to focus it on himself, we can see James hate for his father when James says disturbed the perfect simplicity. The word perfect shows that James could not have had a better bonding moment in his life with his mother, but his father took it all away from him. This allows Mr. Ramsay to feel more powerful with his ego while giving Mrs. Ramsay the satisfaction that its what has to be done in order to retain a balance between the struggling relationship they have. The burden Mrs. Ramsay carries to provide this stable balance for respect of power to men is placed on her solely by the presence of male superiority.

Apart from Mr. Ramsays feelings, Mrs. Ramsay feels that other men in her presence must be treated in a similar manner. She believes they should be complimented and celebrated, to make them feel undamaged and valued. On one particular evening, Mrs. Ramsay has various friends and neighbors over for dinner. Upon sitting at the dinner table, Mrs. Ramsay notices an awkward silence over the room and comes to stop the silence. She says, she felt, as a fact without hostility, the sterility of men, for if she did not do it nobody would do it (83). Prior to this, Mrs. Ramsay had been thinking, But what have I done with my life? (82). By linking both of these thoughts of Mrs. Ramsay, it is clear that she has had trouble grasping over what she had done with her life. She feels that it has had no meaning and has simply been living in fear of her husbands will and power over the family. She realizes that she is the one keeping everything together. It becomes even clearer to her when the silence is unstopped by the predominant men at the table and she feels she has to do speak. They are all hopeless without her and she knows that her life has been spent burdening herself with the task of keeping things such things in line. Also during the dinner scene, Mr. Tansley remarks over his ability to write and how women dont have the vital skills to do such a thing. Lily is offended by his remarks and recalls to herself, Women cant write, women cant paint-what did that matter coming from him, since clearly it was not true to him but for some reason helpful to him, and that was why he said it? (86). Lilys confusion shown in this passage when she says for some reason helpful to him shows that she knows it is not true what Mr. Tansley said about women not being able to do anything, because of his own lack of knowledge in writing, but she realizes that the mind of men has to be satisfied by their daunting egos, and in the case for Mr. Tansley, can only be done by belittling that of a womans. Lily takes another thought of him and counters to him by asking him to take her with to the Lighthouse. She thinks to herself, She was saying what she did not mean to annoy him, for some reason. She was laughing at him (86). By Lilys action of laughing at him shows that she feels a step ahead of Mr. Tansley, allowing him to feel satisfied that men are better writers than women. She knows better in her mind that their egos cannot be overcome, and so she has to give them what they want while sacrificing her pride in her own writing. She must sit and stay quiet while another person insults her intelligence. She feels a sense of insubordination to Mr. Tansley and is burdened by his comment and her lack of power to respond. Mr. Tansley has placed this burden on Lily to provide a stable balance of power and respect for him.

Women in society experience a hardship in To The Lighthouse that most men would not be able to understand. They are placed in a position where they must please men and conform to their ideas and feelings in order to establish happiness within them. Mans ego is a thing of nature that is satisfied by the reaction by the women in society. Most of the time these women may be doing this without noticing, but in the case of Mrs. Ramsay and Lily, they become aware of the burden they are doing, and realize how it has controlled their lives. This burden has caused them to question their motives and true happiness in life, and can turn their whole worlds upside down. Its a troubling matter that deprives them from true feelings of contentment within their lives. Male superiority has placed the burden upon the females, in which females are to provide a stable balance of respect and power to men in society.

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