To the Lighthouse is a Modernist novel concerned with the Ramsay family and their two decade-separated trips to the Scottish Isle of Skye. The titular lighthouse is located near the island and is the focus for domestic stress and tension in the Ramsay family. The novel ruminates on themes of family and on the difficulties inherent in human interaction. It also dwells on the first World War, an event that upends the Ramsay family's dynamics.
Large parts of Woolf's novel do not concern themselves with the objects of vision, but rather investigate the means of perception, attempting to understand people in the act of looking. To be able to understand thought, Woolf's diaries reveal, the author would spend considerable time listening to herself think, observing how and which words and emotions arose in her own mind in response to what she saw.
This examination of perception is not, however, limited to isolated inner-dialogues, but also analysed in the context of human relationships and the tumultuous emotional spaces crossed to truly reach another human being. Two sections of the book stand out as excellent snapshots of fumbling attempts at this crossing: the silent interchange between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay as they pass the time alone together at the end of section 1, and Lily Briscoe's struggle to fulfill Mr. Ramsay's desire for sympathy (and attention) as the novel closes.