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Lily’s Artifice and Mr. Ramsey’s Work in To the Lighthouse

A Comparison of Lily’s Artifice and Mr. Ramsey’s Work in To the Lighthouse

In Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Mr. Ramsey’s lone philosophical work is contrasted against Lily’s encompassing paintings. Both Lily’s and Mr. Ramsey’s professions require sacrifices; Lily gives up the ideal marital life whereas Mr. Ramsey has his wife forfeit her happiness to restore his. Through his work, Mr. Ramsey is able to build himself up and look as though he is a strong male figure. Lily also finds strength within her artistry, rejecting the traditional “mother-woman” image and taking on an identity that is unique in her society. Mr. Ramsey’s and Lily’s process of thinking are particular to their work; a philosopher must think in linear terms to get to a final conclusion whereas a painter has to envision and dream up their art in symbols, shapes and more abstract images. As Mr. Ramsey grows older, he loses sight of his original intentions as an artisan and ends up worrying more about the immortality of his work than the content. Lily, on the other hand, focuses on the continuity and harmony that her paintings portray. Lily wants to capture the essence of life; Mr. Ramsey cannot do so because he cannot fully express his emotions without a conduit such as Mrs. Ramsey. Without Mrs. Ramsey, he is not a whole self, which makes his work lack the original enlightenment it once held. Mrs. Ramsey fuels Lily’s and Mr. Ramsey’s work in different ways; Lily receives her “vision”(209) through Mrs. Ramsey’s past motherly presence and Mr. Ramsey needs her to energize his often sinking spirits. Whether they are occupied within the artists themselves or others surrounding them, martyrs are needed to construct the art …

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…to the world. Mr. Ramsey, who requires another’s energy to generate his work, is ultimately left alone in the world. He wanders aimlessly looking for Mrs. Ramsey to help him give birth to new ideas but she is no longer there. Although he has gotten exactly what he wished for, solitude brings him despair and unhappiness; he cannot be complete without his wife by his side. Lily is able to free herself through the completion of the painting depicting mother and child. With the conclusion of this artwork, she finally has a matriarchal figure in her life and is free from the oppression of society’s stereotypical female role. She describes this painting as being “intimate” because she shared something very personal with Mrs. Ramsey: the ability to give life.

Work Cited

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. Florida: Harcourt Brace

Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester’s Quest for Identity in Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter

Dimmesdale and Hester’s Quest for Identity in The Scarlet Letter

While allegory is an explicit and tempting reading of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, I see in this novel also the potential of a psychological reading, interpreting it as a search for one’s own self. Both Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne goes through this process and finally succeeded in finding the duality of one’s personality, and the impossibility of complementing the split between individual and community identity. However, they were compelled to take different paths on this journey, and they react quite differently when they finally arrive at the conclusion of this search.

Dimmesdale and Hester start out from the same point: their adultery. This “sin” shakes them out of place from their tracks, and begins their long and difficult journey.

Dimmesdale’s crime is kept secret, but it does not mean that he can forget it or deny it. As a well-respected minister, he stands at the center of his community, being the advocate of religious and moral standards of that Puritan society. Whereas the Puritans are as a whole stern and strict concerning evils and sins, he is even more conscious of them than anyone else. The values he holds condemn him with a strong sense of guilt, precisely because he is his own prosecutor. The pain is acute because not only has he sinned, but he has to bear the secret of it:

It was inconceivable, the agony with which this public veneration tortured him! … He longed to speak out, from his own pulpit, at the full height of his voice, and tell the people what he was. … ‘I, your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie!’ (143)

Not only does he have to bear the guilt of his crime, but h…

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…uld have grown ripe for it, in Heaven’s own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness. (263)

As Dimmesdale represents the society-bound person, oppressing his passions, and Hester the society’s exile, proudly denying her need for social support, the sad truth they discover, although through different ways, is one of the same: that one needs both individual freedom and social belonging. Although it is impossible for them to have both, and complete themselves, at least they have come to the recognition of this truth.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Oxford and New York: Oxford

University Press, 1998.

Girgus, Sam B. Desire and The Political Unconsciousness in American Literature.

New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

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