Stream of Consciousness in Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse"

Updated on October 7, 2011

Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse delves into the minds of its characters in a stream of consciousness approach. The characters’ thoughts and feelings blend into one another, and the outward actions and dialogue come second to the inward emotions and ruminations. In the dinner party sequence, for instance, Woolf changes the point of view frequently, with transitions often marked by the sparse dialogue. While shifting the point of view from person to person, Woolf develops her characters through their thoughts, memories, and reactions to each other.

An illustration of point of view in a scene

Chapter XVII of The Window begins with Mrs. Ramsay wondering what she has done with her life, as she directs guests to their seats and ladles out soup. She sees her husband at the far end of the table, frowning. “What at? She did not know. She did not mind. She could not understand how she had ever felt any emotion or affection for him” (83). As she thinks about her displeasure and disconnectedness with Mr. Ramsay, Mrs. Ramsay notes that she would not speak out loud her inner feelings. There is a strict difference between her actions and her thoughts:

Raising her eyebrows at the discrepancy—that was what she was thinking, this was what she was doing—ladling out soup—she felt, more and more strongly, outside that eddy. (83)

Being outside of the eddy is her sense of “being past everything, through everything, out of everything” (83). Completely out of touch with Mr. Ramsay and everyone else at the table, she instead focuses on how shabby the room is, how sterile the men are, and how she pities William Bankes. Finding meaning and strength again in her pity, she gets past her mental weariness enough to ask him an innocuous question about his letters.

The point of view shifts abruptly to Lily Briscoe, who is watching Mrs. Ramsay intently and imagining her thoughts. Lily is able to read Mrs. Ramsay pretty clearly: “How old she looks, how worn she looks, and how remote” (84). She wonders why Mrs. Ramsay pities William Bankes, and she realizes that “the life in her, her resolve to live again, had been stirred by pity” (84). Lily does not find Bankes pitiable, but she recognizes that Mrs. Ramsay is fulfilling some need of her own. Lily thinks about how Bankes has his work, then her thoughts switch to her own work, and she starts imagining her painting and the adjustments she will make. As if to remind the readers of the setting, Woolf has Lily take up “the salt cellar and put it down again on a flower in pattern in the table-cloth, so as to remind herself to move the tree” (84-85). After all of Lily Briscoe’s thoughts, Mr. Bankes finally responds to Mrs. Ramsay’s inquiry as to whether he has found his letters.

“What damned rot they talk,” thinks Charles Tansley, as the point of view shifts to him very briefly (85). Lily observes how he lays down his spoon “precisely in the middle of his plate, which he had swept clean, as if, Lily thought…he were determined to make sure of his meals” (85). As if she can read people’s thoughts, Lily’s attention turns to Charles Tansley, as she makes observations about him. She notes that his appearance is meager and unlovely, but she is still drawn to his blue, deep set eyes. Mrs. Ramsay pities him as well, as she also asks him about his letters.

Tansley’s response is incorporated into the text, not as a direct quotation, as if he does not wish to join in the banal conversation but instead wallow in his thoughts. “For he was not going to talk the sort of rot these people wanted him to talk. He was not going to be condescended to by these silly women” (85). Tansley holds the women and their ways in disdain; he finds them silly and superficial. Why do they get dressed up for such occasions? He is wearing his ordinary clothes. Women “did nothing but talk, talk, talk, eat, eat, eat…Women made civilization impossible with all their ‘charm,’ all their silliness” (85). By portraying his inner frustrations, Woolf lets the reader know exactly how Charles Tansley feels about dinner parties, women, and civilization as a whole.

By shifting the point of view from character to character, Woolf shares each character’s thoughts and feelings, opinions and reactions to one another. The dynamics between the characters are expressed more fully by their thoughts than by their words. The light dialogue serves to break up the transitions in perspective. By blending people’s inward feelings and keeping dialogue to a minimum, Woolf develops her many-dimensioned characters in a unique and memorable way.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      3 weeks ago from Woodstock, GA

      Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Mahdi Askry 

      3 weeks ago

      It was really helpful, and please post technique and concept of time in "To the Lighthouse".

    • profile image

      Shreyasi 

      2 months ago

      Thank you..... it's really superb

    • profile image

      Aamir Rathore 

      6 months ago

      it's just awesome,very precise,explicit and to the point. References from text and narrative technique is brilliant,thank you so much

    • profile image

      Zarshad Ali 

      8 months ago

      Really it is a masterpiece.

    • profile image

      Saheli Parvin 

      10 months ago

      Thank you..it's really helpful.

    • profile image

      Suhad H. Al Obeidi 

      15 months ago

      Really! ,it is hard to understand, besides there are merely quotations.

      Any way,thanks

    • profile image

      parizy 

      19 months ago

      Would u plz discuss three parts of the novel critically

    • profile image

      Asfandyar 

      19 months ago

      I read in guide but that was very difficult,I couldn't understand, however, this helped me out thanks for sharing :)

    • profile image

      umair 

      2 years ago

      best superb

    • profile image

      munaza khan 

      3 years ago

      what a great novel ..

      I like it

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 

      4 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Wonderful...a masterpiece. (This hub is also very good-but I am referring to "To the lighthouse" ! I love the 'stream of consciousness' as I feel as though I can let the stream flow over me....I think the technique is wonderful...the best way the writer can truly touch the reader's mind.

      Thanks very much for reminding me that now I'm about to start on Woolf's first novel, "The Voyage Out".

    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      4 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Thanks, tayba!

    • profile image

      tayba 

      4 years ago

      supurb,i like it

    • LastRoseofSummer2 profile image

      LastRoseofSummer2 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      "To the Lighthouse" was my first Virginia Woolf novel. When I got to the end I thought "This is probably one of the most amazing books I've ever read!". I have since read almost everything else she wrote and this is still my favorite.

    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      6 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Why, thank you, Naila. I'm glad to hear it.

    • profile image

      naila 

      6 years ago

      its really a wonderful experience to read this

    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      6 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Thank you for your comments, meena and meenaali. I'm glad you stopped by and left feedback.

    • profile image

      meenaali 

      6 years ago

      a crystal clear discussion about the term of stream of consciousness.Woolf pens down the term as a jewel casket,beautiful in itself.

    • profile image

      meena 

      6 years ago

      a very clear thought which i read in this passage

    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      6 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Much appreciated, ronhi. I'm glad you found it helpful.

    • ronhi profile image

      ronhi 

      6 years ago from Kenya

      i found this via Google search! And ma happy with what i read because it is exactly what i was looking for! Thaanks for sharing. voted up useful

    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      7 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Good observation, Louis. I agree. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      Louis philippe 

      7 years ago

      Mrs.woolf sees men and women from within rathan than from without.

    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      7 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      I'm glad it makes you want to read more, The Write thing6. I need to read more Woolf myself. Thanks for stopping by!

    • The Write thing6 profile image

      The Write thing6 

      7 years ago

      I found this item both interesting and useful having read at least one of Wolf's books recently--A Room of Her Own--I now want to read this book also.

    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      7 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Joyce is masterful at the technique, it's true. Thanks for reading and commenting, reem!

    • profile image

      reem 

      7 years ago

      well i read thiis novel and i think the technique of stream of conciousness is superbly used by her but james joyce is still the master of this technicque.

    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      7 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      I do, too, Summaya! There's a lot to study in Woolf's books. Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      summaya 

      7 years ago

      i like this book specially for the techniques used by virginia,stream of consciousness,flash back technique.and,moreover,for symbollic aspects.

    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      8 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Thanks, billyaustindillon! I like unique books, too, and Woolf has a special way with words and changing perspectives!

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 

      8 years ago

      I remember this book from school and this is a brilliant critique of To the Lighthouse. It was very unique at the time, and still is with the shifting thoughts of the characters.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)