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Biplob Prodhan
  • 4 weeks ago
  • 22
Discuss the use of symbols in To the Lighthouse.


Introduction: A symbol is a person, an object, a sign or an event that represents a general quality or situation. It is anything that signifies or stands for something else. There are many symbols woven together in To the Lighthouse and of these five are important. They are the following:

(1) The sea as a symbol: The sea with its waves symbolises the eternal flux of time and life in the midst of which we all exist. The sea surrounds the island on which the action takes place, which suggests both the human race in general and the individual personality. To Mrs. Ramsay at one moment the sea sounds soothing and consoling like a cradle song, at others, “like a ghostly roll of drums remorselessly beating a warning of death,” it brings terror.

(ii) The Lighthouse: The Lighthouse is a mystery, a man-made instrument, built in the flux of time, to guide and control those at the ency of its destructive forces. To Mrs. Ramsay, as she is knitting in the window, it seems at one moment the light of truth; at another, steady, pitiless, and enemy of mind, or again a reminder of past estasy. The Lighthouse standing lonely in the midst of the sea, is a symbol of the individual who is a part of the flux of history. To reach the Lighthouse is, in a sense, to make a contact with a truth outside itself, to surrender the uniqueness of one’s ego to an impersonal ality.

(iii) The window: It is from the window that we have the title of the first part of To the Lighthouse. The window is a screen between reality and consciousness. The window reduces the pageant of the world to the scale of the being who contemplates it. And finally this window is the very symbol of the imperfection of our knowledge.

(iv) Colour symbolism: Colour symbols have been used throughout the novel. When Lily Briscoe is wrestling unsuccessfully with her painting, in the first part of the book, she sees the colours as bright violet and staring white’, but just as she achieves her final vision at the book’s conclusion, and is thus able to complete her picture, she notices that the lighthouse ‘had melted away into a blue haze’, and though she sees the canvas clearly for a second before drawing the final line, the implication remains that this blurring of colours is bound up with her vision.

(v) Characters as symbols: The characters are carefully arranged in their relation to each other, so that a definite symbolic pattern emerges. Mrs. Ramsay, pervading the whole book, is the creator of fertile human relationships, symbolized by her love of match-making and her knitting, and of warm comfort, signified by her green shawl. Just as Mrs. Ramsay remains the symbol of creative vitality so also Mr. Ramsay stands as the symbol of the sterile, destructive barriers to relationship. Lily’s picture is intended to be a work of art which is the ultimate symbol for an enduring reality. In real life human relationships are doomed to languish and even to die. But in art the temporal and the eternal unite together in an unchanging and permanent form.

Conclusion: Thus the novel is replete with various types of symbols which convey the truth of life.

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Biplob Prodhan
Biplob Prodhan Founder & Director EDNOUB Foundation Ednoub Private Program

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