Tuesday, April 22, 2008

To the Lighthouse discussion: Time Passes

The first chapter of “Time Passes” highlights the difference in narrative style for this section. Events after the dinner are conveyed through a third-person approach rather than the stream-of-consciousness in the “The Window.” This change in technique mirrors the shift in focus regarding the impact of time. The first section, which viewed the world through the consciousness of individuals, highlighted the effect time has on people. This middle section mostly concentrates on the effect time has on things. Events in people’s lives over the ten-year period are presented mostly as asides, without elaboration or emotion.

Once again there are many themes and motifs so I’ll only be able to mention a couple of them. One recurrent thing is the use of someone on the beach and asking philosophical questions. The waves and the sea have (among other things) signified time in its continual wearing down of physical things. The surface of the sea hides the power and beauty underneath, presenting a mirror to those that walk beside it. Likewise, the answers it yields will be a reflection of the beachwalker himself…in both form and content.

Toward the end of “The Window” Mrs. Ramsay symbolically protects her children from a death symbol by wrapping her scarf around the boar’s skull. With the passage of time, the shawl falls away revealing the meager protection that she (and all parents) actually provide. There is nothing that she could have done to prevent Prue’s death in childbirth or Andrew’s death in the war. While they were adults at the time of their death, Mrs. Ramsay’s feeling of impotence regarding protecting those out for a walk was a harbinger of how far her influence actually carried. Even so, her power was great in bringing people together, providing a stay against the elements outside and instigating events that would remain with them. This force she provided is echoed in “Time Passes” as the house's refusal to ultimately yield to the destructive elements attacking it (through forces it didn't control, but benefited from nonetheless).
The destructive nature of time in this section does lend credence to Mr. Ramsay’s concern about the lasting nature of his work, or of any work of art. As time passes, the forces working to destroy the books are only concerned with the physical component of a work. The essence of what is behind those works will live on..maybe wildly popular or alone in obscurity, but they do continue. Witness the emergence of Mr. Carmichael’s work, supposedly due to the war, in regards to what is popular at any point in time. As in relation to the house, there are other forces to help art survive.

I think it is a safe bet that the flower imagery in To the Lighthouse has provided several scholars their dissertation topic. Whether the use was with regard to actual flowers (in the garden, for example, and the constant vigilance to make sure they are planted and not destroyed by the wildlife), flower imagery (the flower in the tablecloth pattern that inspires Lily to ‘fix’ her painting), or simple allusion (Mrs. Ramsay’s reverie as she listened to the poem at dinner), the use of flowers saturate the book. I’ll pass on delving into it more, but did want to highlight their usage at some point.

Time and darkness are presented as engulfing elements in “Time Passes,” factors that swallow us up in a pool despite our best efforts. Along with nature, one day…one night does not always play a deciding factor in our lives. It is the accumulation of nights, of time, unveils what will happen and wear down our being. Here, the house does not deteriorate overnight but over the space of ten years. However this approach toward time has to be augmented with the recognition that things do happen in one evening, or in one moment. The deaths of the characters did not happen “over time” but in discrete moments. The passage of time yields these decisive moments.

The personification of the air early in this section lends itself to a wonderful metaphor on knowledge. These airs have “time at their disposal” and question everything they pass. They learn everything that is available, able to visit when and where they would like and read people or events at their leisure. The airs may be driven away with the recognition that they “can neither touch nor destroy,” but they obtain knowledge regardless. One major theme in the final section investigates the meaning of knowing another person. The use of “certain airs” in this section demonstrates one method of learning.

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