Gender Roles in To the Lighthouse Essay

Gender Roles in To the Lighthouse Essay

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The novel explores gender roles through the characters of Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay, and Lily. Each of these characters embodies different views in regards to gender roles. The readers are taken into their minds and thoughts and are allowed to see what each character views is the role of his/her gender.
Mrs. Ramsay embodies the traditional, ideal woman. She is a wife and mother. She sees her role as being a supporter to her husband, her children, and to the people around her. Mrs. Ramsay is occupied with matronly duties, such as knitting socks and running errands. She is devoted to her children. She sympathizes with James, understanding his disappointment at not being able to go to the lighthouse. She looks through a catalog for pictures for him to cut out. She also reads fairy tales to James. Mrs. Ramsay is a kind and devoted mother.
Mrs. Ramsay sees her role as a helper to men. Mrs. Ramsay feels that she has “the whole of the other sex under her protection”. Men “negotiated treaties, ruled India, controlled finance”. Therefore, Mrs. Ramsay feels that it is her duty to make the home-life easy for men. Men take care of the world, and women take care of men. Mrs. Ramsay pities men, because it seems “as if they lacked something”. A man needs a woman to make his life complete. Mrs. Ramsay notices that Mr. Tansley is left out; so she asks him to accompany her to town. She takes a sincere interest in Mr. Carmichael, asking him if he needs anything. During the dinner, she assumes the responsibility to ensure that everyone is comfortable and that the food is served well.
Mrs. Ramsay provides her husband with support and sympathy. Mr. Ramsay comes to Mrs. Ramsay when he wants sympathy or “to be assured of his genius”. Mrs. Ramsay ha...


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...at Mr. Tansley was saying”. She chooses to disregard Mr. Tansley’s words. Years later, when she returns to the island with the Ramsays, Lily still remembers Mr. Tansley’s words. However, Lily resumes her painting. It is through painting that Lily finds fulfillment in life; she is able to capture and preserve a moment and a memory.
Woolf presents three characters who embody three different gender roles. Mrs. Ramsay is the dutiful wife and mother. Mr. Ramsay is the domineering patriarch. Lily Briscoe is an independent, aspiring woman. Woolf sets these three roles in contrast with each other. She allows the reader to see the power and influence each character has. Mrs. Ramsay’s submissive and supportive nature arouses admiration. Mr. Ramsay’s condescending manner provokes animosity. Lily Briscoe’s independence enables her to find meaning and fulfillment in her life.

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