Mrs. Dalloway, alongside Ulysses, was one of the two greatest Modernist commentaries upon the nature of time (though it is worth noting that Woolf was occasionally critical of Joyce's conceptually and stylistically similar modern epic). Woolf's very personal prose style leant itself perfectly to an exploration of the subjective nature of the passing of time. Woolf believed quite rightly that time was not a definable constant, but a fluid series of experiences which give the impression of coherency. To the Lighthouse is a commentary upon the nature of the 'now'. It deals with the instability of the moment and the uncertainty of everything but death. The flow of the novel through its three sections represents the flow of time from one day to the next, from day to night to day again. 'Time Passes' covers ten years in the space of a few pages. However, the experiences of these years are compressed into the fragmented images of the chapter. The "shrouded jugs and sheeted chairs" in the holiday home remind us of the stability of objects in the constantly fluctuating world. The deaths of Mrs. Ramsay, Andrew and Prue are referred to in passing. Woolf's mother's death was perhaps the most devastating incident in her life, but here it is parenthesized, showing the lack of impact that individual lives have in the larger scheme of things.

The Individual

To the Lighthouse is presented from the individual viewpoints of the characters involved. The characters can explore their own minds in the past, present and future and Woolf focuses upon the relationship between the individual and their surroundings. The focus upon the individual centers upon their mind. Woolf is fascinated by the randomness of the thought process and the relationship between seemingly unrelated objects. The individuals in Woolf struggle to find a sense of direction and purpose in a world whose basic values and structures have been destabilized by the war and the shift in morality which preceded and followed it. The individual in Woolf is lonely. Even in her joy at the union with Paul, Minta is despairing at the loss of her brooch. The brooch represents, amongst many other things, the realization that man is alone, no matter how close he is to someone. Woolf's stream-of-consciousness style raises questions about the function of the mind. Mrs. Ramsay best exemplifies the mysteries of the working of the mind when she enters into her trance-like contemplations of those around her. She becomes: "a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others". Mr. Ramsay, similarly, feels the weight of the solitude of the individual consciousness weighing down upon him: "to come out thus on a spit of land which the sea is slowly eating away, and there to stand like a desolate sea-bird, alone".

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