The Lighthouse represents the duality of imagery that Woolf sees in all her symbols. It can be seen to stand for the duality we find in the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Mrs. Ramsay signifies femininity, intuition and the enveloping love of motherhood; Mr. Ramsay represents cold, hard, masculine intellect. The Lighthouse is circular, and therefore a female image, however it is also a phallic symbol which represents Mr. Ramsay. It endures unchanged whilst the turmoil of the 'Time Passes' chapter occurs. It is therefore pitiless, even though we have earlier identified it with the warm and forgiving Mrs. Ramsay.
Later to be used to great effect in The Waves, the image of the sea as a living, protective backdrop is one of Woolf's enduring images. The symbolism of the sea is linked to the imagery of time: the relentless crashing of the waves represents eternity. The eating away of the spit of land represents the eating away of the characters in the novel by the ravages of time. The waves also represent the characters in the book. Although each is distinct and has its own individual shape and form, they make up part of a whole which ebbs and flows in unity.
Lily's painting shows us the way in which art is a continuous process that attempts to capture the essence of that which it is representing but, more often than not, fails. Lily only manages to truly capture what she feels about Mrs. Ramsay at the end of the novel, when she has lived and experienced many of the same things as Mrs. Ramsay. The painting symbolizes bonds between women and the communal experience that is being female.