The Title as a Device – in To the Lighthouse

January 10, 2013

In my last blog about Virginia Woolfe’s superb novel To the Lighthouse, I did not mention the use of the title as a DEVICE.

On the first page of the novel, the reader learns that one of the children is anticipating a boat trip to the lighthouse. There is controversy between the parents about the weather conditions. This controversy defines the character of the parents, the mother being generous and optimistic and the father being dark and authoritarian. The trip is postponed. The reader is driven with curiosity  not only about the tension between parents and the tension between father and child, but also is driven  with a level of expectancy relating to the actual trip to the lighthouse.  The reader waits through the entire novel to the last page for that trip to take place.

Since the opening scene echoes the title, we are alerted to an importance in getting to the lighthouse.  The title becomes a device for anticipation. The page-turner.  This book is all about interconnections. In this last scene, the father connects with the son who hates him. But not through understanding; it’s serendipitous,  by accident. As so often is the case throughout the novel. People do not really connect. To use the metaphor: they do not see the light.