The Light, The Stick and The Kitchen Table
From the very first page of ‘To The Lighthouse’, it’s clear that the Ramseys have mastered the good cop/bad cop parental double act – the dysfunctional strategy of choice for many families. Like chalk and cheese, Mrs Ramsey offers her children hope – in this case a trip to the Lighthouse the following morning – only for her husband to dash it on the rocks of rational thinking. It’s not only the children who are soothed by Mrs Ramsey’s soft grace, her guests are attracted by her radiance like moths around a flame. Like the lighthouse casting its beam around, Mrs Ramsey’s attention illuminates all upon whom it graces. Even her husband, despite his ‘uncompromising severity’, craves her kind words to flatter and reassure his ego.
If Mrs Ramsey is a beacon of light and hope, what then is Mr Ramsey? When asked about his work on ‘subject and object and the nature of reality’, his son Andrew likens it to ‘a kitchen table… when you’re not there’ . So in some ways, you could say that he provides the bare bones, the structure, to which Mrs Ramsey brings the life, the warmth, the soul. I think that’s maybe being too generous, though. I like this quote, about his walk on to the spit of land, with Mrs Ramsey watching him from the window:
he kept even in that desolation a vigilance which spared no phantom and luxuriated in no vision, as a stake driven into the bed of a channel upon which the gulls perch and the waves beat inspires in merry boat-loads a feeling of gratitude for the duty it has taken upon itself of marking the channel out there in floods alone.
His work might be a kitchen table, but Mr Ramsey it would seem, is nothing other than a stick in the mud.