To and 1920. Following and extending the tradition

the Lighthouse is a
1927 novel by Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf was an English novelist and
essayist regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the
twentieth century. The novel centers on the Ramsay family and their
visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920. Following and
extending the tradition of modernist novelists like Marcel Proust and James
Joyce, the plot of To the Lighthouse is secondary to its philosophical
introspection. Cited as a key example of the literary technique of multiple
focalization, the novel includes little dialogue and almost no action; most of
it is written as thoughts and observations. Among the book’s many tropes and
themes are those of loss, subjectivity, the nature of art and the problem of
perception. By using the theory of the Narrative Perspective, the novel recalls
the characters emotions and highlights about adult relationships.

The Narrative Instance is said to be
the conjunction between (1) narrative voice, (2) time of the narration and (3)
narrative perspective. As with narrative mood, by examining the narrative
instance we can gain a better understanding of the relations between the
narrator and the story in Narrative Perspective.


Differences must
be made between the narrative voice and narrative perspective; The latter is the point of view adopted by the narrator, which
Genette calls focalization. “So, by
focalization I certainly mean restriction ‘field’ – in fact, the selection of
narrative information with respect to what is traditionally called
omniscience” (1988, p 74). This is a matter of perception: the
person who feels is not necessarily the person who says it, and vice versa. According to Genette he distinguished
three types of focalizations:

1. Zero focalization: The narrator
knows more than the characters. He may know the facts about all of the
protagonists, as well as their thoughts and gestures. This is the traditional
“omniscient narrator”.

2. Internal focalization: The narrator
knows as much as the focal character. This character filters the information
provided to the reader. He cannot report the thoughts of other characters.

3. External focalization: The narrator
knows less than the characters. He acts a bit like a camera lens, following the
protagonists’ actions and gestures from the outside; he is unable to guess
their thoughts.

examining the characteristics of a narrative instance and the particulars of
the narrative mood, we can clarify the mechanisms used in the narrative act,
and identify exactly what methodological choices the author made in order to
render his/her story. The use of different narratological processes creates
different effects for the reader. For example, one could have a hero-narrator
(autodiegetic narrator) who uses simultaneous narration and internal
focalization and whose speech is often in reported form. This would undoubtedly
produce a strong illusion of realism and credibility.

is an omniscient narrator in To the Lighthouse who describes the whole story
standing at a paramount position. He has wide enough vision to go into
different characters’ deep hearts and unearth their all kinds of mental states
and even can dive into characters’ sub-consciousness to find something unknown
to themselves. They are just like gods, who know everything and whose vision
point can shift optionally and step over any temporal or space obstacle. The
focus point obviously in the story is shifted between different characters and
scenes. The novel is narrated from the perspective of third person to keep
distance between the reader and the characters of the work, which in result
enables the readers to have enough wide vision. At the beginning of the first
part, the omniscient narrator is tactfully exposed to the readers. We can see
from the following:

he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this
feeling separate from that, but must let future prospects, with their joys and
sorrows, cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in earliest
childhood any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallize and
transfix the moment upon which its gloom or radiance rests… (Virginia, 1989,
p. 1)

This is the first scene of the story
where there are only Mrs. Ramsay and James. Obviously, the description is not
from Mrs. Ramsay but from the nearby omniscient narrator. He can dive into
James’ deep heart, unearth his thoughts and emotions, and then give comments
from certain standpoint. Such comments are complete mastery of characters’
consciousness, which enables the readers to beware of the characters’ true
feeling and mental states in reading so that they can better understand the
gist and connotation of the novel. According to German Narratology Scholar F.
K. Stanzel (1984, p. 89), given the factual purpose, the omniscient narrator
cannot appear all the time in the whole story in any novel. His vision will
sooner or later be confined or will temporarily lose the final direction to the
characters or events. It is also the same case in the novel.              

Apart from the omniscient narrative
perspective, the novel also uses multiple internal focalization. When the novel
develops somewhere, the omniscient narrator’s perspective is confined, then the
author moves to the backstage and shift the focus to the characters of the
novel. It is not fixed on certain character but shifted between different
characters according to the necessity of the plot and the narration. For
example, based on the omniscient narrator’s perspective, the first part employs
Mrs. Ramsay’s perspective, through which different characters come on the
stage, first James, second Mr. Ramsay, then Tansley and also through which we
have some understanding of the characters. From Ramsay’s perspective, we see
Lily whom the focus is then shifted to. With the appearance of Banks, the focus
is transferred again. Through Banks’ perspective, we get to know more about the
Ramsay family. For example, the ever kind and simple Mr. Ramsay turns rigorous,
numb, and rude; James is cruel, and Andrew is just. Then the perspective is
moved again to Mrs. Ramsay, through whom James, Mr. Ramsay, and Tansley present
a more well-rounded image and some figures like Carmichael also show at the
scene. The plot develops with such changes of perspectives. The second part of
the novel adopts an omniscient narrator’s perspective, highlighting nobody’s
discourse but only presenting the main information of the part in a prosaic
language with the flow of the author’s consciousness, i.e., Mrs. Ramsay passed
away, Prue died of dystocia, Andrew sacrificed in the war, and poet Carmichael
accomplished both success and fame. The third part of the novel adopts the same
narrative techniques as the first part, however, due to the absence of some
characters, the multiple internal focalizations and their changes in the part
are much less than that in the first part. Among the big perspective
conversions, there are also some small ones, here we for the time being call
them secondary perspective conversion, referring to some small perspective
adjustment in the narration.

was trying to get these tiresome stockings finished to send to Sorley’s little
boy tomorrow, said Mrs. Ramsay. There wasn’t the slightest possible chance that
they could go to the Lighthouse tomorrow, Mr. Ramsay snapped out irascibly. How
did he know? She asked. The wind often changed. (Virginia, 1989, p. 32)

The first statement is made from Mrs.
Ramsay’s point of view, reflecting her expectation of next day. The second
statement shifts the focus to Mr. Ramsay, actually reflecting his intervention
of his wife and children’s visit to the lighthouse. The third statement shifts
the focus back to Mrs. Ramsay, reflecting her discontent at hearing her
husband’s discouragement and also reflecting their inharmonious relationship.
We can see the author skillfully combined zero focalization and multi-internal
focalization to create a perfect transition between different parts. During the
changes of focalizations, the readers sometimes can overlook the whole view of
the novel and sometimes can dive into characters’ inner world and feel their
mental changes so that they can have a full understanding of not only the characters’
images but also the collision of different characters’ thoughts.

point of view shifts abruptly to Lily Briscoe, who is watching Mrs. Ramsay
intently and imagining her thoughts. Lily is able to read Mrs. Ramsay pretty

“How old she looks, how worn she
looks, and how remote” (84).

wonders why Mrs. Ramsay pities William Bankes, and she realizes that “the life
in her, her resolve to live again, had been stirred by pity” (84).

Lily does not find Bankes pitiable,
but she recognizes that Mrs. Ramsay is fulfilling some need of her own. Lily
thinks about how Bankes has his work, then her thoughts switch to her own work,
and she starts imagining her painting and the adjustments she will make. As if
to remind the readers of the setting, Woolf has Lily take up “the salt cellar
and put it down again on a flower in pattern in the table-cloth, so as to
remind herself to move the tree” (84-85). After all of Lily Briscoe’s thoughts,
Mr. Bankes finally responds to Mrs. Ramsay’s inquiry as to whether he has found
his letters.

shifting the point of view from character to character, Woolf shares each
character’s thoughts and feelings, opinions and reactions to one another. The
dynamics between the characters are expressed more fully by their thoughts than
by their words. The light dialogue serves to break up the transitions in
perspective. By blending people’s inward feelings and keeping dialogue to a
minimum, Woolf develops her many-dimensioned characters in a unique and
memorable way.


Woolf, Virginia. (1989). To the

Brittany, Rowland. (October
7, 2011). Stream of Consciousness in Virginia Woolf’s “To the

Gerard. (1980). Narratology.

Uzundemir, Ozlem. Narrative
Techniques in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

Christopher. (June 29, 2012). Modernism: Narrative point of view in To the

(December 11, 2010). Elaborate the theme or the points of view in To The
Lighthouse. How do the characters become the vehicle for the ideas.

Matus, Douglas. Narrative
Techniques of Virginia Woolf.


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