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The Role Of Childhood Lessons In Adulthood As Depicted In Virginia Woolf’s Novels

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In my opinion the well-known fact that childhood plays a big role in terms of its consequences for adulthood can be observed in these two novels of Virginia Woolf, especially in To the Lighthouse which she stated that was about her parents, being a way of dealing with some unresolved dilemmas regarding her parents. This is why we can observe several similarities in this novel and in The Waves.

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Firstly, some say that the Hebridean house in To the Lighthouse is based on her parents’ house at St. Ives because of a photograph of her with her parents in the foreground of the photo. This shows the centrality of her parents and it is portrayed in numerous scenes throughout the novel being, in one sense, the structure of the novel itself, in which the daughter ”looks at” the figures of her parents. Virginia Woolf is the one who produced the first English edition of Freud’s work, and I consider it an important aspect influencing her later works, including the way she perceives and depicts chidhood in these two novels. In my opinion one reason in depicting childhood in such an ambiguous way can be seen in James’s role in the novel. It is said that Virginia had troubles associated with a difficult oedipal development and what we can observe that the case of James can also be interpreted as a sort of Oedipal crisis; the son, desiring the mother, feels a certain rage against the father, who comes between them in his perception. In the scene where his father, Mr. Ramsay, refuses to let him go to the lighthouse because the weather would not permit, a trip which James was very excited about, he fantasizes about killing his father by stabbing him, so unusual for a six-year-old. This uncommon way a kid perceives the world and his own father is a way we do not usually choose to believe, we see childhood filled with happiness and beautiful, playful thoughts not in this macabre way. This migtht again symbolize the thoughts and reactions of a child in opposition with the traditional view, the strange desire of eliminating one of his parents and sticking to the other. His memories recapture a world without loss, the place of the mother. It is the shadow of his father which “. . in this world. . . stayed and darkened over him. . . ”.

The way James deals with this and in order to reduce the misery and loss is by reducing his awareness of the dual nature of the lighthouse as both a “misty looking tower with a yellow eye that opened suddenly and softly in the evening’’ the way his mother said it is, and as a “tower, stark and straight” on a rock, the way his father sees it. His desire to go to the lighthouse can be interpreted as a desire to grow up, to gain independence from his father from an early age foreshadowing again the type of relationship or the competition that can emerge between these two. Here it is reflected the kind of relationship between Virginia and her father who abused her from an early age, still she had him as a mentor and later chose to be a writer just like him. The trip to the lighthouse for cam, sitting in the boat, sees the island shore as a place of unreality, silence, ghosts, in the final part of the novel she is neglected by her father.

The father’s place (the study, the world of books) is seen by Cam as a sanctuary. I interpreted this as an intention of putting her own sense of herself inside of her father’s literary heritage. Women in her time were not encouraged to an education, she mostly had to ’steal’ an education from her father’s books. Although some say that her father treated her harshly and her childhood was a continuous search for the sense of self, Virginia chose to identify with him. She preffererd to adopt his character and followed the same profession as her father, who was also her teacher. So Virginia depicted childhood in this novel mostly based on her own childhood memories, insisting on the ambiguity of self and constant choices of identification either with the mother or with the father. For Cam every decision that she makes about her future, choices of love, identification seem to put in opposition the way of the mother with the way of the father. The scene in which Lily paints and the door seems to open, the interruption of the conventional logics of time and space prepare us for the “return” of Mrs. Ramsay. The author’s intentions of highlighting the importance of a mother in one’s life, maybe also mirroring her own need for a mother. The intensity of Lily’s need for her is that of a child. I saw this scene as an illustration of her own trauma in childhood, at the death of her mother, whom she was deeply attached to. It could express her own desire for the return of her mother, her need for a mother, missing at a crucial stage of her life, the principal cause of her mental breakdown.

Secondly, regarding The Waves, which captures the experience of living and growing throughout one’s life, from the slow gathering of consciousness in childhood, their fragmetary memories of chilhood, to the slow formation of identity later in life. Virginia wrote: ’this shall be childood; but it must not be my childhood’ of the novel’s opening section. She also wrote somewhere of one of her early childhood memories – of staying in bed as a very young child and listening to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach, distantly, in the night. She believed this experience remained at the very heart of her inner life, as a kind of oracle. The native ground or the root from where all her shoots would be born. Authenticity, for her, was to be found in the secret and unspoken experiences of life. All six characters in The Waves experience a similar crucible childhood moment. A haunting moment of sensibility which will act as a motif in their seeking to know intimacy and achieve identity. In The Waves their early childhood described by hearing the waves crashing and them trying to understand and make a sense of what they hear is how the author views the thoughts that we gather and discern as a child when our personalities are not differentiated but we still have memorable thoughts that we will later slowly identify with. Illustrating this idea of continuity, the image of the breaking waves opens and also ends the novel. The ambiguity of childhood here is highlighted by the fact that the readers cannot completely tell if these six characters are real friends and to what extend they remain close. Being classmates in their early childhood does not necessarily prove their closeness but still their personalities begin to take shape through their relationships and interractions that start in this stage of life. This could be one of the reasons why they will later in their lives continue to gather at dinner parties, each of them having influences on the others that began early in their childhood and this is what keeps the connection.

In conclusion, Virginia Woolf was capable of raising her sensitivity to the highest art form. She had the confidence and seriosoness to use what happened to her, the sensory details of her own life as the basis for the largest ideas, and as grounds on which these two works of art are constructed, the ambiguity of her own childhood being reflected under numerous forms and elements that prove the vagueness of childhood depicted in these novels.

10 December 2020

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