Mrs. Ramsay is a superwoman. She is the central figure and the most important character in "To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf. She is about as close as Virginia Woolf ever got to Angelia Jolie. Her primary goal is to preserve her youngest son's sense of hope. She acts as a unifying force in the novel. She is a beautiful, charitable, hospitable, sympathetic, match-maker and humorous matron. She is a symbol of female principle. She is the lovely star at the centre of the Ramsay family, and at the heart of the novel. She dominates the novel not only during her life time but even after her death with no less importance. Her unexpected death leaves the Ramsay family without its anchor.
Mrs. Ramsay is the centre around which action and movement are built. She is definitely radiating through the entire novel and impregnating all the other characters. From the very beginning of the novel she is structurally and psychologically a cohesive force and thus becomes the source of unity in it. It is none but Mrs. Ramsay who is seen to be holding together almost all the characters and incidents of the novel. In the novel a large variety of people with their own ideas and eccentricities are found. And very remarkably Mrs. Ramsay with her great tact, sympathy and understanding holds them together. This unifying and cohesive force of Mrs. Ramsay is superbly revealed in the course of the dinner party towards the end of the first part of the novel. In this scene she very nicely performs the duty of connecting different individuals to each other.
Mrs. Ramsay may also be taken as a symbol of the female principle in life. Probably that is why she has never been called by her first name in the novel as Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway. This symbolism seems to be evident when we have a peep into her mind in the dinner scene. Woolf tells us "Again she felt, as a fact without hostility, the sterility of men, for if she did not do it nobody would do it ...." She wants men and women to be united and become fruitful like herself. At the intellectual level she offers her protection and inspiration to both science and art -- to Lily the painter, to Bankes the botanist, to Carmichael the poet, to Tansley the scholar and above all to her husband the philosopher. For all this, critics like James hold the view that Mrs. Ramsay has been treated as a symbol and has not been individualized by the novelist.
6. Her Kind and Sympathetic Nature
The most outstanding trait of Mrs. Ramsay's character is her compassion for the poor and the unfortunate, the great concern and consideration for the children and infinite sympathy for the unhappy and neglected souls. In the very first few chapters we find her busy in knitting stocking for the sick son of the Lighthouse-keeper. We find her going to the town to help the poor and the needy. As regards the grown-ups, she has all sympathy for Charles in spite of all his egotism and idiosyncrasies. She is a source of inspiration to Lily. She is kind and sympathetic to Carmichael, the poet whose life has been shattered by a shrewish wife. She tries her best to smoothen the widowed life of Mr. Bankes, the botanist. Above all, she is a constant source of inspiration to Mr. Ramsay, her husband. She knows that he is absolutely dependent on her for sympathy and understanding.
7. As a Match-maker
Even Mrs. Ramsay's mania for matchmaking leans to virtue's side. This reveals another aspect of her essentially feminine character. Out of her great sympathy for all she is keenly interested in establishing peace and harmony among people. She feels for the lonely life of a widower, she is concerned about the future of an old maid. That is why she wants Lily to marry Mr. Bankes. She is not going to mind even if Lily marries Charles. Her joy knows no bounds when she comes to know that Paul and Minta are engaged. It is a matter of pride for her for bringing them together. Of course she cannot be blamed if their marriage is a failure. In fact, essentially feminine as she is, she wants men and women to unite and become fruitful like herself.
8. Sense of Humour
Virginia Woolf uses the shortfalls and eccentricities of her characters to create a spirited, wry kind of humour that makes the novel so enjoyable to read. Mrs. Ramsay possesses a good sense of humour too. Her sense of humour is suggested by her fantasy about Joseph and Mary. When she covers 'that horrid skull' to the satisfaction of both cam and James, it also nicely reveals her sense of humour besides her sympathetic understanding. We find her laughing in good humour when she thinks about Minta marrying a man with a gold watch and a wash-leather bag. Mrs. Ramsay's sense of humour perfectly conveys Woolf's use of stream of consciousness to capture the emotions that lurk withing the human heart.
9. Dominates Even After Death
We feel the imposing physical presence of Mrs. Ramsay only in the first part of the To the Lighthouse. After that she is no more in the land of the living. Even then she pervades the whole book. Her influence on other important characters -- especially on Lily Briscoe -- is really very great. It is only to fulfill one of Mrs. Ramsay's cherished wishes that Mr. Ramsay undertakes the journey to the Lighthouse. And it is the vision of this departed soul that inspires Lily Briscoe to take up her brush again to complete her great picture. James Hafley is quite correct when he remarks that Mrs. Ramsay dead is more powerful than Mr. Ramsay living.
Mrs. Ramsay might have some little flaws in her character such as her susceptibility to flattery. It might be that she wanted to be appreciated while helping others or doing some good deed. But with her extreme civility and goodness, with her irresistible charms and dominating personality, she is a unique character. Hence E.M. Forster's views that "she could seldom so portray a character that it was remembered afterwards on its own account, as Emma is remembered...." seems untenable to us. We may conclude by quoting the apt remarks of Joan Bennett: "Mrs. Ramsay, Mrs. Dalloway, Eleanor Pargiter, each of the main personalities in Between the Acts, and many others from her books, inhabit the mind of the reader and enlarge the capacity for sympathy. It is sympathy rather than judgement that she invokes, her personages are apprehended rather than comprehended."