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The Unlikely Protagonist Mr Carmichael Essay Research

The Unlikely Protagonist: Mr. Carmichael Essay, Research Paper On this campus, a student has probably only communicated with approximately one-third of the population. The other two-

The Unlikely Protagonist: Mr. Carmichael Essay, Research Paper

On this campus, a student has probably only communicated

with approximately one-third of the population. The other two-

thirds he or she learns about through heresay picked up in

conversation. This gossip creates a stereotypical view of these

unfamiliar faces in the individual’s mind since there is no

previous interaction to rely on. A returning student may tell me

of a visual art major that has an offending hair color and body

piercings, and I can gullibly infer that the artist will develop

into a convict. This is a completely subjective opinion without

any justification, but with time, I may gain more perspective and

learn that the student’s personality is quite the opposite of

what I presumed. The reader is led through the same circumstances

in To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. The characters that

describe Augustus Carmichael are contributors to the rumor mill,

and it is easy for the reader to slip into the assumption that he

is a pathetic, washed up, opium addict. Yet, through seemingly

innocent, but pivotal scenes, Mr. Carmichael becomes paramount to

the development of other characters and objects in the novel.

During “The Window,” the reader may easily slip into the

thinking patterns of the other characters and “take their side.”

Mrs. Ramsay’s subjective views are the only ones offered during

her stream-of-consciousness, and the reader may swallow them

wholly as the truth. Conclusions can be drawn, since Carmichael

takes opium and refuses to interact with Mrs. Ramsay, that he is

a cold, callous, and even virulent houseguest; one may even refer

to him as the anti-Mrs. Ramsay! He makes no attempt to go out of

his way to aid others, and he shrinks away from her, imposing a

selfish, indifferent feeling. Since other males slip into their

books in order to escape, Mr. Carmichael is easily lumped with

Mr. Ramsay and Bankes, who distance themselves from the feminine

and maternal qualities of Mrs. Ramsay. Carmichael appears to

portray Victorian society’s worse nightmare; asking for another

bowl of soup is a definite faux pas. Also, Mrs. Ramsay circulates

to Tansley, Carmichael’s unstable past: “an affair…an unstable

marriage; poverty;” (10) Carmichael is made to appear like a

pariah. But does Mr. Carmichael really threaten the morals,

stability, and prudence of the era? Closer reading destroys the

negative image that the reader perceives from a third-person

view.

There are periodic, but profound events that prove Mr.

Carmichael is very involved with the Ramsays; his expression,

though, is very subtle. After the image-damaging “Boeuf en Daube”

scene, he sings his praise of dinner to Mrs. Ramsay. He is

completely understood and she appreciates that much more than any

eloquent “thank you.” Little is known about his wife, other than

she was rather brutal and abusive. It is very possible that the

trauma caused his fear of intimacy and distrust with Mrs. Ramsay.

Very surprising about this “inadequacy of human relationships”

(40), as referred to by Mrs. Ramsay, was that he had a close bond

with Andrew, one of the Ramsay children. Carmichael had “lost all

interest in life” (194) when the young man was killed in the war,

which is one of the few times we see his vulnerability to outside

prevailing conditions.

Not only is Mr. Carmichael’s connection with other household

members nurturing, he also holds a special significance in

relation to the Lighthouse. They are both constant, unchanging

presences in the novel, and they take in only what they desire.

“Time Passes” is a very gloomy and somber portrait, the only

thing that avoids the increasing darkness within this frame is

the steady candlelight of Mr. Carmichael, reading Virgil. The

candlelight and Virgil, author of The Aenead, seem to go hand in

hand. As The Aenead journeys into the depths of hell, the

candlelight exposes the personality of Carmichael, as it did for

most characters in the dinner scene. This brief passage puts us

in limbo until coming to a resolution in “To the Lighthouse.” But

Carmichael is the reassuring protector, as is the Lighthouse,

which pierces into the soul of many characters. This especially

includes Mrs. Ramsay, who feels “relief and gratitude” (111) for

the silent, but assumed harmony between them. Both Carmichael and

the Lighthouse are detached, giving them both an unobstructed,

objective view, and perhaps, a greater outlook than the other

close-minded characters. Carmichael lives not for the moment, not

for others; perhaps that is the reason why that he and Lily

survive the war, but Mrs. Ramsay doesn’t. They both do not give

into Mrs. Ramsay’s serpentine charm, nor society’s pressure to

conform; therefore, Carmichael is able to keep “his candle

burning longer than the rest” (125).

The reader is not allowed to judge Carmichael for him or

herself, since Mrs. Ramsay’s opinions are forced upon the reader.

He is perceived as useless and parasitic, yet Carmichael is one

of the few practical characters: neither superfluous, fastidious,

nor overbearing. His different perspective is refreshing; one may

expect to find only eloquent and metaphorical descriptions in

this novel, however, Mrs. Ramsay spies Carmichael looking at a

bowl of fruit simply as sustenance. This simple man is

misunderstood, like Tansley and Lily, but Carmichael is the only

character that cannot defend himself because he has no thoughts

to follow. It is ironic that he is overlooked, yet he is always

an observer. Carmichael could possibly be a guardian angel,

indirectly affecting all characters. Perhaps, since the reader

least expects a lazy oaf with a “capacious paunch (10)” to be the

protagonist, his actions are more startling and highlighted than

Mrs. Ramsay’s. As time progresses, so do the reader’s first

dangerous impressions of this unlikely, but benevolent

individual.

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