Lighthouse Essay, Research Paper
Thoughts on Charles Tansley in To the Lighthouse
In To the Lighthouse, Mr. Ramsay serves as a role model for Charles Tansley, and thus has great influence on Tansley’s career and views toward women. Because Tansley is from an “unsuccessful” family, he needs a role model for success, which he finds in Ramsay. Tansley is staying at the Ramsay house during a holiday in order to work on his dissertation and to have access to Mr. Ramsay. Tansley greatly admires Ramsay, and hopes to impress him. “They knew what he (Tansley) liked best – to be for ever walking up and down, up and down, with Mr. Ramsay, and saying who had won this, who had won that?” (7).
Charles Tansley is self-conscious about being from a poor, unsuccessful family. When Tansley walks with Mrs. Ramsay to the store, he talks about the circus with “a self-consciousness that made her wince” because his family could never afford to see the circus (11). “My father is a chemist, Mrs. Ramsay. He keeps a shop,” Tansley explains (12). Tansley aspires to be far more than a “working man,” but fears that he may end up no more successful than his father (12). Thus, Tansley feels the need to prove his intellectual capabilities. His actions at the dinner party demonstrate his insecurity. “He had come down in his ordinary clothes. He had not got any dress clothes” (85). Because Tansley is too poor to afford nice clothing, he feels very self-conscious. “He felt extremely, even physically, uncomfortable. He wanted somebody to give him a chance of asserting himself” (90).
Ultimately, Tansley is driven to succeed in life and overcome his humble background. Although the Ramsays are not rich (22), Tansley admires Mr. Ramsay and considers him successful enough to follow his career path. Not only does Tansley desire to be a professor of philosophy, he also is writing his dissertation on the same rare branch of metaphysics that Mr. Ramsay studies. However, Tansley’s admiration for Mr. Ramsay is not limited to academic pursuits. A natural byproduct of this mentor-protege relationship is that Tansley attempts to emulate Ramsay’s behavior in all aspects of life. When Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay argue about whether the weather will be suitable for a trip to the lighthouse, Tansley rushes to Mr. Ramsay’s defense, saying that the wind is ” ‘due west’?that is to say, the wind blew in the worst possible direction for landing at the Lighthouse” (5). Tansley will often repeat things that Mr. Ramsay says verbatim. “All these young men parodied her husband, she reflected; he said it would rain; they said it would be a positive tornado” (15). Because Tansley admires Mr. Ramsay and desires to become more like him, Tansley adopts Ramsay’s viewpoints in all areas of life.
The primary consequence of this emulation is that Tansley adopts Ramsay’s attitudes toward women. Mr. Ramsay has some respect for women, particularly Mrs. Ramsay. They share a deep, loving relationship. However, because their most intimate communication occurs without the use of words, the true nature of their relationship is only evident to the omniscient narrator and to the couple themselves (124). In public, however, Mr. Ramsay uses Mrs. Ramsay to reinforce his ego, and often dominates her. Woolf vividly describes Mr. Ramsay’s elicitation of sympathy from Mrs. Ramsay as “the arid scimitar of the male, which smote mercilessly, again and again, demanding sympathy” (38). Furthermore, Mr. Ramsay often becomes impatient with Mrs. Ramsay, whom, like most women, he considers unintelligent, and is unkind to her. “The extraordinary irrationality of her remark, the folly of women’s minds enraged him . . . she flew in the face of facts, told lies. He stamped his foot on the stone step. ‘Damn you,’ he said” (31-2). Later on, Mr. Ramsay feels guilty about his outburst, but an outsider like Tansley never views this (64). All of this leads most uninformed observers to concur with Lily Briscoe’s judgment of Mr. Ramsay: that he “is spoilt; he is a tyrant; he wears Mrs. Ramsay to death” (24).
Although Tansley does not see all of these particular instances of Mr. Ramsay’s public mistreatment of Mrs. Ramsay, it is likely that during his stay he witnesses many others. In short, Tansley sees only Mr. Ramsay’s cold, condescending behavior toward women, never realizing that Mr. Ramsay truly loves Mrs. Ramsay. Because Tansley can only emulate the behavior he sees, he begins to exhibit the same contemptuous attitude toward women. At the outset of the novel, it is not clear how long Tansley has been at the Ramsay house. Thus, it is hard to gauge how much his opinion of women has changed already. It is fair to assume, however, that Tansley has less respect for women than he does originally due to Mr. Ramsay’s influence. Indeed, Tansley begins to find women to be far inferior to men and thus treats them terribly. ” ‘No going to the Lighthouse tomorrow, Mrs. Ramsay,’ he said, asserting himself. He liked her . . . but he felt it necessary to assert himself” (86). Tansley does not limit his scorn for women to Mrs. Ramsay. He tells Lily Briscoe that “women can’t paint, women can’t write” (48). On rare occasions, Tansley treats women with respect. Lily, for example, has both positive and negative experiences with Tansley, yet sums up her feelings for him in one word: “grotesque” (197). Clearly, Tansley’s occasional kindness toward women does not mitigate his general mistreatment of them. Tansley even makes broad indictments of all females. While at the dinner table, Tansley ponders “what damned rot they talk . . . he was not going to be condescended by these silly women” (85). Also during dinner, Tansley decides that “women made civilization impossible with their ‘charm,’ their silliness” (85). More significantly, Tansley grows to dislike women so much that he feels they ruin his stay at the Ramsay house. “It was worth while doing once, he would say, but not again. The women bored one so, he would say” (90).
Mr. Tansley is unlikeable in a way, and yet I feel sympathy for him. He is so uncomfortable about who he is. I picture him in his worn grey flannel pants in the dinner scene, so conscious of himself and how everyone perceives him. I don’t think he means to be so unlikeable, I think I know how he feels. He wants so much to fit in, to be liked, yet he doesn’t know how to act. So, this apparently misogynistic young man could be perfectly lovely if he only knew how!