In her novel To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf examines the power of human creativity through the character of Lily Briscoe. Lily is a struggling young artist, who resists convention in order to achieve something lasting and beautiful through her painting.
Lily, like the other characters in the novel, is looking for meaning and purpose in life. Through her art, she comes closest to finding answers to her questions about existence and immortality.
As a woman artist, Lily has been forced to abandon her traditional role in society, since, according to her friend Charles Tansley, women can neither paint nor write. In an attempt to transcend the boundaries of her gender, Lily refuses to conform to the world’s definition of womanhood. By staying single, she has ignored her potential as a wife and mother and carved out a new identity for herself that does not reflect society’s views and expectations. She is interested in maintaining her individualism, something expressed in both her life and her art.
It is through her art that Lily manages to understand human experience and the world around her. When she places the final line down the center of her painting, she realizes that she has created something of value. She knows the painting will not last forever, but it is the closest she can get to preserving something of true significance. The painting is Lily’s way of achieving immortality. Long after she is gone, the painting will continue to reflect her thoughts and emotions.
This knowledge about existence and life helps Lily to connect with the character of Mr. Ramsey, whose intellecutal snobbery had previously repulsed her. Mr. Ramsey, too, has worried about mortality and human achievement. Lily’s feelings about her art allow her to feel empathy for Mr. Ramsey, because she is finally able to recognize their shared struggle to achieve something meaningful and lasting.