The color imagery in “The Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf
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How boring this world would be without colors. Colors not only make life more vibrant, but they can also be linked to characteristics and emotions. In Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, color is frequently used to enhance the imagery and to better represent the characters and the overall setting.
Woolf uses each color to further implant imagery in the reader’s mind. She uses the color grey to represent the elderly and sleepiness when she wrote, “When she looked in the glass and saw her hair grey, her cheek sunk, at fifty,” and also when she wrote, “…as he was in a grey-green somnolence which embraced them all…”
When she introduces Mr. Carmichael who is surrounded by loneliness, Woolf describes his cat’s yellow eyes. The color yellow represents loneliness and depression. Another use of the color yellow was when Woolf describes his mustache; “vivid streak of canary-yellow in moustache and bear that were other milk white.” The milk white in his mustache is cocaine, a drug that can be used by depressed lonely people in order to escape their pain.
Woolf then continues to use color imagery by beginning to describe a painting which is an advertisement for a circus; “brush revealed fresh legs, hoops, horses, glistening reds and blues…” Each color in her description is full of life and this can be observed by the use of the adjective ‘glistening’ to describe them. The color blue represents determination and the color red represents honor.
At the end of the story, she brings all of the colors together in order to form a reality of what life is; a mixture of emotions and characteristics. Woolf does this through Mrs. Ramsay when she speaks about the lighthouse, the blue water, and her eyes becoming “greyer-eyed” because it was what her husband had loved. When she has old memories, her eyes turn grey because dreaming about old memories is a common elderly trait. The blue water shows determination because the water must be crossed in order to reach the lighthouse. She then describes what the artists would paint; “yellow boots, little boys and their round red face gazing, and dipped the paint into a mound of pink or green, then painting sail boats in the water, a lemon color and the women on the beach were pink.” Pink represents happiness indicating that the women are happy and peaceful. The red shows that the little boys are filled with honor, although they wear yellow boots that show loneliness, or in this case perhaps independence. The yellow sailboats show that each sailboat is a vehicle that can carry a person away from others which can lead to independence or loneliness. And, the green represents a memory that is preserved for old age.
Woolf displays color as a way of life. No matter where one goes, color is consistently there, as emotions are. To Woolf color is more than just a reflection of different size light rays; it is a representation of what a person goes through everyday. Just as there are many different human characteristics, there are thousands of different colors. By Woolf’s use of color imagery, the reader is enlightened as Woolf allows them to look into a kaleidoscope of characteristics and emotions, and lets them view the world from a different perspective and in a different light.