This text is centred on three characters: a mother, Mrs Ramsay, a father, Mr Ramsay, and their son, James Ramsay. The author fully uses these characters to represent the masculine and the feminine, notions with which the author engages the reader through the characters’ behaviours as well as their thoughts and feelings about each other.
Mrs Ramsay –representing the feminine– is seen as the kind, tolerant and protecting mother: the extract, which is the opening of the very first chapter of the novel, directly starts by a mother agreeing with something her son, James, wants to do. On the contrary, Mr Ramsay, her husband, appears as a sharp and severe father. Indeed, we notice that his first sayings are the opposite of what the mother told their son; he denies what Mrs Ramsay said “Yes” for.
But what is the most striking in this extract are James’ reactions and feelings to both of his parents. Indeed, he feels “an extraordinary joy”, while he cuts out “the picture of a refrigerator” which was “fringed with joy”. He grants a lot of importance and attention to his mother: “The wheelbarrow, the lawn-mower, the sound of poplar trees, leaves whitening before rain, rooks cawing, brooms knocking, dresses rustling – all these were so coloured and distinguished in his mind”.
Whereas concerning his father, James has strong feelings of hatred against him. Indeed, when Mr Ramsay says “it won’t be fine” –contradicting Mrs Ramsay– James directly feels a murderous rage against him: “Had there been an axe handy, a poker, or any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father’s breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it”.
Considering James is six years old, we notice an odd link between his age and what he can feel for and about his parents and how strong these feelings can be (the author actually points out how Mr Ramsay engenders “extremes of emotion in his children’s breasts by his mere presence”). The love James feels for his mother and the hatred he has against his father reminds Freud’s Oedipus syndrome; James wants to kill his father to take his place and love his mother just as a husband does.
Moreover, Mr Ramsay –representing the masculine– by his own physical presence gives off sharpness and violence (belonging to his personality as well): “standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically”. In the following paragraph, the author writes that “What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth; never tempered with a fact; never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being, one that needs, above all, courage, truth, and the power to endure” to suggest that Mr Ramsay is the one who controls and dominates his family. Nonetheless, Mrs Ramsay doesn’t let her husband contradict her without reacting to it, she actually answers back: “But it may be fine – I expect it will be fine”. And this slightly brings their couple out of the cliché of the men’s superiority and the women’s inferiority in a classical novel’s family –thus characterizing this novel as modernist.
To conclude, the masculine and the feminine in this text are respectively represented by Mr and Mrs Ramsay and are especially engaged by their son, James, and his feelings towards them. Mr Ramsay appears to be severe and hard by his appearance but mainly by the fact that James clearly desires to kill him. And Mrs Ramsay seems to be the perfect mother, and above all loved by her child, as James’ feelings express it.