In To the Lighthouse, non-verbal communication between people expresses important sentiments through people. Mostly this nonverbal communication comes between men and women. The two sexes never say what they are thinking to one another. Mrs. Ramsey hints at this when she says, “She would never know him. He would never know her. Human relations were all like that she thought, and the worst . . . were between men and women” (Woolf 95). However, it seems that the men are the ones that stifle the women’s verbal communication, espically Mr. Ramsey.
As Lily Briscoe is painting, Mr. Bankes walks up to her and see her painting. She thinks, “[b]ut it had been taken from her. This man had shared with her something profoundly intimate” (57). There is no verbal communication about the painting, and yet Lily still believes that something (her emotion reflected in the painting) has been shared between the two, but it has ruined Lily’s painting.
Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey share several moments of nonverbal communication in the novel. One is while they are sitting at the dinner party, and Mr. Carmichael asks for another bowl of soup. Mrs. Ramsey reads her husband’s expression of anger. “What on earth was about? she wondered. What could be the matter? Only that poor old Augustus had asked for another plate of soup—that was all. It was unthinkable, it was detestable(so he signalled across to her across the table). . . ” (97). The nonverbal communication between the couple continues throughout the dinner. The ability for the couple to “comprehend each other seems to transcend words in the this instance; they are able to communicate effectively without them However, Mrs Ramsey claims “It was only she never could say what she felt” in response to Mr. Ramsey’s nonverbal commands for her to tell him ‘I love you’ (125). When she knows he is watching her, “instead of saying anything she turned, holding her stocking, abd looked at him. And as she looked at him she began to smile, for though she had not said a word, he knew, of course he knew, that she loved him” (126). Mrs. Ramsey in this case is regressing to the nonverbal communication in order to “tell” her husband that she loves him because she cannot express herself verbally, just as he does not ask her verbally. Mrs. Ramsey dies the night of this encounter, and her husband stealing her verbal power away from her seems to be to blame.
Another nonverbal encounter that is stifling to a woman is the one between Lily and Mr. Ramsey when the return to house after many years. As Lily is painting, Mr. Ramsey approaches her and talks to her. However, nonverbally he is begging her for sympathy. “That man she thought, her anger rising in her, never gave; that man took. She, on the other hand, would be forced to give” (153). She does not give it to him but complements his shoes. She subsequently feels guilty about not fully giving him the sympathy that he demanded.
In the presence of their father, Cam and James are stifled into nonverbal communication, on the boat to the lighthouse. They make a compact not to speak to their father or e kind to him on the trip “to resist tyranny to the death” (168). They exchange glances with one another, James thinking that Cam will give in. They are resisting the tyranny of their father with as little verbal communication as possible because it is the opposite of what they think he wants. However, by resisting verbal communication they are letting him control them still. Cam thinks of Mr. Ramsey’s tyranny that has stifled the children and all the others around him. She wonders, “was that the crass tyranny of his which had poisoned her childhood and raised bitter storms, so that even now she woke in the middle of the night trembling with rage and remembered some command of his; some insolence” (173).