Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
So waves do a couple things in To the Lighthouse. First, and most importantly, they are the drumbeat of Time for Mrs. Ramsay. They are usually a soothing force, but they take on a more ominous tone when they become synonymous with destruction. For Mr. Ramsay, waves are a destructive power because they are part of the vast sea of human ignorance that eats away at a little spit of land symbolizing human knowledge. We threw out the idea that waves are a negative force, but our trash guy picked it up and threw it back at us. Smart man. How can you attach a value to the rhythm of life itself? The waves represent flux – you know, ups and downs, as well as forcibly reminding Mrs. Ramsay of transience. Life, as well as waves, always goes on, but they’re never the same. So, if you didn’t pick up on it by now, the impermanent waves are a counterpoint to the permanent light from the Lighthouse.