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Transcending Death in To the Lighthouse The greatest obstacle to identifying a purpose for human life is the inevitability of death Why should a human being strive for any goal when death will always be the final result of his striving and after death he will be oblivious to any positive or negative effects of his lifetime actions Virginia Woolf tackles this dilemma in her novel To the Lighthouse by presenting characters who attempt to transcend death either through accomplishments in art and science or by nurturing other human beings Mr Ramsay and Charles Tansley take the path of intellectual accomplishment Mrs Ramsay represents the path of human nurturing Although the characters derive some comfort from their efforts to transcend death they are also tormented by the fear that they will not succeed in their strivings and come to doubt that successful transcendence is even possible Woolf never resolves this conflict in the novel Instead she maintains an ambivalence illustrating both the benefits and the pitfalls of the two transcendence strategies The dilemma of transcending death has traditionally been answered through belief in a God who can grant salvation Christianity promises its believers that if they strive for salvation they can avoid death and enjoy eternal life To the Lighthouse is distinctly modern in that God is rejected outright How could any Lord have made this world Mrs Ramsay asks herself concluding that the world is too full of suffering to have been created by a divine savior 64 None of the other characters base their hopes for transcending death on divine salvation either they consistently strive for results in this world To the Lighthouse includes two characters who attempt to transcend death through intellectual accomplishments Mr Ramsay and Charles Tansley both of whom are philosophers The predominance of intellectuals in Virginia Woolfs novel could be explained by her own life in the British intelligentsia However intellectual endeavors are
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