In the boat, Mr. Ramsay is sitting between Cam and James (who is steering), fidgeting and becoming impatient with the lack of wind to speed them along. Macalister and Macalister's boy (who is rowing) have also come along to help. Cam and James, feeling angry that their father forced them to come along on this trip, hope that the breeze will never rise. Desiring to thwart the entire expedition, they had made a silent pact "to resist tyranny to the death."
Meanwhile, Lily's reflection on Mrs. Ramsay's preoccupation with marriage produces a degree of scorn and resentment for the dead woman. Though Lily has chosen not to marry, the memory of Mrs. Ramsay's presence now compels her to second-guess her decision. But when she considers the flaws in the Ramsays' past relationship, as well as the problems facing other married couples, she suddenly feels triumphant.
Once the boat gets a little farther out into the water, the sails catch the breeze and the boat takes off. Mr. Ramsay and Macalister smoke a pipe, and Macalister recounts the story of the great storm last winter. Mr. Ramsay reprimands James whenever the sail slackens. In their anger, James and Cam only catch a word here and there of Macalister's story, for they are focused on their father and his reactions. Cam is suddenly filled with a sense of pride for her father, knowing that if he had been caught in the storm, he would have been an adventurous hero. But then she remembers her pact with James and suppresses this feeling, remembering that Mr. Ramsay has subdued them once again with his authority and has forced them to do his bidding.
In any case, the speed of the boat fills both James and Cam with a sudden sense of excitement and escape. Mr. Ramsay is also invigorated, suddenly exclaiming, "We perished ... each alone," and then, in a gesture of repentance, indicates the shore and their house, which is now too far away for Cam to distinguish.
Mr. Ramsay curiously crouches in the center of the boat, succumbing to self-pity and reflecting on the exquisite pleasure of women's sympathy. He recites poetry despondently so that all can hear. Cam becomes enraged.
Cam thinks of their house and of their lives, realizing how much of it is in the past, and she too murmurs her father's words,"we perished, each alone." Mr. Ramsay begins to tease her about not knowing the points of the compass, and he marvels at the vagueness of women's minds. However, he finds women endearing for this very reason, and he resolves to make Cam smile. James fears that Cam will succumb to Mr. Ramsay and that he will be left to fight the tyranny alone. Cam does try to resist her father's entreaty, seeking to remain on the side of justice. She longs, nevertheless, to pass on a silent token of her love for her father without upsetting James, who now remembers that his mother also used to give in to Mr. Ramsay's whims. Cam is tempted by his words, his oddity, and his passion, but she finds his blindness and tyranny intolerable. Torn between father and brother, between feelings of love and bitterness, she says nothing.
Lily sees the boat just as the sail catches the breeze and speeds up. In contrast, she feels weighed down by the sympathy that she failed to offer to Mr. Ramsay. She has always found it difficult to praise him, which has made their relationship feel neutral. As she walks back to her canvas, she wonders why her recollection of that day with Mrs. Ramsay and Mr. Tansley on the beach is so vivid, and she resumes her painting. She feels as though she is sitting beside Mrs. Ramsay on the beach. She imagines Mrs. Ramsay sitting silent by her side, the two women resting in the "extreme obscurity of human relationships." As she dips into the paint, she feels she is dipping into the past.
Lily turns her thoughts to the Rayleys (Paul and Minta), collecting her impressions of them. Her efforts at painting and at "tunnelling her way" into the past become a single endeavor, and she feels triumphant at the thought of telling Mrs. Ramsay that the Rayleys' marriage was not a success (Paul fell in love with another woman). Feeling a hint of contempt for the dead Mrs. Ramsay, Lily celebrates the facts that she has not married and that the Rayleys' marriage failed, for these facts signify some form of victory for Lily and her choice not to marry. She still, however, feels a burning, celebratory surge when she remembers Paul looking for Minta's brooch. She considers the notion of being "in love." Because she can move the tree to the middle of the painting, however, she feels indivdually centered; she has no need for marriage. Her work is her companion in a different sense, and it endows her life with significance and feeling.
Surfacing from her dream-state of memories about William Bankes and Mrs. Ramsay, Lily looks at Mr. Carmichael, who is basking in the sun. She wants to get his attention, to speak to him, but she does not know what to say. Looking over at the drawing-room steps, she feels that they are unbearably empty without Mrs. Ramsay's presence, and she is suddenly overcome by an intense longing for the deceased woman. She thinks of the ephemerality of life, of how everything vanishes and nothing stays--except art. Words and paint, she decides, do persist--even if they are shoved under a sofa. The moment that is captured in a work of art, in a sense, remains forever. She begins to cry, and as she aches for an understanding of life in all of its brief miraculousness, she calls Mrs. Ramsay's name aloud.
[Macalister's boy cuts a square of flesh out of the side of a fish to use for bait, and the fish, still alive, is thrown back into the sea.]
Lily is grateful that her cries have not commanded Mr. Carmichael's attention, for it would have ashamed her for anyone to hear this "ignominious cry." Her pain and anger subside, and Lily returns to her painting. She is trying to depict the hedge. She again feels the soothing perception of Mrs. Ramsay's presence. She imagines Mrs. Ramsay, as she often does when she is painting, raising a wreath of white flowers to her forehead and walking across fields. She looks out across the bay and sees the boat, which is now halfway across. The Lighthouse appears a great distance from the shore this morning, and Lily continues to watch the boat with curiosity.
The bracketed presentation of Chapter VI immediately recalls the brief parenthetical reports of the death of the Ramsays in "Time Passes," and it, too, concerns mutilation and death. In this case, however, the act of cutting out a piece of a fish's flesh for bait and throwing it, still alive, back into the sea, represents survival in the face of difficulties. A being can persist for a while in this undoubtedly cruel and constantly changing world, though one must frequently expect, through one's experience, to be largely or permanently altered. Just as the death of the Ramsays and the decay of their house were painful manifestations of change and the passage of time, the remaining characters, like the fish, are able to exist mainly as they did before. Unlike the death announcements in the previous section, though, the ultimate (even if temporary) survival of the fish seems to be a good omen for the remainder of their lives.
Lily's reflection on Mrs. Ramsay's preoccupation with marriage produces scorn and resentment for the dead woman. Though Lily has chosen not to marry, even the memory of Mrs. Ramsay's presence compels her to second-guess her decision. But marriage is also a difficult experience. When she considers the flaws in the Ramsays' past relationship, adding to them the problems facing other married couples, she feels suddenly triumphant. She honestly confronts the tension between the advantages and disadvantages of marriage, rather than simply fulfilling a traditional role or simply rejecting it.
Their lives had not all turned out the way that Mrs. Ramsay had hoped, and Lily's amusement in considering that fact slowly gives way to her scorn for Mrs. Ramsay. Lily's feelings of negativity, however, are quite possibly a displaced fear of being without Mrs. Ramsay for the rest of her life. She is filled with a desperate longing for Mrs. Ramsay, crying out to her across the lawn and allowing tears to stream down her face.
Though James and Cam silently agree upon their pact to undermine their father's efforts and to withhold from him as much of what he wants from them as they are able, neither of them is capable of suppressing the feelings of sympathy and pride that arise on their boat ride to the Lighthouse. Despite his demanding nature and his poetic murmurings, he is old, and he makes Cam feel ultimately very safe. Cam even echoes some of the lines of poetry that he dictates, such as "we all perished, each alone," illuminating how influenced she has been by her father, if unwittingly. By its very nature, the quotation therefore represents a way in which humans are unified--through mutual influence--in addition to expressing the common experience of facing one's individuality. More explicitly, the words describe an inevitable, lonely, separate reality, the opposite of what Mrs. Ramsay has tried to weave and merge together.