The novel's timespan looks at two days, ten years apart. The Ramsay family, together with their guests, spend the summer at their holiday home on the Isle of Skye. Their youngest child, James, wants to be taken by boat to the lighthouse. His mother encourages this aspiration, but his father says it's impossible because of the weather.
Modernist writer Virginia Woolf incorporated psychoanalysis into her writing. Woolf focused on the children's perspective, and the book's true lighthouse may well be Mrs Ramsay, who brings illumination to whomsoever she meets.