A defining, overarching element of Virginia Woolf's novel, "To the Lighthouse," is the presence of uncertainty during transitional periods of time. Within the book itself, Lily Briscoe strives to define her place in society by establishing herself as a reputable artist; however, her fear of failing and her inability to fit into the mold of the typical Victorian wife and mother prevent her from creating meaningful art. Outside of the novel's boundaries, Woolf addresses the reoccurring theme of uncertainty by writing a novel that defies being categorized as a product of a specific genre or literary period. Having being written during a transitional period of time, To the Lighthouse reflects the ideologies of both modernist and postmodernist perspectives. In many ways, To the Lighthouse is a genre within itself, for it is representative of the transitioning time period and evolving ways of thinking during this transition. .
A central theme throughout "To the Lighthouse" is the sensitive relationship between an artist and his or her artwork. Throughout "The Window," one can see the modernist themes emerge through Lily's inability to conform to the manner in which Mrs. Ramsay carries out her life. Although Mrs. Ramsay strives to preserve her image as the ultimate matriarchal figure, her life seems vacant of anything truly meaningful. As a young woman growing up in 1920's Britain, Lily is forced to confront the fact that she doesn't fit the mold of the typical Victorian housewife. There are particular preset expectations that women are supposed to meet in order to live a "fulfilled" life; however, Lily's confusion stems from the fact that marriage and children do not offer her any sense of fulfillment. Lily observes Mrs. Ramsay on a day-to-day basis and concludes that Mrs. Ramsay is an example of the ideal woman, according to the expectations of their generation. The bipolarity between the person Lily wants to be and the person Lily is expected to be is sole reason for her overwhelming confusion.