Friday, February 1, 2013

The Portrait of a Lady: in which I answer my rhetorical question with more questions:


The Rhetoric Stage Questions

Is there an argument in this novel, and do you agree?

            Henry James presents his main character, Isabel Archer, as an intelligent, curious young American ahead of her time and not timid about exercising her will, which is quite unconventional, especially for 19th century Europe.  Then James uses her inexperience and naiveté to charm Isabel right into the center of wicked plot to marry someone at the behest of an evil woman who was motivated by the money Isabel had inherited.  The end of the novel leaves us left to believe that she did return to her awful marriage.   So what does James want us to think about using this situation? 


1.   Is there no other option for women of that period?

2.  Does every woman get sucked into marriage, therefore forfeiting her freedom and liberty  and mobility regardless of how happy the union is?

3.  Is the author trying to convince us that it is just impractical for women to even try to be independent and free?  Even Isabel’s liberated friend, Henrietta Stockpole, gave up her country just to marry an Englishman.

4.  Is there something wrong with America that all of these ex-pats have to leave their country to live abroad for something better? 

5.  What is it that is so attractive to Americans that they prefer the Old Country?  Idleness?  Superficial appearances?  Formalities?
6.   Are Americans naive and inexperienced, like Isabel, and not capable of handling their hard fought freedoms and liberties after all? 
7.  Is James trying to tell us that there is no individualism, independence, freedom, or liberty; in the end, we get sucked into the convention of societies and social standards shackling those aforementioned ideals?           

8.   Is he trying to tell us that all of life’s conventions are a prison?  Look at how often he used the word himself.

            Well, I understand I was expected to answer the question with a statement, not additional questions, but I cannot choose.  This was a really difficult novel for me; I am just grateful to have been able to come up with possible ideas to think about.  And maybe someday I will revisit them, or maybe after reading the ideas of others, I may settle on one or two.  But for now I am content to leave it open.

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