Portrait of a Lady and the Objectification of Character Term Paper

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Portrait of a Lady and the Objectification of Character

This story begins with the main character in the book, Isabel arriving at Gardencourt from America. Ralph, another main character in this book realizes that Isabel is destitute and talks his father into leaving Isabel some of his fortune in the amount of 70,000 pounds. This however, only begins the troubles for Isabel. Madame Merle, a wealthy woman herself sees that she can benefit from Isabel's money and introduces Isabel to Osmond.

Statement of Thesis

Isabel, a bright young woman with ideas of her own and unfortunately having inherited a great sum, becomes an object or a thing in the work entitled "Portrait of a Lady" and at the workings of others becomes endangered of losing her own identity.

Isabel's Portrait

The work of Gilmore (1986) entitled 'The Commodity World of the Portrait of a Lady' states that the work entitled "The Portrait of a Lady" (1881) "marks the fruition of Henry James' long-gestated resolution to attempt a 'big' book that would both establish his reputation as a major novelist and relieve his financial worries by bringing him a substantial sum of money." The result is that it is no surprise that people in "The Portrait of a Lady" are continuously compared to objects and generally to "previous artworks, and are appreciated as much for their economic as for their aesthetic values." (Gilmore, 1986) Gilmore reports that Henry James himself "participates in this kind of commodification by turning the life-story of Isabel Archer into 'the portrait of a lady' and offering it for sale in the literary marketplace." (Gilmore, 1986) the second meaning of commodity, according to Gilmore which is "related to but distinct from the first, involves what might be called 'the ownership of human beings." (1986) it is reported by Gilmore, that the real issue here is not "the literal possession of a man or woman but rather the denial or suppression of another person's autonomy by using that person for purposes of one's own." (Gilmore, 1986) According to Gilmore, the majority of James statements at "the Portrait of a Lady" reveal a "mixture of aesthetic and pecuniary motives." (1986) James stated for example "I must try and seek a larger success than I have yet obtained in doing something on a larger scale than I have yet done." (Gilmore, 1986) it is not sure whether by success James means "profits of prestige." (Gilmore, 1986)

II. How James Views His Story

Gilmore writes twenty-years later in the Preface of his book composed for the New York Edition of his works on the "commodity status of 'The Portrait' and of Isabel and speaks of himself as a "tradesman or businessman of the mind" or a "way dealer in precious odds and ends who is obliged by the economics of authorship to exchange his art for dollars" and is reported by Gilmore to have singled out "his young heroine as the rarest 'object' or 'treasure' in his mental emporium." (Gilmore, 1986)

As such, for James, Isabel is the "special acquisition he is anxious to place and he anticipates a handsome profit from showing her off to advantage. That which Isabel's cousin believes of Gilbert Osmond is also applicable to James as he held that at last James had material to work with. He held that James "always had an eye to effect, and the effects were elaborately studied. They were produced by no vulgar means, but the motive was as vulgar as the art was great." (Gilmore, 1986) Gilmore writes that there are more than one view of James, the James who hopes to cash in on his heroine's appeal can be compared to Madame Merle, who was a clever woman at matchmaking and resulted in Isabel reflecting that she was "a great artist' but an artist motivated by an idea of gain and not one of the votaries of art for art." (Gilmore, 1986) it is stated in the work of Gilmore that Osmond is more like James in his imagination concerning the characters of the book as he "fully shares in his creator's penchant for reducing or equating other people with valuable pieces of art." (Gilmore, 1986) Osmond's courtship of Isabel is in his view what can be constituted as "the larger success, the concurrent possession of beauty and wealth." (Gilmore, 1986) He hold Isabel, as a young heiress as "an exquisite rarity" and someone he is eager to add to "his collection of choice objects." (Gilmore, 1986)

When Osmond becomes confident that he will succeed in winning Isabel the sense of success experienced by Osmond is overwhelming and as James wrote in the book "his triumphs were, some of them now, too old; others had been too easy. The present one had been less difficult than might have been expected; but it had been easy -- that is, it had been rapid -- only because he had made an altogether exceptional effort." (p. 280-281)

III. Theory of Objects and Things

The work of Brown (2001) states that Appadurai in the work entitled "The Social Life of Things" states that human beings "encodes things with significance from a theoretical point-of-view however "from a methodological point-of-view it is the things-in-motion that illuminate their human and social context. Such methodological fetishism is referred to by Appadurai as the effort to "follow the things themselves" which is stated by Appadurai to disavow "the topological work, the psychological work, and the phenomenological work entailed in the human production of materiality…" (Brown, 2001, p.7) Brown writes that methodological fetishism "is not an error so much as it is a condition for thought, new thoughts about how inanimate objects constitute human subjects, how they move them, how they threaten them, how they facilitate or theater their relation to other subjects." (Brown, 2001) Jonathan Lam is reported by Brown (2001) to question the conditions needed to sympathize with animals and artifacts and how this sympathy serves to threaten the idea of Locke about "thinking thing" or the self. Methodological fetishism "is not an error so much as it is a condition for thought, new thoughts about how inanimate objects constitute human subjects, how they move them, how they threaten them, how they facilitate or threaten their relation to other subjects." (Brown, 2001)

Methodological fetishism describes the hold that the portrait of Isabel had on Osmond and James. Phelan-Cox writes that one of the various meanings that James appears to attach to the "sweet tasting property of observation" is reported to include "an anticipation of the kind of diffusely eroticized watching that has such a central place in our contemporary popular culture." Phelan-Cox refers to this as the male gaze. According to Michel Foucault the male gaze "is connected to power and surveillance; the person who gazes is empowered over the person who is the object of the gaze." (Phelan-Cox, 2004)

V. The Story is Narrator Controlled

In 'The Portrait of a Lady', the reader's look is directed through the narrator of the story. Because the story begins with the narrators' power of interpretation made known in the statement "under certain circumstances in what I should call the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon" which are "subjective qualifiers of the novel's setting" the role of the narrator, as interpreter is made known to the reader. Phelan-Cox writes that the narrator "is aware of the moralizing perspective that he has invited the audience to share" and that the narrators "not only conveys information about her [Isabel] to the readers, but he also effectively characterizes and draws attention to himself. As such, the narrator (and the reader by extension) establishes himself as dominant over Isabel in that he possesses the objectifying gaze over her." (Phelan-Cox, 2004) Therefore, the role of the narrator is not simply to provide information to the reader but as well informs the reader how to interpret the information in the story.

VI. Objectification of Isabel

Phelan-Cox writes that the "sexes of the surveyor and surveyed…are not insignificant. There are gender implications to the power imbalance created by the gaze…" (2004) Phelan-Cox writes that it is noted by Patricia E. Johnson "implicit in the structures of much Western art and many Hollywood films is the idea of the male gazer and the female object." (2004) According to Linda Nochlin "the male artist's right to represent women is interconnected with the assumption of general male power over and control of women in society." (Phelan-Cox, 2004) This idea is reported as reinforced in the story by the first response of Ralph Touchette's to his cousin Isabel as follows

"If his cousin were to be nothing more than an entertainment to him, Ralph was conscious that she was an entertainment of a high order. A character like that, he said to himself -- a real little passionate force to see at play is the finest thing in nature. it's finer than the finest work of art than a Greek bas-relief, than a great Titian, than a Gothic cathedral.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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