Henry James’ writing and its connection with American identity

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Henry James’ story “The Beast in the Jungle” is complex due to the fact that is very open to be interpreted by the readers. I have noticed that both in “Daisy Miller” and in “The Beast in the Jungle” Henry James leaves an open question to the readers, so they can create their own ideas and interpretations about the significance of the story. This reminded me a lot to the playwright Bertolt Brecht and his epic theatre. Brecht’s main characteristics in his plays is his direct address to the public while breaking the logical progression of the drama. In addition, usually the play is filled with irony and the main character is unable to “fully understand” the main point of the plot. This again creates interpretable endings and many open questions that the readers must answer by themselves to fully connect with the plot.

Furthermore, there is a V-effekt (distancing effect) that prevents the audience from losing themselves completely into the narrative; this makes them think throughout the story and engage in the creation of their own ideas and interpretations. Just like in Brecht’s theatre, Henry James writes both of these stories to talk about some social matters to become a better society, talks about the importance of individualism and the creation of your own exploration. Further, he poses problems but does not offer solutions, and this is what the audience/readers must do. In “Daisy Miller”, the ending is ambiguous and does not directly give a solution when Daisy dies, he asks questions about what are the rules of society? Why and how should women behave a certain way? Is this a critique or a reinforcement? There are many interpretable meanings here in this story. Similar, in “The Beast in the Jungle”, the readers are left with questions such as, what is the meaning behind May’s death? Is he telling us to focus on the present rather than focus about the future? Is this a love story about emotions, or a criticism? There are many possible interpretations that James’ is asking the readers to develop by themselves. He wants the readers to reflect about society, and develop their own thinking. 

Lastly, “The Beast in the Jungle” just like “Daisy Miller” has a connection with the American identity in the way that it focuses about the thinking of social rules, and also individualism. In “Daisy Miller” although James talks about having individualism and personal freedom in the creation of the American identity, he is also criticizing these characteristics. We see in this novel that having no limit in freedom and individualism let the downfall of Daisy. Similar, in “The Beast in the Jungle”, James’ talks about the dangers of individualism and the importance of finding purpose through our relationships with others. He mentions that there must exist a balance between thinking about the future and focusing on the present. During this period of time, America was developing fast, but James warns us about the importance of making sure the foundations of society are set and stable before moving to further things. For the creation of the American identity, there should be some balance between social rules, individualism, and personal freedom. 

May’s Love

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After our discussion last Thursday, I’ve found myself wondering why May loved Marcher all her life. When the story comes to an end, and Marcher’s selfishness is in clear view, it seems that May’s only purpose, in life and in the story, was to support him. We learn very little about her, especially in comparison to the protagonist, and her illogical devotion appears to be a weak point in the story. The conclusion that May is a poorly-fleshed out character in the midst of a painstakingly artful character analysis seems incorrect. 

It’s useful to point out, though, that Marcher’s selfishness affects the narrow scope of the narrator; Marcher’s disregard for her becomes the story’s disregard. It’s plausible that the reason for May’s devotion simply went over Marcher’s head. 

It is also important to note that May obviously finds Marcher amusing. She enjoys their vague and almost playful discussion of his beast more than Marcher does. Moreover, they quickly enter into a marriage-like relationship. She has no objections. Marcher takes her on frequent dates to the opera and to dinner. They foster a relationship built not only around discussions of his fate, but their mutual appreciation for art. But a mutual love for music doesn’t account for a life of spinsterhood.

The reason for May’s commitment to Marcher must be related to his secret.

Although May is explicitly used by Marcher throughout the novella, it is not fair to condemn her to the place of a victim. This is because May is the one who knows Marcher’s secret. Assuming the beast is his living an empty life, his failure to reciprocate or realize his feelings for her is part and parcel of his curse. Given that May is privy to his secret, and the answer to his nagging question, it would follow that May is, in a sense, using herself. Marcher is fatally selfish but May willingly condemns herself to the position of the unloved. She is passive, just like Marcher; she waits for him to realize his beast as he waits for it to find him. 

I believe the reason for her loving him is simple – she has something in common with him. They share his secret, though May is the one who possesses the ‘answer.’ If a desire to have a companion when the beast springs is impetus enough for Marcher’s strange attachment to May, it follows that her attachment to him is justified by her desire for her knowledge of his fate to remain important. Her suffering of unrequited love, simmering for so long, will not be in vain. Marcher and May both live unfulfilled lives, and, until her death, both provide a companion necessary for the other’s secret knowledge. 





Marcher & May’s Complex Relationship

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          One of the most interesting and distinct parts of the novella The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James is the complex relationship between Marcher and May. I found myself stopping at many points throughout the text to try to understand and define their relationship, however I still remain unsure. At surface level they appear to be intimate friends, yet it seems that their relationship is also defined by many elements of a story of love or unrequited love. While he tries to keep to himself for the most part stating that he would not want to burden anyone with his troublesome fate, he is happy that May knows his secret and that he is able to confide in her. May appears to have much stronger feelings for him, as she recalls their interaction from years ago. May states, “‘You’ve been in love, and it hasn’t meant such a cataclysm, hasn’t proved the great affair? (…) Then it hasn’t been love'” (James, 310). From this quote, it appears that May has experienced this type of life-altering love and is disappointed to hear that Marcher has not.

          Despite his supposed worry of being selfish, he consistently acts selfish towards May, particularly in defining their relationship. Even though they spend a great deal of time together over the course of many years and could be viewed as a couple to society, he will not marry her. Later when she tells him that she is dying, he selfishly worries that she will not live long enough to learn what his beast in the jungle is. To me, it appears that May was in love with Marcher but Marcher was too obsessed with his fate and this “beast” to recognize what was right in front of him the whole time. He is only able to recognize his ignorance when he sees the person mourning at the cemetery. Perhaps if he were to have loved May then he would have been saved from the beast in the jungle.

Love, loss, and fate in “The Beast in the Jungle”

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I found Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle” to be quite sad: the whole novella is a battle to see whether love or the beast will win. When Marcher discovers that May Bertram knows his “secret,” they quickly become close. Marcher’s constant feeling of impending doom is not that far off from what many people experience; it is likely a form of undiagnosed anxiety. But he gives this feeling so much power by refusing to talk about it. Marcher feels like he is a burden: “he had disturbed nobody with the queerness of having to know a haunted man, though he had moments of rather special temptation on hearing people say that they were ‘unsettled’” (313).

Over the course of the story, May and Marcher slowly fall in love, but James only alludes to this. They spend lots of time together, going to museums and gardens. But Marcher is unable to become closer to May; “his conviction, his apprehension, his obsession, in short, was not a condition he could invite a woman to share; and that consequence of it was precisely what was the matter with him” (313). May’s love is faint and unselfish: though she knows that Marcher cannot commit to her, she stands by him and works to help him through his complicated emotions. Marcher is deeply afraid of getting hurt, and instead of being vulnerable, he is standoffish.

When May tells Marcher that she has developed a mysterious and likely fatal blood condition, “he immediately began to imagine aggravations and disasters, and above all to think of her peril as the direct menace for himself of personal privation” (321). Selfishly, Marcher is not particularly concerned with May’s condition, but rather with how he will be able to continue on without her. He comes to realize that he missed out on love because he was so scared of commitment and vulnerability. To me, it seemed evident that Marcher was disguising his emotions: while he might have truly been worried about the encroaching “beast,” he was also certainly anxious about getting too close to May and having to accept that there was always a possibility that he would lose her.

The end of the novella was incredibly sweet. Because Marcher was so frantic for so much of his life, he was unable to understand that time was slipping through his fingers and he had missed the opportunity to enjoy May. In truth, “he had been struck one day, after an absence exceeding his usual measure, with her suddenly looking much older to him than he had ever thought of her being; then he recognized that the suddenness was all on his side—he had just been suddenly struck” (322).

While it is true that not much occurs over the course of the novella, it was probably my favorite text we read this semester. I found it to be an incredibly endearing commentary on love and loss. Truthfully, the interrupted monotony of Marcher’s life led him to understand his strong, misplaced emotions. The novella works to come up with a definition of love, and for the most part, Marcher and May do not seem to be on the same page. At the end, Marcher realizes that he should’ve known and loved May for who she was, as she did for him, even though there was always a chance that he could lose her.

As Marcher asks, “what did everything mean—what, that is, did she mean, she and her vain waiting and her probable death and the soundless admonition of it all—unless that, at this time of day, it was simply, it was overwhelmingly too late?” (323). All along, Marcher was his own beast. It is not until May is dead that Marcher realizes that though the beast existed, it was not vicious. He wasted his life waiting for a terrible fate that was only made worse by his unwavering anxiety.

Henry James exploring Human Condition

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This story of “The Beast in the Jungle” is very impactful in its time because it explores the human conditions that may affect the psychological state of an individual. This story is really great because it is connected with modern society and we can see in modern novels and stories the themes that are explored in this story. For example: loneliness, fate, regret, darkness, death, etc. We see these themes more often now but I feel that James was a pioneer in exploring these topics.

In the story, we see this inquiry of observing human condition in the character of Marcher. Exploring the loneliness of Marcher opens this human condition that James wants to explain. For example, this loneliness is noticed when we see that Marcher has not many good friends, and only trusts May with his secret of this big event that he is waiting. Throughout the story, even Marcher himself isolates from loving May, and as a result, it ends with the tragic death of May and the deeply and forever loneliness that Marcher now has to carry for the rest of his life. One way I felt about this ending was that James is trying to make the readers aware of the importance of social interactions and the urgency of human connection and relationships with friends, families, and your significant other.  

Another theme that James explores involved in human condition is regret. He was often reminded by May that it wasn’t too late yet throughout the story, but only at the end was he able to discover the truth behind the event he was waiting his whole life. “She waited once again, always with her cold sweet eyes on him. It’s never too late.” (Chapter 4). He wasted his whole life waiting for something in the future without taking care or living in the present. Due to his selfish goal, he ended wasting his life and May’s life to the point of her death, and Marcher is now left with this sadness and regret while at the same time awaking and realizing that he has disregarded the present. I felt that this story wants to put importance to this element of “Carpe diem”. James is telling us to live in the present and enjoy the current day to day things, and not to worry or always be thinking about the future. There has to exist a balance between both and one should not focus in their future like Marcher because the individual will end up wasting their whole life. Marcher is a warning that James is implying to the readers, you will end up regretting your decisions if you’re not living in the present.

Overall, this story is very connected with modern society because it explores topics that we often see now such as loneliness, regret, relationships, death, etc. Although this was written in the 19th century, among all the stories, poems, novels, and essays that we have read in class, “The Beast in the Jungle” still has a big impact on the readers in current society. Henry James explores human condition and gives us the significance of taking care of the present, our emotions and psychological state. 


The Beast in the Prose

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I don’t remember where, exactly, but I once heard someone say that a horror movie relying on jump-scares to frighten you is the same as a comedian relying on tickling you to make you laugh. Henry James, I believe, falls into the same trap with “Beast in the Jungle” — he tries to make his audience think, not by writing an inherently thought-provoking story, but by burying that story under impenetrable prose and incomprehensible dialogue. That is not to say that I don’t think his rough plot was interesting; I certainly found it more intriguing than Daisy Miller, because something was actually at stake. I also think that the vague dialogue could have been a very useful tool for characterizing the easy, intuitive flow of understanding between John and May: the story even states at one point that because of the vague way they spoke to one another, they could have these discussions in public without pricking any curious ears.

My objection is that James keeps the audience at the same distance from understanding as those passersby, despite our supposedly omniscient view into John’s mind. John, of course, spends most of the story confused, and I would not expect the narrator to tell the audience anything more than what John knew; but not even the inner workings of John’s mind are relayed to us in a straightforward manner, so that there is an extra, superfluous layer of confusion that the audience has to wade through in order to even experience John’s confusion. It isn’t even the purple prose that irritates me: the first paragraph hit me like a truck, but after I got used to it, I actually rather enjoyed the complexity of the syntax; it was like reading Latin in English. My issue is that none of the sentences really say anything: they make you work to understand them, and when you do, they don’t really reward you for it. I hoped for a pearl at the end of the story, I hoped to be surprised and to have all the vaguery fall into place, but instead I got the vaguest possible confirmation of what I expected the beast to be from the beginning: the only real pleasure to be found was in cracking the oyster.

Given the nature of the beast, as revealed at the very end, I do think that there was room to make the opaqueness of the prose very thematically relevant by changing the style entirely after John seees the other mourner’s face. It is then, after all, that he stops seeing the world through a fog, so why does James insist on leaving his readers there?

A Unique Ending

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          While Henry James appears to spend the bulk of his texts building character rather than contributing to an active plot, I still found “Beast in the Jungle” to be a unique and interesting story. Much of the text is defined by the inactive and distant relationship between the two characters, as well as the narrator. At first glance, this may seem like another average story about unrequited love. This notion of inactivity and distance, however, heavily adds to what I think is the purpose of this text: using Marcher’s wasted life and “beast” as a cautionary tale. I found myself questioning why nothing significant happens in James’ texts but now I recognize that nothing is supposed to happen. Similar to Marcher, the audience is left to anticipate what the “beast” is for the majority of the text until finding out that this anticipation and wasted time was the beast after all.

          This ending was anticlimactic and disappointing for me, as I assume it is for most readers. This is because it defies the normal expectations for a work of fiction. I expected Marcher to have some sort of dramatic realization in the end of the text and declare his love for May, yet this never occurs. There is no sense of satisfaction for the reader at the end, and it is still sort of unclear how to truly describe what the “beast” is. I can definitely understand how this text could be used as a piece of social commentary. For instance, many people are so wrapped up in the past or what may happen in the future that they miss everything happening right in front of their eyes. In Marcher’s case, he missed out on experiencing true love for May and essentially wasted his life worrying about his fate. I wonder if he would have been safe from the beast if he had put his worries aside and loved May.

Deciphering the Jungle

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I believe the success of “The Beast in the Jungle” is owed to the mirroring of Marcher’s disposition in the narrative. Despite the story being related by a third person narrator, who occasionally provides insights to which Marcher is not privy, and wouldn’t conceive of himself, the narration follows his stream of consciousness. Furthermore, the language and sentence structures that James uses are puzzling, hard to decipher. We are thrust into Marcher’s predicament, constantly winding and unwinding the scant details in the story, attempting to remember what happened pages before. 

The reveal that Marcher spends his life waiting for is another thing which preoccupies the reader. James discloses nothing; he actively prevents the audience from decoding anything, he avoids clarity like the plague. Over the course of the novella the reader is confined to a fate similar to Marcher’s. The ‘beast’ is the lingering question, the elephant in the room until the final pages. While we may not share the protagonist’s selfish blindness, we share his anxiety, and the anticipation of the reveal overshadows the rambling development of the story. 

“She waited once again, always with her cold, sweet eyes on him. “It’s never too late.” She had, with her gilding step, diminished the distance between them, and she stood nearer to him, close to him, a minute, as if still full of the unspoken. Her movement might have been for some finer emphasis of what she was at once hesitating and deciding to say. He had been standing by the chimney-piece, fireless and sparely adorned, a small, perfect old French clock and two morsels of rosy Dresden constituting all its furniture; and her hand grasped the shelf while she kept him waiting, grasped it a little as for support and encouragement. She only kept him waiting, however; that is he only waited. It had become suddenly, from her movement and attitude, beautiful and vivid to him that she had something more to give him; her wasted face delicately shone with it, and it glittered, almost as with the white lustre of silver, in her expression”

In this passage, the narrator illuminates aspects of the protagonist that he himself is not aware of. This includes his resignation to a passive life, his terrible and ironic beast, in the line “that is he only waited.” The third-person perspective also reveals the inescapable selfishness that Marcher himself tries to suppress with “she had something more to give him” However, these small nuggets of truth are buried within the greater description. 

The narrator follows Marcher’s eyes, resting on May and the furniture in the room. Everything is significant, therefore, nothing is particularly remarkable. Instead of trying to understand what May is communicating, Marcher focuses on the aesthetics and the impressions of the scene. Her approach, her ‘reaching out’ to him is significant only because it involves movement that Marcher takes note of. His complete detachment from life extends to the very understanding of circumstances in which he finds himself. He cannot awaken from his musings to comprehend that May is trying to connect to him. And the reader, in turn, is busy deciphering the prose, searching for relevance. The ‘meaning’ of the interaction is lost on both the protagonist and the audience; the feeling that there is a truth lying just around the corner is the closest we get to an epiphany before the end of the story. 


Individualism and the Portrayal of the American vs European society

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In Henry James’ “Daisy Miller” we can observe the main points that we have been learning throughout class:

1) The representation of the American Identity

2) The exploration of society in the 19th century

This novel is interesting and refreshing because we are able to see the tensions and rigidity between the American and European cultures. In the novel, Daisy Miller is used as a symbol to represent and contrast both societies. The American society is represented as innocent because it has not been established for a long time, and it is also seen as “inexperienced”. Meanwhile, James, represents the European society as rigid, experienced, and conservative because it has been around for a long time.

In the novel, Daisy represents this “innocent and free” persona alluding to the American identity. Throughout the story, we see her being independent and constantly challenging the social norms of society. For example, the use of the clothing and her constantly talking without regards of social norms. This alludes to the characteristics of individualism and freedom of the person that were developing in America, which will later take part in creating the American identity. Meanwhile, Winterbourne although born in America, he represents the conservative and follows the social norms set by Europe.

Finally, although James talks about having individualism and personal freedom in the creation of the American identity, he is also criticizing these characteristics. We see in this novel that having no limit in freedom and individualism let the downfall of Daisy. She is seen as scandalous, and even Winterbourne says, “But this young girl was not a coquette in that sense, she was very unsophisticated, she was only an American flirt” (pg. 11). From an outside perspective, the European perspective, we see that they don’t approve this behavior and characteristics which end up in these collisions between societies.

The novel ends up in her Daisy’s death due to her actions in not following the European social norms and abusing her individualism and freedom as a person used in America. From the plot and the symbols used, the author wants to make the argument that individualism and freedom as a person, is a double-edged sword that is good but at the same time it can be harmful. James just wants to tell the readers that although these characteristics are important, there must exist a balance, and we should also follow certain society norms or else there will be consequences just like Daisy Miller.

European stiffness

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I think Daisy Miller does an excellent job at showing how social conventions like propriety keep people out of mainstream society, often in unjust ways and to their active detriment. Winterbourne consistently describes Daisy Miller as a young, bright, and pretty girl. She has a lot of potential because of this—specifically, potential to marry well, which is certainly an aspect of the book’s sexism, but potential nonetheless.  However, as an outsider to European customs, Daisy refuses to engage with the world in a European way. She insists on clarity in communication where the Europeans obscure it—such as when Winterbourne insists Mrs. Costello has a headache, and Daisy responds, “She doesn’t want to know me!”] cutting through his social pretense to discuss the actual matter at hand (17). Her way of behaving, which Winterbourne calls distinctly American, creates friction with European society partially because she is so blunt and open about what she wants and who she wants to speak to and spend time with.

Daisy Miller literally cannot survive in European society because they perpetually conceal their motivations. The punishment that the Americans (who are so immersed in European culture, they might as well just be Europeans) enact on Daisy when she demonstrates impropriety is the “cold shoulder.” The only reason they can give for her not doing actions they consider improper is that it is considered improper, which Daisy does not accept as good reasons. Because of this seeming lack of consequences, Daisy is driven further into this improper behavior. The gentleman she spends time with, Giovanelli, is ambiguous about whether he wants or expects marriage from Daisy. However, at her funeral, he reveals that he took her to places he knew were dangerous because “if she had lived, I should have got nothing. She would never have married me, I’m sure” (51). Giovanelli’s ability to conceal his intentions allows him to spend time with Daisy in order to sap whatever enjoyment he can from her until it literally kills her. Because she either cannot read his less-than-pure intentions or does not care (because society has labeled it “improper,” and she rebels against that label), she cannot stop this process from occurring.

European society’s insistence on their social codes ultimately dooms Daisy and Daisy and Winterbourne’s relationship. Her openness has her shunned from European society, and their closedness conceals their true intentions from her. Winterbourne experiences this the most poignantly with his intentions with Daisy. He is never very explicit with Daisy about his feelings towards her, and she continually finds ways to read into his behavior that he is not interested. It is not until she is dead that he realizes the missed opportunity, speaking to the way his European propriety impedes his ability to pursue a distinctly American romance that he clearly wants.

Clash Between American and European Culture

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Daisy Miller is a young and wealthy American woman from New York State traveling with her mother and younger brother in Europe. She is characterized by her free spirit and independence, refusing to conform to the social norms of Europe. She represents the spirit of an American. In comparison, Winterbourne is an American who lived most of his life in Europe. He is characterized as more reserved and conservative, who worries about the rumors or opinions spread by people in the social circle. He represents the spirit of a European. Their interactions represent the clash of ideas and cultures, as Daisy refuses to conform or listen to people’s ideas of what is acceptable in European society.

Initially, Winterbourne was intrigued by Daisy for her unconventional behavior, which consists of her free-spirited nature, independence, and refusal to conform to traditional social conventions. “Poor Winterbourne was mused, perplexed, and decidedly charmed. He had never yet heard a young girl express herself in just this fashion.. It presently became apparent that he was on the way to learn” (11). He becomes charmed and curious about her honesty, spontaneity, and lack of concern for the societal rules laid down by European civilization and adopted by the Americans that lived in Europe. However, these actions and characteristics of her would lead to her downfall, as she refuses to conform to European culture.

Rumors about Daisy spread widely amongst European society. She was known as an American flirt. Winterbourne’s aunt sent a letter regarding Daisy. “They seem to have made several acquaintances, however, is also very intimate with some third-rate Italians, which whom she rackets about in a way that makes much talk” (25). The European culture does not allow an unmarried woman to talk and walk with multiple guys; therefore, she is judged as unconventional and becomes a source of gossip. Winterbourne is affected by the gossip about Daisy and is wary and uncomfortable about Daisy’s action that goes against traditional European social norms. He tries to confront her about her scandalous actions. But, she refuses to be controlled by men, nor does she intend to take advice from people who warn her about her actions. When Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker tried to get her into the carriage, Daisy replies, “I never heard anything so stiff! If this is improper, Mrs. Walker… then I am all improper, and you must give me up” (35). Her refusal to bend illustrates her American values of self-reliance, independence, and individualism. Her actions are against the traditional European values of conformity, hierarchy, and social order.

The character of Daisy serves as an example of an American that refuses to conform to European culture and norms when residing in Europe. She contrasts with Winterbourne and the other Americans that live in Europe. Instead of conforming, she clashes with European culture and refuses to adhere to the advice of fellow Americans. But, because of her refusal, she is regularly judged and misunderstood. Her values as an American are stronger than the need to conform.




Daisy’s Desire for Independence in “Daisy Miller”

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While I was reading Daisy Miller by Henry James, I was struck by how Daisy is portrayed in a negative light for being so scandalous, especially in comparison to the behaviors of Winterbourne. From the initial description of Winterbourne, it is evident that his motives for being in Geneva are flawed: he spent so much time there because “he was extremely devoted to a lady who lived there—a foreign lady—a person older than himself” (4). This fact is barely mentioned again in the novella, which instead focuses on diminishing Daisy for her escapades.

The narrator and Winterbourne are concerned with Daisy’s Americanness and how it enables her to act so relaxed. When Winterbourne and Daisy’s first meet, Winterbourne is “inclined to think Miss Daisy Miller was a flirt—a pretty American flirt” (10). Daisy was part of a generation of women that had had some freedoms, but not full independence. Winterbourne understands Daisy’s desires to be bold and unconventional as wrong, and worries about the path she will go down. Because she is so charming and sociable, Winterbourne sees Daisy merely as “very unsophisticated” (11) and as someone who could never be his equal.

Winterbourne tries to paint himself as above others in his social/economic class: he does not feel compelled to listen to his aunt, Mrs. Costello, when she worries about the Miller family’s status. When Mrs. Costello refuses to meet Daisy because she seems improper and immature, Winterbourne continues to seek Daisy out, and his aunt’s opinions do not seem to weigh heavily on him. Strangely, his thoughts Daisy are not much different from those of his aunt. While he is less concerned about Daisy’s social standings, he spends much time dwelling on her interactions with other men.

After Daisy and Winterbourne meet in Vevey, Switzerland, Daisy, her mother, and her young brother travel to Rome. Winterbourne promises to come visit Daisy when he stays with his family, Mrs. Walker, friend in Rome, but upon his arrival, it becomes clear that Daisy has been involved with other men. Mrs. Walker shares Mrs. Costello’s concerns, and warns Winterbourne about what Daisy has been doing in Rome. Daisy has been “flirting with any man she could pick up; sitting in corners with mysterious Italians; dancing all the evening with the same partners; receiving visits at eleven o’clock at night” (36). While some of these behaviors might be dangerous in a foreign city, it seems evident that Daisy is merely learning to test the limits of her independence and authority. No poor interactions are explained, and Daisy takes accountability for her actions.

While in Rome, Daisy, her mother, Mrs. Walker, and Winterbourne quarrel about Daisy’s desires to go for walks outside on her own. She defies their wishes and is often out at strange hours getting some fresh air. This, in particular, infuriates Winterbourne, and leads him to wonder “whether Daisy’s defiance came from the consciousness of innocence or from her being, essentially, a young person of the reckless class” (45).

Daisy becomes “dangerously ill” (50) from walking around Rome at midnight, and later dies from Roman Fever. Daisy is young, smart, and inquisitive. Her desires for greater independence do not stem from wanting to push back on her mother and family friends, but rather from wanting to except her role as a young woman in a culture that was quickly changing. Daisy’s death brings her trials to an abrupt end, and one that seems related to her perceived foolishness.

Narrator/reader relationship (a matter of principle?)

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In reading “A Matter of Principle,” I was most interested by the narrator’s asides to the reader, which function to encourage further consideration of Mr. Clayton’s prejudice. Though Mr. Clayton advocates for the “brotherhood of man” so often as to be nicknamed “Brotherhood Clayton,” it is quickly evident to the reader that Mr. Clayton in fact considers himself part of, not a universal brotherhood, but some brotherhood of white men. In contextualizing this glaring inconsistency, the narrator leaves it to the “discerning reader” to determine  “whether or not… Mr. Clayton meant no sarcasm.” At a later point in the story, the narrator excuses Mr. Clayton’s use of a racist term, arguing that “some allowance must be made for his atmosphere.” Interestingly, the narrator interrupts themselves, leaving their quotation incomplete “in deference to Mr. Clayton’s feelings.” In this instance, the narrator seems to be in a position of subordination to Mr. Clayton, speaking in a tone of politeness that causes the narrator to seem almost embarrassed of him. 

The use of the narrator as an intermediary who functions to explain and make excuses for Clayton’s deeply racist statements implies a willingness of the reading audience to align themselves with Clayton’s beliefs. It is assumed that the reader will be on the side of Clayton once they have been properly convinced by the assurances of the narrator. In another sense, however, the suggestion that an intermediary is needed in the first place indicates that the narrator believes the reader to be critical, or at least skeptical, of some of Clayton’s more overtly racist and disgusting statements. This technique lends a clever and engaging satirical element to a work whose characters masquerade as prim, proper, and, as the title would,  suggest “principled.”

Chesnutt’s Use of Satire

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          These three short stories from Chesnutt’s The Color Line have been some of my favorite texts that I have read over the course of this semester. This is largely due to Chesnutt’s witty and unique use of satire. Particularly, he is able to use satire as a tool to discuss uncomfortable and disheartening moments that many black and mixed-race people, including himself, are experiencing during the time of publication. In my opinion, he is extremely clever for using satire as it allows a wider audience to fully grasp how ridiculous the legal and societal precedent involving racial discrimination can be.

          In the story “A Matter of Principle”, Chesnutt satirically conveys the unfair reality that people often get treated worse by society if their skin is darker. After doing some research, I learned that characters like Cicero Clayton and members of this “Blue Vein Society” are meant to mock a real-life elite social club for “better educated people of color” that Chesnutt was apparently once a part of (Library of America). Some of the satirical dialogue within the text seemed so outrageous to me that I had to read it a second time. For instance, when the Clayton family discusses whether or not the Congressman will be “an acceptable guest” for their estate (Chesnutt, 79). The most laughable part to me is on page 79 when Mr. Clayton states “and we’ll have to do this thing thoroughly, or our motives will be misconstrued, and the people will say we are prejudiced and all that” (Chesnutt, 79). Meanwhile, they went through extremely great lengths to prevent a man from being a guest at their house simply because they thought he may be of a darker complexion. They are the definition of prejudice during this time.

          I also found Chesnutt’s story “Baxter’s Procrustes” to be an exemplary form of satire and mockery towards elite, white social groups. I also found this story to be humorous, particularly the part when Baxter reveals that he actually submit a blank text to fool the members of the literary society. The members are so fixated on the publication of the book and the publicity of Baxter himself that they do not even open the book to see that it is blank. Some of them even make comments regarding the significance of the themes within the text and its comparison to other great thinkers (103-105). I admire Chesnutt’s ability to poke fun at these elite and predominately white institutions, however I wonder if these stories got him into any sort of trouble. Regardless, his use of satire as a tool to convey real societal discrimination and hypocrisy is significant.

The Portrayal of Prejudice and Racism Within Their Race

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The Tales of The Color Lines focused primarily on the social, racial, and political injustice and prejudice African Americans faced after the end of the Civil War. Chesnutt uses The Tales of the Color Lines to explore America’s racial divisions and complexities. In particular, I found “A Matter of Principle” interesting as it reveals the line or racial prejudice present within their own race. 

Mr. Cicero Clayton is of African descent but states, “I don’t accept this classification, for my part… People who belong by half or more of their blood to the most virile and progressive race of modern times have as much right to call themselves white as others have to call them ******” (67). He denies his racial identity and disassociates himself from any colored people. They “attended, too, a church, of which nearly all the members were white, and… they came into contact with the better class of white people, and were treated, in their capacity of members, with a courtesy and consideration scarcely different from that accorded to other citizens” (68). Ironically, although Clayton is of African descent, he tries to reject his background and be recognized as white. Through this rejection, he exemplifies and conforms to the stigma and discrimination against people of color, despite being considered black by white society. 

He continues his racial prejudice when choosing a suitable prospective partner for Alice. “If the Congressman had turned out to be brown, even dark brown, with fairly good hair, though he might not have desired him as a son-in-law, yet he could have welcomed him as a guest, but… for the man in the waiting-room was palpably, aggressively black… it would be bad enough for them to learn of the ghastly mistake, but to have him in the house would be twisting the arrow in the wound” (76-77). He possesses a strong aversion against darker-skinned people, whom he regards to be beneath him. Hence, even though the Congressman was someone of status, the color of his skin caused Mr. Clayton to reject the Congressman. However, it is ironic that Mr. Clayton states, “of course I have no prejudice against his color,—he can’t help that,—but it is the principle of the thing” (78). His “principle” contradicts his beliefs and actions, as the installed prejudice against colored people has influenced his actions, resulting in him rejecting to host the Congressman in his house. 

Chestnutt satirically illustrates the difficulties that mixed-race people face, but also the intense prejudice and racism against those of even darker-color skin. At the end of the text, Chesnutt skillfully ends with “For of one blood God made all of the nations of the earth,” which criticizes those that discriminate and suggest that people are all made equally and, therefore, should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of color (82).