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. 

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