Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Portrait of a Lady: What does Isabel Archer want, and how does she get it?

Logic Stage Questions
Nicole Kidman as Isabel Archer

What does the main character want?  What is standing in her way?  What strategy does she pursue in order to overcome this block?

            Isabel desires independence, liberty, and knowledge.   She puts off several marriage proposals to travel Europe to see the very things she has read about in books.  A marriage would only impede her freedom and individuality, so she postpones it.  In this case, nothing is standing in her way.  She has just received a large inheritance from her uncle, and she is available to travel Europe with her aunt and companions.  

             However, here may be her obstruction: she is innocent and naïve enough to be manipulated by the charms of Madame Merle and Gilbert Osmond.  And for the life of me, I cannot figure out her attraction to Osmond except that she created an image of him and fell in love with the image.  Then she learns too late that she has made a mistake; she has been deceived and abused by this wicked couple. 

            She can leave Osmond, but she tells a friend that she cannot publically admit her mistake or her unhappiness.  And when one of her ex-suitors, Mr. Goodwood, offers to help her escape her marriage (and into his own arms) she only sees death or a continuation of her sentence.  She leaves Goodwood to return to her prison in Rome; at least that is what we are left to speculate. 

            Also something occurs: Isabel has been brought so low that she finally recognizes her own courage to take responsibility, stand up for herself, and to do what is right.  It meant defying Osmond to visit her cousin and rejecting an emotional, easy-way-out offered by Goodwood to face the consequences of her decision.  The ability to make her own choice was her way of exercising her liberty and attaining her individuality even in the face of a miserable situation.  That, to Isabel, is freedom.


Tonia said...

I've been reading your responses to the questions and I agree with all you've stated! It's interesting that in spite of her desire for freedom her choices lead to the exact opposite. Still trying to decide what Henry James' message was...

Ruth said...

I'm still trying to zero in on his argument, too. I wrote up several questions for my rhetorical inquiry, and I just left them as questions b/c I just don't know.

Fanda Classiclit said...

I think in that era, it's impossible for women to get real freedom, the society didn't provide them that luxury. So I guess James wanted to say that in the oppressed condition, we can still have room to be free, and to choose to be free.

Joseph said...

I'm usually not a fan of ambiguous endings...but in this case I liked it, only because it allows me to believe that Yes...Isabel returns, but that she will change her miserable position. I don't even know exactly how, probably with the encouragement of Caspar Goodwood and Henrietta Stockpile, and maybe even M. Merle, but I don't believe she returns to be dominated by her villain husband. Goodness let's hope not.

Ruth said...

Wow, it's been so long since I read this one. I remember feeling so much disdain for Osmond, that I loathed this story for a long time. But I think there was also a glimmer of hope that maybe she did have something up her sleeve. So there is a beauty with ambiguous endings, and one can pull out supporting evidence as to why one ending may be more likely than another.