Henry James' The Europeans Essays

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In his novel The Europeans, Henry James tells the story of an American family that is visited by their European cousins. James uses these circumstances to depict the differences between Europeans and Americans. The Americans tend to be frightened of the Europeans, since they seem quite foreign within the puritanical American community. On the other hand, the Europeans are surprised by the Americans' provincial ways. Reaction to the unfamiliar is a central element of the novel. Each character's reaction to the unfamiliar reveals his or her personality and also determines whom that character is capable of tolerating and of loving. Felix, one of the European cousins, and Gertrude, the younger daughter of the American family, both illustrate characters who welcome the unknown. Charlotte, the elder daughter of the American family, and Mr. Brand, the clergyman who lives with the family, both seek to avoid change. Eugenia, the other European cousin, enjoys stability whereas her suitor Mr. Acton is excited by new experiences. The latter pair can never live together, while the characters of similar dispositions tend to become romantically involved. Thus, reaction to the unfamiliar determines the course of each of these characters' lives.

Characters like Gertrude and Felix are curious about things that they have not experienced. They search for new things, being unable to maintain one way of life for a long period of time. Gertrude displays this by her imaginative nature. She adores imagining, wishing to be somewhere else in the world. When she is left alone when everyone else goes to church Gertrude decides to transport herself to Arabia: "She possessed herself of a very obvious volume-one of the series of the Arabian Nights-and sh...

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...g consistency, and thus they are conservative characters who can live together because they will be able to sustain order and routine. Eugenia and Acton can never agree on how to live, forcing them to end their relationship. In this novel, James takes a more humorous approach than in his other novels, and pokes fun at his own stiff American culture. He uses the European influence to show how narrow-minded New Englanders were at the time, and in fact James was part of this puritanical society. However, he presents a contrast with characters who believe that change is essential. Thus, through showing two juxtaposed opinions, James contrasts American conservatism with European worldliness, and how this reflects on the members of those different societies. However, as in the best Shakespearean comedy, the story ends with a marriage, and it is all much ado about nothing.

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