Through the Looking Glass: Appearance and Reality in ‘The Good Soldier’ and ‘In the Cage’

Satisfactory Essays
The concept of character is an illusion, a reality where ‘there are no facts, only interpretations’. In this illusory reality, like Alice, we stumble through the looking-glass from the world of reality into the world of appearance, of illusion. We find ourselves among heroes and villains that seem familiar but, in fact, could not be stranger. In Henry James’ ‘In the Cage’, an unnamed telegraphist, restricted by ‘the cage’ in which she works, peers through the rims of the looking-glass and, seeking to escape from the mundane reality of her existence, imagines her own fantastic reality. James interrogates the concept of character through the relation between appearance and reality, in that the unnamed narrator defines herself and others, living vicariously, through the mock reality she creates. Ford Maddox Ford’s narrative in ‘The Good Soldier’ is dogged by the narrator’s inability to distinguish appearance from reality, resulting in not only an unreliable narration but also a skewed perception of reality. The result is that Ford’s interrogation of the concept of character, through unreliable narration, suggests personal perception is all we can ever have, that the concept of character is not objective, it is an illusion, one individuals perception of the truth. It is the relation of appearance and reality to the interrogation of concept of character I will now explore, that we mustn’t look for ‘the old stable ego of the character’ but treat the concept of character as an illusion, merely a perception, not an objective concept.

What is character? One definition in the OED is:

‘A personality invested with distinctive attributes and qualities, by a novelist or dramatist; also, the personality or ‘part’ assumed by an actor on the ...

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...e encounter must be viewed with the idea that Ford bleeds reality and appearance into a synthesis that misrepresents the characters Dowell portrays to us in the narrative. We can take the ‘old stable ego’ of the character to be bereft of permanence, stability or anything that we may term to be a defining characteristic. Therfore, with Dowell’s perception, we can see any characteristics that others may have are illusory, in that the permanence and stability that we have surrounding their traits must be taken as perceptive and not objective qualities. Even then, with Dowell’s skewed perception, can we even be sure of that?

With perception in mind, the approach to narrative with regards to the structure of ‘In The Cage’ is an interesting one; Roland Barthes expresses it best as:

‘In the multiplicity of writing, everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered’
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