Comparing "The Real Thing" and "The Beast in the Jungle"

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Comparing "The Real Thing" and "The Beast in the Jungle"

By | July 2013
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“The Real Thing” and “The Beast in the Jungle” are similar in that both stories discuss the concept of someone trying to acquire something only to realize that he doesn’t actually want it. In “The Real Thing”, the artist is looking for the perfect upper class couple, while in “The Beast in the Jungle”, Marcher is looking to share the feelings of May. Sam Whitsitt writes in The Henry James Review, “Sketching out in his Notebooks what was later to become, ’The Real Thing,’ James wrote that the story should be, among other things, "a magnificent lesson" (104). While James did not bother to explain what that lesson might be or for whom -- or just why it might be magnificent -- James never seems to have written anything without someone being taught something by somebody. The problem for the reader, however, has always been that of figuring out who the teacher is and who the taught -- not to mention what is supposedly being taught. And such is the case with "The Real Thing." The story is about the relationships between an artist and two sets of models and clearly has its teachers and pupils, but as the history of its interpretation shows us, whether the artist teaches a lesson to a pair of would-be models, or the would-be models teach a lesson to the artist remains an open question, not in spite of but because critics have apparently felt compelled to decide the issue one way or the other… An artist discovers that he can draw his scenes of high life better with a servant girl and an ice-cream vendor as models than with Major and Mrs. Monarch, who are the real thing. The narrator, a painter, is visited one day by a couple [Major and Mrs. Monarch] who show every sign of belonging to the nobility; they ask if they can pose for any book illustrations he might be doing, for they are reduced to a state of extreme destitution. . . . The couple are in fact "the real thing," [but] Art requires quite different qualities, so that being "real" can even . . . be disastrous. . . ....
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