Female Characters through the Prism of the Male Heroes: Emilia Pardo Bazán and Henry James Essay
Updated: Apr 25th, 2019
Introduction: Where Two Stories Cross. Henry James and Emilia Pardo Bazán
Creating a compelling female character is not an easy task even if making a woman the lead character. Henry James and Emilia Pardo Bazán, however, managed to create strong female characters by pushing the male ones into the foreground. Despite the fact that in On the Streetcar and in Washington Square, the male characters attempt at – and, in fact, succeed in – seizing bower and taking the entire space of the novel, the female leads are still represented in a very graphic manner.
Space, Power and Dr. Sloper’s Need for Controlling Others
At the first glance, it seems that in Henry James’s story, Dr. Sloper takes the entire novel, leaving little to no room for another nonetheless important character to develop (Ludwig para.1). Despite the fact that the novel opens and closes with the focus kept on Catherine, Dr.
Sloper persistently remains in the focus of the reader’s attention, preferring to make decisions for Catherine, claiming to know what is best for her, and evidently enjoying his control over her: “They are both afraid of me–harmless as I am” (James 4). On a second thought, though, Sloper’s being constantly in the foreground allows for creating a complex and very compelling character arch for his daughter Catherine.
Space, Power and the Compassionate Narrator in Bazán’s On the Streetcar
Unlike Sloper, Bazan’s male character is much more subtle. Though he is the narrator, the readers never get to know his name. Moreover, the narrator does not even focus on his persona, putting the woman in the limelight: “I suspected that the woman in the ash-colored shawl […] suffered from a grief” (Bazan 47).
However, judging by his attempt to become the saving grace for the woman, which leads to him misunderstanding the situation, the narrator also wishes to seize power over the poor and the desolate, therefore, raising his sense of self-importance. Weirdly enough, the given plot line works for the development of the woman’s character arch, her being portrayed as not only the ostracized one, but also as the one that was misunderstood.
Male Characters in On the Streetcar and Washington Square: Analysis
It would be wrong, however, to assume that both characters are deliberately evil or thoughtless about the consequences of their actions – on the contrary, both the narrator from On the Streetcar and Dr. Sloper seem rather confident about their actions and, more to the point, are positively certain that their point of view is the only one that is actually viable.
Even though Bazán’s narrator finally faces his moment of revelation when realizing his misjudgment about the source of the woman’s grief, he is still pretty self-assured, at least in terms of his judgment of other people (Walter 88).
It would be wrong to claim that none of the characters is compelling or three-dimensional; on the contrary, although Bazán’s narrator is admittedly bland, they both still are very memorable, mainly because they take actions and address the reader, either in an inner dialogue, as in Bazán’s story, or in engaging into conversations with other characters, as Henry James’s Dr. Sloper does.
That being said, the fact that the characters take much space in both novels does push the female leads into the background. However, it is worth mentioning that the male characters also serve as the foil for the female leads to evolve on. Therefore, it can be assumed that the space taken by the male characters in On the Streetcar and in Henry James’ Chapter 24 is relatively small; they wrap around the story, while the female characters fill it.
Conclusion: The Evolution of the Male Characters. In Search for the Peace of Mind
Both novels represent female characters through describing the male ones. Even though the later admittedly take space and power in both novels, the female leads still shine through. Both stories serve as a perfect example of how less being said about the characters serves perfect for creating a compelling character arch.
Bazán, Emilia Pardo. On the Streetcar. n. d. PDF file. 45–51. 10 Nov. 2013.
James. Henry. Washington Square. n. d. PDF file. 3-66. 10 Nov. 2013.
Ludwig, Meredith. Henry James and His Women. An Excerpt. n. d. Web. <https://www.nku.edu/~emily/ludwig.html>.
Walter, Susan. “After the Apple: Female Sexuality in the Writings of Emilia Pardo Bazán.” Decimonomica 9.2 (2012), 88–105. <http://www.decimononica.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Walter_9.2.pdf>.
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