Tag Archives: henry james

Difficulty of the Text

After finishing the novella In the Cage by Henry James I realized what an accomplishment it was. The difficulty of the context was definitely more than I expected, it was not impossible though. It makes me wonder, why was the context difficult in the first place? Why did it require full attention to comprehend the message within each chapter?

These along with many other questions arose during the course of the reading. Going back 100 years in history the language of English was the same, I agree that words now a days have different meanings, but for the most part it is the same. It seems that the format has changed; the way in which words are organized and then produced has lots of variance compared to present. Given the fact that most words had similar meanings, why does a change in format, the difference in the combination of words, make it much more difficult for us to comprehend it. You could argue the fact that individuals adapt to obstacles in which they face most often. In other words people now a days have no trouble comprehending articles found in GQ magazines or worldnews.com because they see it everyday. But, I am interested in why the format of the English spoken language has changed and when did this change start to occur? It seems that with every invention, especially an invention that correlates well with communication had some sort of impact on this change in format of the language.

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Fear of a Fantasy

“She did last things or pretended to do them; to be in the cage had suddenly become her safety, and she was literally afraid of the alternate self who might be waiting outside. He might be waiting; it was he who was her alternate self, and of him she was afraid.” (183)

I think it is interesting that the telegraph girl is so afraid of Captain Everard once he starts coming around again. I think she was more interested in the pursuit than an actual relationship. It is like the Andy Warhol quotation we talked about in class “Fantasy love is much better than reality love … the most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet.” This perfectly describes the attraction between Captain Everard and the telegraph girl. They are completely different people and in a fantasy it is fun and exciting to pretend that their romance could work but in reality it never could. I think in this quotation “the cage” could be read as a symbol of her class and how she dreamed to be outside of it (her class/the cage) with Captain Everard. When she sees the real him she becomes frightened and “the cage had suddenly become her safety,” which could also be read as her class being her comfort zone/safety net. I think Captain Everard symbolizes her unrealistic fantasies of escaping her class “it was he who was her alternate self.”

It is difficult to tell how much of Captain Everard’s behavior is in her head and how much is real. I think the reader gets a very narrow filter through which to read the story, allowing the reader to get caught up in the fantasy themselves. She thinks she notices a change in their relationship, “This change was the tribute of her fear-the result of a change in himself as to which she needed no more explanation than his mere face vividly gave her; strange though it was to find an element of deterrence in the object that she regarded as the most beautiful in the world.” (183) It is difficult to tell how much has actually changed given that she was so obsessed with him previously. Perhaps he has not changed at all she is just viewing him  and herself with open eyes for the first time.

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Love and Status

“This was one of the questions he was to leave her to deal with-the question whether people of his sort still asked girls up to their rooms when they were so awfully in love with other women. Could people of his sort do that without what people of her sort would call being “false to their love”? She had already a vision of how the true answer was that people of her sort didn’t, in such cases, matter- didn’t count as infidelity, counted only as something else: She might have been curious, since it came to that, to see exactly what.” (160)

This quotation of the book is a perfect example of class issues within In the Cage by Henry James. He makes it clear that the telegraph girl is very aware of her status rank in society and that it is unrealistic that the Captain would ever be interested in her for a real relationship. It goes as far as to say that having an affair with her “didn’t count as infidelity.” Lady Bradeen would probably not feel that threatened by the telegraph girl due to her status. Just as Mr. Mudge does not seem entirely threatened by her going to see Captain Everard, I think that this is because he knows he (Everard) is only a fantasy to the young girl while Mr. Mudge is of a similar class and easily accessible to her. Henry James makes it clear with his wording that the telegraph girl is sexually attracted to Captain Everard but not to Mr. Mudge (even if she has some mild affection for him.) At the end of this quotation it states that the telegraph girl was “curious…to see exactly what,” she was to Captain Everard, she does not seem entirely opposed to just being his mistress. Some things I was wondering about Do you think he is capable of ever fully loving her given his status in society? Do you think that she even wants him to love her?  I think that the telegraph girl is still very confused about what it is she wants. Things were a lot less confusing when these people were only part of her imagination.

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The Lives of Others

The telegraphist’s participation in their affair is not recognized by either Everard or Lady Bradeen.  This allows the telegraphist to “listen” in on their messages with complete access.  The premise of using technology to become completely invested in other’s lives reminded me of a movie called The Lives of Others.  The movie involves a man (Wiesler) hired to listen in on a writer and he becomes so invested in what is basically a drama playing out before his eyes (or ears in this case) that he begins tampering with his reports.  The changing of his reports are not only because he is doing what he thinks is just, but also so he can continue being entertained so he doesn’t have to look at how unfulfilling his own life is.  This is mirrored in “In The Cage” as the telegraphist delays her own marriage so that she can maintain involvement in Everard and Lady Bradeen’s affair.

I feel that living an unfulfilling is a big theme in both stories (it is also a big theme in  “The Story of an Hour” which is possibly one reason why we read them back to back).  The telegraphist yearns to be an aristocrat and this affair allows her to create a fantasy where she sees herself as a possibility for Everard, who would be able to rescue her from mediocrity.  Wiesler is shown having a near empty apartment with bleak white walls and is never shown having social interaction with anyone outside of reporting to his superiors.  He orders a prostitute at one point in the story where he asks for her to stay and talk with him, showing his yearning for a real life.  Both characters use their respective jobs and technologies to as an escape from reality.

An interesting thought from these two stories is how we possibly use technology as an escape in our own lives.  The inventions of both the novel and film were in a way created as an escape.

I also would recommend this movie to everyone as it is one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the past decade.


I like how both these images show the technology being used.

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Caged Consciousness

Stream of consciousness – describes the continuous flow of sensations, impressions, images, memories and thoughts experienced by mind; generally colored and inflected by each person’s subjectivity.

The telgraph girl comes from a rough past, about which we are given few details. Her desire to live among the upper-class is what makes her remain at her current job. She reads the messages sent by Captain Everard and Lady Bradeen to feel connected to their social cirlce. However, he only means of connection is by reading the abbreviated messages sent by telegram.

Along with the telegram, much like text messaging, people developed their own short-hand ways of delivering messages with the least amount of text. It is the ambiguity with which she reads the telegraphs that spark her interest, although she cannot be sure if her interpretations of the messages are accurate.

William Jame’s definition of the flow of consciousness is set-up in Henry Jame’s development of the telegraph girl. Her experiences in the past are very different that that of the upper-class people with whom she wishes to belong. When this is paired with the un-clear messages that girl reads,leads to very subjective interpretation about what she see, reads, and thinks about the people sending the messages. Her own desires, ideas, and thoughts shape the whole story she watches in her head while reading the captain’s messages.

I think this sets up a great deal of missinterpretation that will eventually lead to the climactic point of the novel. Her own desire to become connected with those outside her “cage” and her suspicion of dishonesty among the outsiders will likely lead to her making a change in her consciousness, driving her to reach out to Lady Bradeen, perhaps. Any Predictions?

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“All that is solid melts into the air”

Technological advancements like the telegraph or the IPhone have impacted our society greatly. They facilitate communication and bring people and the world closer. Henry James wrote the book In the Cage with a focus on this new technology called the telegraph. He bases the whole story around the telegraph girl and her environment, which he describes as a young person spending her life in a “framed and wired confinement.” Reading this book has made me realize that James was very interested in this new technology and the impact that it had on our society. When the telegraph was invented we can really see a shift in mediums of communications. We see a conversion from print to electronic media. This is a huge development because people didn’t have to wait days to receive information; it was instead delivered to them instantly (very similar to texting today). This reminds me of the quote that we discussed in class by Marshall Berman, “All that is solid melts into air.” I think this is a quote exemplifies well our modern society and the period in which the telegraph was invented. It really sets the stage for today’s technological advancements like the television, the phone and the internet.

It is funny how our generation was just thrown into this era of instant information. Gadgets like the IPhone or the computer are things that we sometimes take for granted. It is amazing how such a small apparatus allows us to do so much. We sometimes don’t take the time to reflect on how these things came about; we just accept it and move on with our daily lives. I think is very interesting how James was able to write a good story that captures well this shift in society.

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Understanding Telegraph Girl

Throughout In the Cage, Henry James drops hints at telegraph girl’s past and family life and it’s easy to see how her past makes her who she is currently. Before I talk about that I want to mention that in class we discussed how this book is written in third person limited, which means it is narrated by an outside voice but it also focalized on telegraph girl. This brings me to my point that with this style of writing, we are able to understand her thoughts and feelings while also observing her from a distance.

“This was neither more nor less than the queer extension of her experience, the double life that, in the cage, she grew at last to lead. As the weeks went on there she lived more and more into the world of whiffs and glimpses, and found her divinations work faster and stretch further” (129)

I thought this was one of the many examples that shows that the narrator knows what is going on with telegraph girl. I think this is a very interesting way to write. Not only are the sentences hard to read but then there is another level of interpreting criticisms that are made about her.

My next point has to deal with Henry James’ writing, but in a sense that he periodically drops small details about telegraph girls’ past and that he sneaks these bits of information into his long and descriptive paragraphs.

“What twisted the knife in her vitals was the way the profligate rich scattered about them, in extravagant chatter over their extravagant pleasures and sins, an amount of money that would have held the stricken household of her frightened childhood, her poor pinched mother and tormented father and lost brother and starved sister, together for a lifetime. ” (129)

Here he does a great job at not only telling us what telegraph girl is feeling, but also why she feels that way based on her past. From this paragraph we learn that she was very poor growing up. These spots are very helpful for me because it helps me better understand telegraph girl and it helps me make connections with what she says and does in her environment. I like books that have a lot of detail about the main character, not only does it make it easier to understand but also it makes the book more interesting.

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Liquid Modernity

“All that is solid melts into air”- Marshall Berman

I took away a thought from this quote that nothing is set in stone, that ideas are being built off of forever. Ideas have been being built off off for generations, cars, computers, houses, technology,medicine and ideals. People have been putting their spin on peoples ideas forever, and will continue to do so. Everything we know today started from something simple long ago. Take the Telegraph for example, which now today has turned into cell phones we carry around and do things that no one then could have even comprehended of. Starting from a simple tapping of a Telegraph we can now know what the weather is going to be like for a week, or converse with people without even using our mouths. Ideas have also emerged into greater things during our generation, cars that run on corn-based oil and have computers built into them. Nothing is set in stone.

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“It had occurred to her early that in her position-that of a young person spending, in framed and wired confinement, the life of a guinea-pig or a magpie-she should know a great many persons without their recognizing the acquaintance.” (Chapter 1/sentence 1)

Henry James is trying to set up the telegraph girl’s setting and knowledge in the first sentence. We learn this girl is young, spending her time in “wired confinement.” Is she in prison? Where is this young girl? She is living the life of a guinea pig or magpie (bird). So she is like a caged animal. This description begs to infer that she is trying to break free, yet she knew early on that this is what it felt like to be in her position. We know some of her identity, place/setting, and feelings.

The second part leads one to question her exact setting. “She should know a great many persons without their recognizing the acquaintance.” Why is the caged girl involved in knowing so many people? What position is she exactly in that she gets to meet people and not have to have them know her?

This first sentence is arranged so first we know the character, then her setting, and then what she does. Later knowing that she works as a telegraphist the entire sentence makes more sense, but because we don’t in the first sentence, Henry James presents the novella with an air of mystery. Which “In the Cage” turns out to be more of a mystery. We want to learn more about this mysterious young caged girl.

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