Essay on Appearance Vs. Reality

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One of the characteristics of Realism, in American literature at least, is the ironic use of perceptions of “appearance” vs. “reality.” With this in mind, Henry James’s “The Real Thing” and “The Beast in the Jungle” are two works wherein such characteristics can be shown to operate as James employs cleverly woven twists of “appearance” and “reality” in each of the plots.

In James’s “The Real Thing,” the plot is centered on an unnamed artist and his interactions with two sets of models: the Monarchs (members of genteel society), and Miss Churm and Oronte (members of the working class). The ironically named Monarchs are a couple who appear as though they have “ten thousand a year” but whose lives diverge dramatically from the literal
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Monarch.

Miss Churm (a phonetically guttural name that is perhaps a word play on “charm” by the author) is a working class native of London and Oronte is an out-of-work penny ice vendor. James’s introduction of Miss Churm and Oronte to the reader is performed with divergent characterizations of appearance and reality between the two sets of models. While the Monarchs are introduced to the readers in a sterile appearance of “spotless perfection,” and gentility, Miss Churm (a “freckled cockney” who “couldn’t spell and loved beer”) unceremoniously intrudes into the studio. And Oronte’s introduction leads the artist to conclude that “the fellow’s a bankrupt orange-monger …” – a telling comparison from the artist’s first impression of the Monarchs, when he believed them to be sitters. But the success of Miss Churm and Oronte as models of nobility, compared to the analogous failure of the Monarchs, attributes to the most ironic point of departure in James’s characterizations.

The artist’s ability to transform Miss Churm into “everything from a fine lady to a shepherdess,” and the Italian Oronte into an Englishman – compared with his inability to perform the same transformation with the Monarchs – serves as a

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