Challenging the Identity of the Family in What Maisie Knew by Henry James

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Challenging the Identity of the Family in What Maisie Knew

Although Henry James did not confine himself exclusively to the scope of literary themes facing America, in his novel What Maisie Knew, he did challenge the changing identity of the modern family. At the turn of the century, the dynamics of the family institution became an important theme in
American literature due to such issues as the increased social mobility of the industrial age, the new emerging independence of women, and a modern view that lent itself to challenging tradition. For many of James' contemporaries, Edith Wharton, for example, a colleague and friend of James, this theme became the focus of works like "The Other Two." In this work,
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She chooses, however, not to incorporate these aspects into her own person. Instead, she realizes early that she has an influence on her own future. She begins to develop what she wants and how to pursue it. Playing the role of the innocent and uncomprehending child, Maisie consistently reveals that she has much more knowledge and control of her situation than a child is expected to have. She may not entirely understand the motives and the wants of those around her but she understands her own desire. This becomes evident to the reader from a number of sources. We are aware of what the narrator specifically explains as Maisie's understanding, we see what is implied from the descriptions of
Maisie's reactions to others, and we realize the expectations and reactions of the adults to Maisie. Most importantly and most revealing to Maisie's knowledge, however, becomes evident in her actions and interactions with the other characters. In these moments, Maisie appears least like a child and appears to know just as much if not more than the other characters. It becomes much more evident through the novel that Maisie is quite aware of her position and she knows that she has a direct impact on the outcome. The narrator explains Maisie's intelligence and her comprehension of her surroundings right

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