Henry James' The Europeans Essay

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In his novel The Europeans, Henry James tells the story of an American family that is visited by their European cousins. James uses these circumstances to depict the differences between Europeans and Americans. The Americans tend to be frightened of the Europeans, since they seem quite foreign within the puritanical American community. On the other hand, the Europeans are surprised by the Americans' provincial ways. Reaction to the unfamiliar is a central element of the novel. Each character's reaction to the unfamiliar reveals his or her personality and also determines whom that character is capable of tolerating and of loving. Felix, one of the European cousins, and Gertrude, the younger daughter of the American family, both…show more content…
It is during this fantasy that Gertrude first meets Felix. Felix is as open to the unknown as Gertrude, having traveled around in Europe because he could never stay in one place. He also changes quickly; instead of thinking of tradition he adapts to whatever culture is around him: "Felix, who learned all things quickly, had already learned that the silences frequently observed among his new acquaintances were not necessarily restrictive or resentful"(34). Gertrude and Felix are both outgoing and do not have a strong sense of tradition and duty because they would rather change atmospheres than be bound by the one they presently live in. However, others in the novel do not welcome variation in their lives as do Gertrude and Felix. Charlotte and Mr. Brand are both vehemently opposed to change. They like to uphold tradition, and would rather keep their lives calm than take a risk. Charlotte is always concerned with duty, and thus takes this attitude when her foreign cousins come to visit. James depicts the situation: It was an extension of duty, of the exercise of the more recondite virtues; but neither Mr. Wentworth, nor Charlotte, not Mr. Brand, who, among these excellent people, was a great promoter of reflection and aspiration, frankly adverted to it as an extension of enjoyment. This function was ultimately assumed by Gertrude Wentworth (37). Mr. Brand shares this opinion of
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