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Themes

In this day and age, we may think we know all too well what constitutes the American character. However, in the 1870s, America was a mere baby of a nation at one hundred years, and its citizens were still something of a mystery to the old world (Europe). Likewise, Europe was a fascinating conundrum to the enterprising American traveler. In Portrait of a Lady, we see a clash of American and European values, along with an ambiguous space in between – what do we do with problematic characters who are both American and European?

Questions About Contrasting Regions

  1. Madame Merle comments that Americans in Europe are like parasites, unwanted and homeless – does she herself prove this point?
  2. How will Henrietta settle into life as an expatriate in England?
  3. Is Ralph English or American?
  4. Does Isabel hold on to her identity as an American throughout the novel?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The ideals of the new world, represented by Isabel, Henrietta, and Caspar Goodwood, are incomprehensible to the European old world.

England and America can never truly be reconciled to each other.

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