What is the Interrelation of Action and Reflection in Modern Literature, especially relating to Ernest Hemmingway and Henry James?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The difference between Action and Literary Reflection in a literary work is that Action describes what the character does throughout the narrative in a story, while Literary Reflection describes the moment in the narrative when the character discovers his faults and changes his/her actions. Frequently the character will have this moment of revelation at the climax of the story. Action and Literary Reflection in a story are interrelated because often times action will lead to the moment of reflection, or action will stem from the moment of reflection.

We can use Ernest Hemingway's book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, as a good example of Literary Reflection. The protagonist of the story, Robert Jordan, leaves his job as a university professor and volunteers to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. However, as the action progresses, Jordan figures out that he does not actually support the Republican cause, he only joined because he loathes Fascism. However, this moment of self-reflection does not necessarily change how he participates in the war. Jordan continues fighting against the Fascists. This moment of self-reflection is an excellent example of Literary Reflection that stems from action in the story, but does not alter it.

In contrast, the protagonist in Henry James' book, The Ambassadors, has a moment of self-reflection that does completely alter the protagonist's actions. The protagonist, Lewis Lambert Strether, a U.S, ambassador in Paris, is a small town American who changes from being puritanical and closed minded to being broad minded and cosmopolitan. At the beginning of the story he acts without any confidence and by the end, he learns to trust himself and sees that his priorities have been wrong. However, despite this total transformation in character, he decides to leave Paris because he is too old to give up his small-town life.

If one were to write a paper comparing the interrelation of Action and Literary Reflection in these two books, one could compare how one character's moment of self-reflection does not lead to a change in action, while the other character's moment does


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