Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The protagonist of “In the Cage” is a young woman whose identity is never revealed by Henry James, thus reinforcing the very anonymity of her status in life: She works in the post-and-telegraph cage of Cocker’s store in the Mayfair section of West London. From the outset, James makes clear two facts about her personal life. First, she has grown up and still lives in relative poverty. As a consequence, she does not look kindly on the many idle rich who come to Cocker’s day after day to send telegrams.
Second, she is engaged to a grocer named Mr. Mudge. He is a most caring, decent man; he is, however, also dull and pedestrian. She does not encourage him as he sets forth tentative wedding plans. The principal reason for her reluctance to marry has to do with her fascination with the upper-class patrons of Cocker’s. For some time she has carried on a love/hate affair with them—in her mind. She knows that these privileged people are boring and profligate, and often engage in illicit liaisons. Although she has confided to a friend that she sees them as “selfish brutes,” she is driven by a genuine fascination with them. Like many of James’s characters, she is an inquisitive person: She has to know what is going on in their lives. When she waits on them, she sharply scrutinizes them; she carefully listens to their conversations; and she quickly memorizes their telegrams. From these gleanings, her hyperactive imagination is quite capable of...
(The entire section is 1051 words.)
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