What is the significance of the word PORTRAIT in the title The Portrait of a Lady?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A portrait is usually an image meant to portray (note the word similarity there) a person is a realistic manner. It can be a photograph but usually refers to a painting, although may also refer to a literary portrait. Even if the image is a realistic representation of a person, it is still from the artist's singular perspective. In James' novel, Isobel Archer is a woman who is observed and judged by many people, but whose main goal is to try and discover her own desires and ultimately be true to herself. She behaves in a socially acceptable way, thinking she is something of a maverick, but it is her desire to appear independent and iconoclastic, as well as to win the approval of others, that leads her to make bad choices in her marriage. The quality of her life is very much affected by how others view her and how she wishes to be viewed; in this way, her story is one of trying to create a suitable image or portrait for the consumption of others. What matters most is her own happiness, but she learns this too late, because she is too concerned about her image, her portrait, and not her inner values and self worth.

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The Portrait of a Lady

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