In the Cage is an 1898 fictional book written by American-British novelist Henry James. Since the book is too short to be considered a full novel and too long to be considered a short story, and because the author chose to provide characterization only for his main protagonists, In the Cage is classified as a novella.
The story focuses on an unnamed lower-middle-class woman who works as a telegraphist at a post office in London. As she is in charge of sending telegrams, she often gets involved in the private lives of the upper-class residents, which is how she meets the young Captain Everard.
Despite being engaged to Mr. Mudge, a well-intentioned grocer, she finds herself being enamored with the pristine, well-spoken, and well-mannered Captain. In the end, after a series of interesting and revealing events, she realizes that hers and the Captain’s love was simply not meant to be, and finally decides to marry the kind and faithful Mr. Mudge.
The title is an interesting element of the book. The main protagonist is a hopeless romantic who works as a postal clerk and reads all of the lunch appointments, dinner dates, vacation schedules, and various affairs of her rich costumers, desperately wishing to be a part of the high society. She feels as if she’s trapped in a cage of monotony and uneventfulness, and she makes up stories about her costumers to amuse herself. Many critics have argued that the main protagonist is a semi auto-portrait of the author himself, mainly because of the similarities between the heroine’s and James’s deductive and story-telling abilities.
As James manages to describe the emotional and mental state of his characters in great detail, many consider In the Cage a psychological book as well. Thus, the author incorporates several socially and psychologically relevant themes such as pride, envy, self-control, acceptance, yearning, ambition, morality, intellect, superiority, love, lies, and infatuation.
In the Cage has received generally positive reviews, and, because of the similarities in the narrative and the imaginative nature of the main protagonists, the novella has often been compared to James’s 1898 horror novel, The Turn of the Screw.
“In the Cage” provides James with the requisite length (about forty-five thousand words) for him to explore as fully as he wants the whole range of emotions that his telegraphist experiences as her life becomes entangled with that of Everard. In the hands of another writer, “In the Cage” might have been a much shorter tale: relatively taut, compact, and efficient. James, however, had a passion for telling it all, and his principal narrative technique was to explore the mind of the protagonist until all—or almost all—had been said.
James’s saturation technique is seen most directly in his presentation of the telegraphist vis-à-vis Everard. That is, she is always the protagonist, but different moments with Everard call for a different persona. Like a chameleon, she manages to become a variety of women while still remaining a telegraphist. In a sense, then, she is an actress who writes her own script—and chooses her own parts.
When Everard first comes to her attention, she is the dazzled, awestruck clerk. Shortly thereafter, once she has recognized his value to her and to her imagination, she becomes the enamored young woman, one of her favored roles. From time to time, while waiting on him, she sees herself as the dreamy, soulful paramour. On occasion, when she fears that her admiration for Everard may be showing on her face, she assumes the role of the poker-faced minion who singles out no patron for special attention. When she strolls by his residence of an evening, she is the lover hungry for even a fleeting glimpse of her beloved. Everard, so taken with himself and his ongoing intrigues, is conscious only of...
(The entire section contains 1026 words.)
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