The Death of the Heart

by Elizabeth Bowen

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In The Death of the Heart, how has Portia's history led to her unsocialization?

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In The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen, Portia's history has led to a lack of social skills because she has spent much of her life traveling with her parents, who are outcasts from upper-class society due to the scandal of their relationship. Portia has never spent much time in any one place, and she does not know how to make connections with others or read their actions.

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At the beginning of Elizabeth Bowen's novel The Death of the Heart, Portia is only sixteen years old. Her mother has recently died, leaving Portia an orphan, and the girl moves in with her half-brother, Thomas, and his wife, Anna. Thomas and Anna are members of the upper class, and Portia definitely does not fit into their social world.

This disconnect arises from Portia's past. Her father was married to another woman when her mother became pregnant with Portia. He divorced his wife and married Portia's mother, but the couple was cast out of wealthy society for their scandalous actions. Portia spends her childhood traveling across Europe with her parents. She does not get to know her extended family, and she is seldom in one place for very long. Her family is always on the move, and she rarely makes connections with anyone. She, therefore, has little to no idea how to handle the genteel society of her brother and sister-in-law. Portia lacks social skills, is awkward, and possesses a surprising innocence that often makes her unable to read the clues that point to the real meanings of other people's actions. Portia longs for love and connection but continually fails to find them. Her experiences and ideas are just too different from those of everyone around her.

Portia's lack of socialization leads her to misread Eddie's flirting, and Portia is badly hurt by his rejection. The novel ends without resolution, and readers never discover if Portia is able to adjust to her new life or not.

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