Themes

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Europe's Allure to Americans

James is interested in the ways in which Americans picture Europe and European culture, the way wealthy Americans' trips to Europe function, and what all of this says about Americans. While "Europe" only gives us small glimpses of Jane's trip to Europe and Mrs. Rimmle's trip lies in the distant past, we see Europe positioned as a place that reinvigorates those who go there. Abroad in Europe, Jane becomes notably flirtatious. With Europe positioned this way, we can also understand Mrs. Rimmle's health "crises" preventing her daughters from visiting Europe as symbolic of the ways in which they task themselves with caring for her, never experiencing freedom in the way that Jane eventually does.

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Supporting an Aging Family Member

Mrs. Rimmle's health is tied to her aging, and it constantly prevents family trips to Europe. However, Mrs. Rimmle seems almost to have stopped aging, and her daughters (other than Jane) seem to age past her. This suggests that the adverse effects of her aging land more on them than on her. Caring for Mrs. Rimmle prevents the sisters from living their own lives and from experiencing Europe (and the transformation it brings), while she has already been to Europe.

Forced Female Servility

Throughout the story, we see various ways that mother–daughter relationships play out. Jane occupies a classic position of an independent, liberated woman: leaving her mother, going to Europe, and engaging in flirtatious activities there. Becky and Maria, on the other hand, are so tied down by caring for their mother that this seems to be the cause of Becky's death and puts Maria on the same path. Through a feminist lens, this could be seen as an example of the way in which women are expected to define themselves through familial relationships and to prioritize their family at all costs, no matter the detriment to their own lives and ability to pursue their desires. It is notable that, after Jane gives up this obligation, Mrs. Rimmle dismisses her as being dead, despite the fact that she is simply traveling in Europe.

Themes and Meanings

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Throughout his career Henry James was obsessed with the American experience of Europe; his aptly named short story “Europe” is one of many of his works that take this subject as its major theme. For James, the American response to the social and cultural milieu of Europe is a complex one that usually functions to effect irrevocable changes in the Americans who choose to experience this kind of transformation. To James, Europe often represents a world of greater sophistication, deception, and subtlety for Americans who venture to enter its complex, ambiguous web of social relationships. His characters are generally unprepared for the multilayered reality that they encounter in a European setting.

In “Europe,” however, James concentrates on characters who remain in the United States, although Europe still functions symbolically in ways similar to his other fiction. The Rimmle daughters clearly represent what James sees as the major American virtues and defects. They are naïve, puritanical, provincial, and painfully sincere, and, with the exception of Jane, are destined to retain these characteristics because they are denied access to European experience. Jane, on the other hand, reveals her readiness for a personal metamorphosis when she departs hurriedly...

(The entire section contains 836 words.)

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