Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Portrait of Jennie Analysis - Essay

Robert Nathan

Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Portrait of Jennie Analysis

The novel’s strong fantasy element rests upon Jennie as a character, who in a few months is transformed from a charming, delicate child into a beautiful young woman. She replaces the realism of the other characters with a romantic fantasy that suggests that time can be transcended through an effort of will. Eben comes to believe Jennie when she tells him that she is trying to grow up. He sees her at intervals of weeks or months, but her experiences during the gaps have taken years, and her changed appearance establishes as much. Her poignant loss reminds readers that such an idyllic love cannot last.

Jennie’s sylphlike character contrasts with numerous other finely etched realistic characters in the novel. Both Mr. Mathews and Miss Spinney are warmly human and eager to do a good turn to impoverished artists, but both possess crusty exteriors. Gus Meyer, the taxi driver, exudes good will and is streetwise. Arne Kunstler is vehement, contradictory, and energetic, a mad artist who is kept from going over the edge by his links with nature and the sea.

Eben’s love of Jennie sheds light on the other important theme of the novel—that of art itself—and the story suggests that even lost love creates a lasting imprint. Unlike his friend Arne, who believes that art is for the masses, Eben has no theory of art except as an external expression of the artist’s emotions. While Arne’s ideal is a popular appeal, he paints works so far removed...

(The entire section is 570 words.)