The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

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Sample Essay Outlines

Topic #1
Discuss the character of Isabel Archer in relation to Henry James’s portrayal of the American in Europe.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: The Portrait of a Lady exemplifies James’s depiction of the innocent American corrupted and damaged by European influences.

II. Henry James: American and European
A. James’s exposure to and experience in Europe
B. Raw American spirit versus refined European sensibility

III. Isabel Archer
A. The Portrait of a Lady
1. Isabel Archer as an innocent American
2. Exposure to European culture, manners, and traditions
3. Corrupting influences of Europe and Europeans
4. American expatriates in Europe: Osmond and Madame Merle
5. Reactions of Isabel, Mrs. Touchett, and Henrietta to the Europeans
B. James’s portrait of the “lady” abroad
1. Isabel’s tragedy and loss of innocence
2. A loveless marriage: Isabel’s fate in Europe

Topic #2
Discuss the role of women in European society. How does Isabel Archer’s independent spirit reflect her Americanism?

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: Isabel Archer must suppress her own independence and feminist spirit in order to become a European “lady.”

II. A portrait of an early feminist
A. Isabel Archer’s independent spirit and intelligence
B. Differences with the “typical” European “lady” of the time
C. Independence and outspokenness as an alluring trait
1. Ralph Touchett’s love of Isabel
2. Lord Warburton’s “interesting” woman
3. Caspar Goodwood’s American “lady”
D. Madame Merle as the Europeanized American woman

III. Marriage to Osmond
A. Isabel’s attraction to Osmond
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(The entire section is 498 words.)