Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 637
“The Pupil” is a short story written by famed novelist Henry James, first published in 1891 in Longman’s Magazine. It follows the story of a broke Oxford and Yale student, Pemberton, who agrees to tutor a rich American family’s son, in order to make money to continue his studies. As time goes by, Pemberton and Morgan become very close to each other.
Against every interest he (Pemberton) had attached himself. They would have to meet things together. Before they went home that evening at Nice the boy had said, clinging to his arm:
“Well, at any rate you’ll hang on to the last.”
“To the last?”
“Till you’re fairly beaten.”
“You ought to be fairly beaten!” cried the young man, drawing him closer.
Some critics and readers argue that this relationship might be homosexual in nature, though there are no explicit scenes or any indications of a sexual relationship between Morgan and Pemberton.
“I think he ought to. I make sacrifices for him. Though I’ve heard of those you make I don’t see them.”
Mrs. Moreen stared a moment; then with emotion she grasped her inmate’s hand. “Will you make it — the sacrifice?”
He burst out laughing. “I’ll see. I’ll do what I can. I’ll stay a little longer. Your calculation’s just — I do hate intensely to give him up; I’m fond of him and he thoroughly interests me, in spite of the inconvenience I suffer. You know my situation perfectly. I haven’t a penny in the world and, occupied as you see me with Morgan, am unable to earn money.”
The Moreens have nothing but kind words for their son, and they often praise him; however, typical to his style, James tells us that they tend to neglect their son. Pemberton believes that this might be true, because Morgan is "supernaturally clever."
“He’s a genius—you’ll love him,” she added. “He’s much the most interesting person in the family.” And before he could invent some civility to oppose to this she wound up with: “But we’re all good, you know!”
He could trace perfectly the degrees by which, in proportion as her little son confined himself to his tutor for society, Mrs. Moreen shrewdly forbore to renew his garments. She did nothing that didn’t show, neglected him because he escaped notice, and then, as he illustrated this clever policy, discouraged at home his public appearances.
Ashamed of his family, Morgan told Pemberton to leave this job as soon as he can. Pemberton does, but the Moreens trick him into returning, by telling him that Morgan has become deathly ill.
“How is he? where is he?” he asked of Mrs. Moreen; but before she could speak these questions were answered by the pressure round hid neck of a pair of arms, in shrunken sleeves, which still were perfectly capable of an effusive young foreign squeeze.
“Dreadfully ill—I don’t see it!” the young man cried. And then to Morgan: “Why on earth didn’t you relieve me? Why didn’t you answer my letter?”
When they suggest to Pemberton that he should take Morgan with him, Morgan is ecstatic and excited, but Pemberton hesitates. This takes a big emotional toll on Morgan, and unable to cope with the stressful situation, he dies. This is why many consider “The Pupil” a tragedy as well.
Pemberton saw with equal horror, by Morgan’s own stricken face, that he was beyond their wildest recall. He pulled him half out of his mother’s hands, and for a moment, while they held him together, they looked all their dismay into each other’s eyes, “He couldn’t stand it with his weak organ,” said Pemberton—“the shock, the whole scene, the violent emotion.”