Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 312

“The Real Thing” is an account of an artist’s inability to realistically recreate the image of two models, Major and Mrs. Monarch. The title, “The Real Thing”, reveals one of the major concepts presented in the story; the idea that there is a pronounced discrepancy between what is actually real and what is merely a facade created by the characters. The theme presented is that people often hide their true selves in an attempt to portray a certain image to the outside world.

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The first example of this is that the artist is essentially leading a double life. One as “a great painter of portraits.” The other as a simple illustrator” for magazines, for story-books, for sketches of contemporary life.” The first occupation is one of respectability and pride, but the second occupation is a source of embarrassment, hidden from many individuals. In the end, the artist’s simple illustrations seem to have caused damage to his career as a painter.

The second instance of a hidden existence is with the Monarchs. This couple prudently visits the artist, in order to attempt careers as models, in hopes a recouping some of their lost money. They meet him in an almost secret manner, and it is clear that “they evidently wished to be discreet—to take care not to swagger because they were gentlefolks.” Because of their previous place in society as a gentleman and a lady, they are embarrassed to appear desperate and want to remain as concealed as possible.

In both of these examples, the characters are hiding “the real thing” from the rest of the world. The artist and the Monarchs create a false existence as a prominent artist and a high-class couple, but all the while they are living lives of embarrassment and poverty. In the end, the character inability to connect with reality harm them all greatly.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 239

Published a few years before the great novels of James’s so-called late style, characterized by rhetorical complexity, “The Real Thing” is interesting as an example of its author’s successful use of the “popular” style to convey the more serious meanings already discussed.

The story moves quickly, gracefully, with an elegant, precise prose recalling the sparkle of James’s earlier works such as Daisy Miller (1879) and The Portrait of a Lady (1881). The first-person narration is successful in establishing a central point of view—James’s trademark—while maintaining the lively, spontaneous tone. Additionally, by allowing the artist to speak for himself, James brings his dilemma into sharper focus, making it a personal drama rather than a dry monologue or a mere critique of aesthetic theory disguised as a story. The artist’s personality is keenly felt—his wit, his compassion, even his delusion of someday capturing the real thing.

Finally, and characteristically, the story is marked by an intriguing use of names, an almost Dickensian exuberance and unabashed simplicity. The name “Monarch” is obviously suggestive. So, too, is the grossly discordant “Churm” and the shallow flashiness of “Oronte.” The name of the artist’s friend, Claude Rivet, suggests the iron-bound commercialism by which the Monarchs are judged. Even the title of the novel for which the artist is providing...

(The entire section contains 784 words.)

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