Thesis Statement:

Read Complete Research Material

Thesis Statement:

Although art portrays beauty it may not be the realistic view.

Critical evaluation:

In “The Real Thing” James explores the relationship between life and art, and the conflict between the artist's public and private life. In “The Real Thing,” James tells the story of an unnamed artist who hires two highly polished aristocrats forced to earn their living as models. Major Monarch and his wife contrast with the artist's other models, Miss Churm, a feisty cockney, and Oronte, a low-life Italian. The artist discovers that his lower-class models can transform themselves into aristocrats, whereas the real aristocrats present either a static or a distorted picture of reality. He uses the Monarchs to create a set of illustrations upon which his future depends. An old friend tells him to get rid of the aristocrats because they are ruining his work and jeopardizing his career. The artist, however, respects and sympathizes with their plight but eventually has to dismiss them.

In “The Real Thing,” James explores not only the relationship between art and life but also the human dilemma of an artist faced with the conflict of saving his career or upholding his responsibility to two people with whom he sympathizes. The story is built on a series of finely balanced contrasts. The Monarchs are pure aristocrats. The artist thinks that they have come to sit for a portrait, but they have come to be hired as models. The Monarchs are aristocrats, yet they cannot model aristocrats, whereas Miss Churm and Oronte are commoners who can easily transform themselves into gentry. Ironically, the Englishwoman models for Italian types, while the Italian model does Englishmen. The servant-class models start out waiting on the Monarchs, but later the Monarchs wait on the servants. Thus, class distinctions are reversed. The artist wants to paint artistic portraits for which the aristocratic Monarchs are suitable, yet he devotes himself to commercial illustrations, using a working woman who can impersonate an empress. The aristocrats display themselves like slaves at an auction, whereas the servants do their job without auditioning. The lower-class models are professionals; the aristocrats are amateurs. (Graham, 54)

The artist friend is supposedly a good judge of models, but he is a second-rate painter. The greatest irony of all is that people who have no sense of self can become transformed into commercial art, while people holding on to their identity, their own clothes, and their own manners become too photographic, too typical, and too much the real thing. Although the artist must rid himself of the two aristocrats, his experience with them has moved him more deeply than his work with the professional models. The story is a gem of balance and contrast that transforms an aesthetic dilemma into an ethical one and explores the relationship of art to life, servant to master, self to role, portraiture to illustration, and commercial art to lived experience. “The Real Thing” is an often-anthologized story and a perfect illustration of James's craft in the anecdote or traditional short story. (Heldreth, 76)

Themes and ...
Related Ads