“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts”, if you believe this, then you will agree with Madame Merle’s standpoint in Portrait of a Lady written by Henry James. Madame Merle argues that you should judge a book by its cover and contents, establishing that the outer “shell” is as equally important as the inner shell. While speaking metaphorically and literally, Madame Merle’s view has the greater validity for a cluster of reasons involving factual evidence and the bare reason of age and wisdom.
As Aesop once said “Outside show is a poor substitute for inner worth”, but it’s a start. Although the outside isn’t always accurate, it’s an opening to a person’s likes, social class, or even mood. Have you ever taken the time to wonder why people don’t walk around in the nude? For starters, how would one be distinguished from another? How would those over glances made in first impressions actually impress anyone? Clothes make the man; naked people have little or no influence on society.
There is no way one can “express” their self without physical material. Don’t get me wrong, I believe Isabels’s point of argument that your feelings, thoughts and ideals are the more relevant way of depicting one another, but on the other hand, how would you begin to do so if there isn’t an initial conversation piece, or material object to discuss right off the back? To concur with Madame Merle, a person is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has.
This does not mean that the “outer shell” should be completely overlooked though. In one way or another we are all influenced by our society, in turn, this phenomenon amplifies the “self”, according to Madame Merle. To comply with Madame Merle’s theory, appearance is merely appearance, or the way something looks or seems to be, however, there is a connection between the exterior and interior components. The outer constituents are a window, if you will, to the inner elements. Therefore, Madame Merle has a sounder position.
In my experience, I walk into a store and pick out the apparel that “best suits” my disposition. It suits me because I’m the one deciding what is wearable and what should be shoved far back on the rack. Meanwhile, I have just made an expression for myself.. These things are the things that I choose to make me unique, fashionable, or simply put, turn heads. Even though I would like to believe that my outer appearance in no way reflects the way I am, it has been embedded in my head that it is in direct reciprocal relation that I am expressing myself, making myself.
Of course, I can utterly throw a person off by one day dressing like a clean-cut individual ready for success, and the next, dressing like a punk kid out to cause mayhem, but from day to day, I’m still the same person, regardless of the appendages on my body. While proving that these things are all expressive of the self, I have also proved Madame Merle’s observation of the two deciding factors of a person. Throughout the conflict, Isabel Archer and Madame Merle go back and forth between their ideas of what the “self” consists of.
Madame Merle has the stronger outlook between the two because she simply has a sturdier base. For instance, she verifies that no man or woman is isolated, they expand into a twofold of outer and inner divisions. The outer, which consists of belongings, appearance, and even the books one chooses to read, is what is taken into consideration upon first impressions – this is what forms stereotypes. In correlation, everyone also has an inner chapter, which of course as known by most is the more substantial “self” for the artless reason of definite characterizing by internal traits.
However, as opposed to Madame Merle, Isabel believes with all her might that this is the only subject at hand when discussing and interpreting the self. Understood as the most relevant factor to pose a judgment on, it is not the realistic approach to determining what each person consists of. This is why Isabel maintains that the “things” that Madame Merle speaks of should be considered irrelevant to the cause of what constitutes the self. By solely reading this paper, would you be able to interpret a picture of me in your head?
Or even tell if I was a male or a female? No, you wouldn’t, but I still expressed my ideals, or my inner self. If I drove an ’87 Firebird, would you think any differently of me rather if I drove a 2003 Cadillac Escalade truck? Maybe you would perceive me as a person that enjoys taking my rides in a classic sport’s car over an embellished truck, or maybe you would see me as a more carefree kind of person as opposed to one that is uptight about looking stylish in what I drive.
The point is, you still discerned me a certain way from the beginning and based on your opinion on that. Now what does a car have to do with the self? Isn’t it a means of expression? Didn’t you just form your speculation of me by means of my material belongings? Most chances are you did. And you just agreed with Madame Merle’s side of the argument and realized the magnitude of validity when held against Isabel Archer.