Portrait Of A Lady
It is an unquestionable fact of life that human nature is flawed. Human beings
have a variety of weaknesses that may differ from one person to the next. How
one deals with this ultimately determines whether it will or will not destroy
the person. The faults that humans possess stem from an open field of
possibilities that they are able to choose from as they build their own
character. However, as much as individual free will is desirable, as all other
parts of the natural world, it can include negative aspects, as well. Probably,
the most difficult element is being able to make good choices, keeping in mind
what Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Freedom is not worth having if it does not
connote freedom to err." Once a state of freedom is attained, all of its
sides are encompassed. This essential human cycle of freedom has progressed
along with the changing times, views, and values in society. It is depicted by
many authors in countless novels. Henry James\' perception accurately describes
the shifts that occurred in society during the late nineteenth century. He uses
colorful characters in his writings to express his opinions on actual
revolutionary outlooks of the time and to comment on human nature. The Portrait
of a Lady is an example of his view on freedom. The quest for personal freedom
destroys Isabel Archer in Henry James\' The Portrait of a Lady. Isabel Archer is
introduced instantly, in the novel, as a woman with strong and uncompromising
convictions. The first glimpse of Isabel shows that she is "quite
independent" (James 27). This early description sets expectations for her
character. When Isabel herself appears on the lawn of Gardencourt, where she is
met by the family she has never known, she strikes Ralph as having "a great
deal of confidence, both in herself and in others" (James 31). Isabel\'s
charisma could be felt by people that were strangers to her. Her attitude and
stubborn personality shine through and can be visible in everything she does. A
little later at Gardencourt, Isabel is appalled at the very idea of being
considered "a candidate for adoption" after her aunt takes her away
from her home where she had no parents: "I\'m very fond of my liberty,"
she says (James 35). Clearly, Isabel is not afraid to let others know how she
feels, no matter how disagreeable her views may be. One such subject is liberty,
which means to know everything, including all the possibilities ahead in order
to choose freely, confidently, responsibly; as when she tells her aunt that she
always likes to know the things one shouldn\'t do, "so as to choose"
(James 86). Such frank language is what makes Isabel who she is, a person who
takes risks, often thoughtlessly. Unsurprisingly, Isabel reveals she is afraid
of becoming "a mere sheep in the flock" because she wants to be the
sole free master of her own fate (James 182-183). In other words, Isabel
declines to be anybody\'s puppet. Choosing the direction that her life heads is
only her decision, even when she cannot make that choice skillfully. Although

Isabel cherishes it, her independence is not necessarily always best for her.

With the passing of time at Gardencourt, Isabel Archer reveals more of her
headstrong qualities. Her uncle\'s passing allows her to reveal this. When

Isabel\'s uncle dies, he gives the humble, yet sharp, girl a large amount of
money which changes her life. Isabel\'s newly acquired fortune brings her an
enlarged freedom, however problematic. Consequently, Isabel believes that she is
now freer than ever before. However, she is scared of the burden of tremendous
responsibility involved in complete, unquestionable freedom. She is free- she
thinks- to choose her own fate. And so she believes she does when she fulfills
her "one ambition- to be free to follow out a good feeling" (James

374). The heroine follows this principle of freedom throughout the rest of the
novel. Constant anxiety surrounds Isabel about the use she would ever make of
her freedom, which she never doubts or questions. By accepting the consequences
her free acts, Isabel is satisfied by doing herself the justice of always being
considerate of herself. "She has chosen with the sense that the ordinary
benefits of life are not likely to satisfy her, and her major acts [will be]
refusals to accept the ordinary" (O\'Neill 39). Keeping this in mind, Isabel
proceeds throughout the novel with this single ideal. Still, when Isabel becomes
really free to make a decision on her own, she is afraid.