Davit Leavitt’s “Gravity” from diverse critical perspectives.

David Leavitt’s “Gravity” seen from diverse critical perspectives.


This paper aims to approach Davit Leavitt’s “Gravity” from diverse critical perspectives, namely, Formalism, Structuralism, Marxism, Feminism and Psychoanalytic literary criticism. It is an academic task while it must be born in mind that reading is a versatile and many-layered activity that will never be fully accomplished by means of only one critical perspective but by a kaleidoscopic joint approach encompassing all of them. The story has been chosen from Joyce Carol Oates’ anthology The Oxford Book of American Short Stories because it is a superb example of how literature works: making language non-automatic, condensing in a few pages a universal myth, showing how feelings are translated into material commodities and finally depicting how people struggle to ultimately disembowel their identities, eventually discovering that they are far from the socially accepted canon and in desperate need of any small victory over universal gravity.

A Multi-critical Perspective of David Leavitt’s “Gravity”

For its study the story has been divided into four parts, the two initial paragraphs marked [1] and [2], a central body of mainly dialogue: [3] and the final paragraph: [4].

[1] In the opening of the story the reader is confronted with the choice Theo had to take. A STRUCTURALIST critic who analyses the units of a system and the rules that make that system work will notice the linear syntacmatic sequence of the two possibilities:

  1. a drug that would save his sight


  • a drug that would keep him alive

They are identical but for the last three words in both phrases which imply an opposition though using two verbs with similar meaning: save and keep. A logical analysis concludes that what will save his life will make him ‘not keep’ his sight.  The conflict was resolved by Theo choosing ‘not to go blind’. A FORMALIST critic will notice the antithesis and how the author makes the construction ‘unfamiliar’ by not repeating one of the propositions of the alternative, therefore increasing the difficulty and length of the perception because “the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged” (Shklovsky 18). Considering this same last phrase, a STRUCTURALIST critic will further argue that “not to go blind” is more than just the opposite of “to go blind” or ‘lose his sight’ for as “J. A. Greimas has illustrated with his squaring of the opposition any semiotic system of contrasting elements also imply the negation of each term in the binary” (Felluga, 3), a contradictory pair, which in this case would be “non-to go blind” and “non-not to go blind”. As the “bond between Signifier and Signified is arbitrary” (Sausurre, 79) thus there can exist more than one Signified for each Signifier, leading to multiplicity of meanings. In our case ‘ not to go blind’ meaning not only to retain sight but be able to see- possibly more than just the physical environment eventually grasping the ultimate reason of Theo’s circumstance.

He stopped the pills   

 and started the injections

these required the implantation of an ( ) above his heart

and within a few days

the clouds in his eyes started to clear up                             

he could see again.

A FORMALIST critic echoing Osip Brik would say that the rhythm and stress in Leavitt’s prose (which can be noted throughout the text) “are only the obvious manifestation of particular instances of basic euphonic laws” and that “the figures play an aesthetic role in its own right” (qtd. in Eichembaun, 9).

If we turn to what a PSYCHOANALYTIC critic would have to say, we will immediately highlight the fact that psychoanalytic literary criticism begins with Freud himself who “notices that literary texts are like dreams that express unconscious material in the form of complex displacements and condensations ( ) literature displaces unconscious desires, drives, and motives into imagery that might bear no resemblance to its origin but that nonetheless permits it to achieve release of expression” (Rivkin and Ryan, 125). For Freud, in ‘The Uncanny’, fear for castration takes the form not of a literal image, but of a metaphoric substitute that displaces the protagonist’s anxiety onto a fear of losing his eyes (160) and Theo’s choice can be taken as a flagrant example.

A STRUCTURALIST critic will note then that this opening paragraph refers to the first plot element – fright to lose his sight – as well as points out one basic “mytheme”(Lévi-Strauss, 104) in the laying out of the Oedipus complex-myth which the rest of the story will further develop and which the reader can predict due to Leavitt’s hermeneutic narrative: the reader knows from the beginning that Theo chose to die and for a FORMALIST critic the story will then keep the reader’s interest making him/her want to know how this will happen. The voice we hear is that of a limited omniscient narrator, the FORMALIST critic would also point out: the writer adopting the stance of an impersonal consciousness, itself not an agent in the events of the story but able to observe the thoughts of one of the characters. In our story it first seems to be narrating from Theo’s perspective. But soon we realize it is really Sylvia’s feelings which are put through from inside, while Theo is seen from an outer perspective. It will not be until the last paragraph of the story that we are to deepen in Theo’s thoughts while he is the one who tries to analyse Sylvia’s. The FORMALIST critic will also point out the use of analepsis or flashback taking us back to Theo’s childhood in the third sentence of this first paragraph.  The anecdote depicted presents Sylvia – his mother- for the first time. The Psychoanalytic critic will immediately observe the powerful mother-character shaping the Oedipus complex/myth. The boy does not want to admit he needs glasses and his mother, who gave him birth, who called him Theo (God)  shoves her own harlequin glasses onto his face (in the same impulsive way she will later toss the bowl to him) not caring what people would think because he can finally see.  A FEMINIST critic is bound to note the family-rearing role the story gives to Sylvia as well as her influence in Theo’s personality. Moreover, the same critic will abound in noting that Sylvia has suffered an inmasculating process taking on her back the task of further protecting her child as well as bringing him up. A FORMALIST reading of the last phrase of the paragraph: ‘he could see’ will highlight that it is a sort of antistrophe taking us back to the previous ‘he could see (again)’ and further clarifying it: Theo had been deprived of sight in an earlier stage of his life and it had been his mother who had given him sight. Thus the ultimate purpose of the analepsis is to let the reader know how it had been the same when Theo was twelve: his mother protecting him – enhancing his sight.  A PHYCHOANALITIC critic would argue that Theo had not been able to acquire his gender identity, not learning to give up his mother and identify with his father. It can be noted again how the idea of fear of castration takes the form of fear of losing his sight. Immediately a FEMINIST critic would point out that Sylvia feels it is her duty to deprive herself of her own sight during the projection of the film in order to allow her son to watch it. 


The same idea is further outlined in the second paragraph which starts: ‘Because he was dying again, Theo moved back to his mother’s house in New Jersey.’ A FORMALIST critic will point out the paradox of the situation. Cleanth Brooks explained in “The Language of Paradox” that paradox is the appropriate language of literature (58). The writer gives us a blurred impression that by helping him regain his sight once more Sylvia is provoking his death as well. And that is quite so. Paradox, though not a direct method, is the best to depict multiple implications. Sylvia will be his nurse because having had already gone through her own mother’s death she is fit to accomplish the same task with her son. Once more the FEMINIST critic will note the further female role of caring and seeing through her parent’s death in patriarchal society. The pipe stuck in his chest is the ‘constant reminder of how wide and unswimmable the gulf was becoming between him and the ever-receding shoreline of the well’. A FORMALIST criticism will justify the various metaphors and the subsequent contrast as a means to bring the reader to the conclusion that Theo is definitely dying and that realizes it. Immediately the contrast: Sylvia is cheerful – intricately though.  She takes him to the library and the museum and shields him when his thinness and cane draw stares. A PHYCOANALISTIC critic will continue composing the image of castrated youth, and a STRUCTURALIST critic will see as well in Theo’s use of a cane, another mytheme, one more constituent unit of the Oedipus myth that normally is associated with the unsteady walking when deprived of sight.


The central part of the story confronts the reader -the FORMALIST critic will notice- with another strange collocation of words in the first sentence: “they were shopping for revenge”. The skillful use of foil here is a crucial part of the writer’s repertoire. Setting things in systematic contrast to each other is one way of drawing intense attention to details the writer refuses to spell out because spelling things out would dilute the flow of events. A STRUCTURALIST critic will argue on his side, following Sausurre that because language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of the others, the reader must stop and think in all the weak meanings ‘shopping for revenge’ arises. But the most emblematic analysis could come from a MARXIST critic who will logically conclude that shopping refers to the act of acquiring a commodity, which by definition is “an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another” (Marx, 268). For Sylvia this want is ‘revenge’ and the MARXIST critic will further claim that as the utility of a thing makes it a use-value, therefore, the commodity to be bought by Sylvia will have a high use-value because revenge –for Sylvia- is very useful.

To Sylvia’s phrase “Ah, you live an learn” Theo replies ironically: “You live” The use of irony here will lead the PSYCHOANALISTIC critic to the conclusion that it is a symptom of Theo’s blaming his mother for his dying, and the fact that he makes her see him through his last days is a punishment.

Sylvia reminds Theo how Bibi had given him a ‘cheap little nothing’ for his graduation and, on his side,  Theo comments on his giving as a wedding present to his roommate Nick a five-dollar garlic press which  reflected exactly how much he felt his friendship was worth at that moment. The MARXIST critic will note the use, once and again, of commodities to express feelings. The interesting part of the question it poses is how people get to permeate commodities with such abstract characteristics. The analysis of both MARXIST and PSYCHOANALISTIC criticism come to be very close regarding this matter. “According to Lacan, it was none other than Karl Marx who invented the notion of symptom” (Zizek, 312). There is no doubt a fundamental homology between the interpretative procedure of Marx and Freud.  As Slkavoj Zizek puts it in The Sublime Object of Ideology “we must accomplish the crucial step of conceiving the hidden “meaning” behind the commodity-form, the signification “expressed” by this form; we must penetrate the “secret” of the value of commodities” (313). Sylvia had been looking a long time for “something heavy enough to leave an impression, yet so fragile it could make you sorry” and she found it materialized in a bowl worth four hundred and twenty-five dollars. What mattered least was if it was beautiful or ugly, that was not the case. Both the MARXIST and the PSYCHOANALYTIC critics will hint the “Fetishism” (Marx, 271) attached to the bowl.  While the latter will explain it as a part of a process of exorcism, the former will realize that “there is a definite social relation between men that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things” (Marx, 271).  Hence the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life and interacting in the world of commodities with the products of the men’s hands. And that Marx called “Fetishism”.

But it is not enough that Theo sees the bowl, he has to feel it – Sylvia suddenly argues -and unexpectedly tosses it to Theo like a football. She effects the sudden movement in the same manner twelve years before she had shoved her glasses onto his face. Her action obliges Theo to catch it and though it sinks his hands and makes his cane rattle in the floor, he succeeds in catching it. Our STRUCTURALIST critic is bound to find coherent that following the rules of the Oedipus myth, Sylvia, helping him not to go blind, is showing him with her action he can oppose gravity, that universal force. No need anymore for a cane that can be left, if even for a moment, rattling on the floor. That sole instant will prove the PSYCHONALYSTIC critic that unconscious forces can be defied; a person may defeat the psychic censorship if given the opportunity of “activating the repressed wishful impulse sending it into consciousness in a disguised and unrecognizable substitute”. (Baker).


A FEMINIST analysis of this last part of the story will notice how Sylvia is depicted through a number of characteristics that “phallocentric order” (Mulvey, 586) traditionally have awarded women with.  Sylvia “squeezed her eyes shut so tight the blue shadows on her lids cracked”; furthermore “on the surface things seemed right. She still broiled herself a skinned chicken breast for dinner every night, still swam a mile and a half a day, still kept used teabags wrapped in foil in the refrigerator”. Everything is right because Sylvia continues embarking herself in all the activities patriarchy has imposed women in order to give pleasure when looked at.  Laura Mulvey noted in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”: “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female” (589). A woman has, therefore, to be a passive image of visual perfection. It is basically what a MARXIST critic would call keeping the use-value of women and what one of  Lévi-Strauss’ theories would explain: “as the exchange of women is a fundamental principle of kinship, the subordination of women can be seen as a product of the relationships by which sex and gender are organized and produced” (qtd. in Rubin, 544).

The FORMALIST critic, on his end, would mark the use of the hyperbole for emphasis in “she squeezed her eyes shut so tight the blue shadow of her lids cracked” as well as the metaphor in “that gleam of flight and regret” when referring to the bowl which is so oblique it can only be wholly understood if referred back to “so fragile it could make you sorry” at the end of part [3].

Theo in a last and perfect state of clarividence understands that his mother was trusting “his two feeble hands, out of the whole world, to keep it from shattering. ‘What was she trying to test? Was it his newly regained vision? (.) that he hadn’t slipped past all her caring, a little lost boy in rhinestone-studded glasses?” A PSYCHOANALISTIC critic would argue that Leavitt has made his character act himself as a psychoanalist, wondering about both Sylvia and himself and there mutual close relationship, until he finally experiences an epiphanic instant which a FORMALIST critic would argue qualifies him as a dynamic character undergoing a radical change in his self-identification. The epiphany is in the closing of the story when Theo recalls the broad smile of his mother and he realizes that in that war, they were both engaged in, between heaviness and shattering, “he had helped her win some small but sustaining victory”. Our STRUCTURALIST critic would mark, once again, the use of foil but this time in an oblique and subverting way contrasting, as in the two sides of a war, heaviness and shattering when really one is but the consequence of the other. On his end the FORMALIST critic would claim that foils offer the writer interested in psychological or social realism a way of maintaining the illusion of reality while at the same time the crucial distinction between art and life is not lost, achieving as a result a much clearer situation in literature than what can be experienced in real life.

To conclude this multi-perspective literary criticism, we can turn to the FEMINIST criticism once more: Sylvia exercises the power the myths of sexism make available to her, and pushes Theo to oppose gravity, but that power is minimal because it only is the power of inducement. It is her son/male who really executes the action. The merit is his; Sylvia – the female- being just a tool, an object by which Theo- the dominant male- achieves victories. 

“Gravity”, as any other narrative, has as many readings as readers it may attract, and therefore, as many critical perspectives as existing theories can be drawn to discussion. In any case what cannot be denied is that it is a powerful and disturbing narrative that brings to surface many present questionings including such a delicate case as ‘AIDS’ which is only implied throughout the story but nonetheless very present.


Baker, Lyman A. “One of Freud’s Analogies for Explaining the Idea of Repression”

Critical Concepts. 30 April, 2000. Kansas State University. May 2, 2003. http://www.ksu.edu/english/baker/english251/cc-repression2.htm

Brooks, Cleanth. “The Language of Paradox” Rivkin and Ryan, 58-68.

Eichembaum, Boris. “Introduction to the Formal Method”  Rivkin and Ryan, 17-23.

Felluga, Dino. “Applications of Narratology”.  Introductory Guide to Critical Theory.

            April 22, 2003. Purdue University.  May 10, 2003


Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny” (1919). Rivkin and Ryan, 76-90.

Leavitt, David. “Gravity” (1990). The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Oxford

            New York: Oxford University Press. 1994. 741-745.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. “The Structural Study of Myth”  Rivkin and Ryan., 101-118.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” Rivkin and Ryan, 585-595.

Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Blackwell. 1998.

Sausurre, Ferdinand de. “Course in General Linguistics”  Rivkin and Ryan,  76-90.

Shklovsky, Victor. “Art as Technique”  Rivkin and Ryan, 17-23.

Zizek, Slavoj. ”The Sublime Object of Ideology”  Rivkin and Ryan, 312-325.


Implicitness in American Short Stories -(Oxford Collection, Joyce Carol Oates selection) by Myriam M. Mercader.


This work studies a selection of Joyce Carol Oates’ anthology The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. The aim is to analyse the grade of implicitness present in American short stories throughout the last three centuries. Grice’s Relevance Theory and Bonheim’s Narrative Modes and Techniques of the Short Story have been taken as framework for the research.

 The meaning of a piece of literature is more than often not an obvious matter. It may lie hidden entwined in the characters thoughts for the reader to detect or it may be just awareness on part of the reader at a certain moment in the story, many times at the very end. This study focuses on these hidden elements that affect intrinsic meaning, what linguists call “implicatures”.  

Implicitness in Short American Narrative


On analysing Joyce Carol Oates’ The Oxford Book of American Short Stories as the base for our study we encounter an outstanding selection of some of the best and paradoxically least known American short stories. It was indeed, the author’s intention to gather them in a collection, finding unfair that many such an interesting story should remain practically unknown to the general public. Joyce Carol Oates acknowledges having chosen the stories bearing in mind storytelling as an art as well as political or social themes rather than literary experimentation. This study will focus on the implicit ways these themes are conveyed.

 Part I of this work is a foreword on the elements considered important in the analysis of implicitness, in other words concepts relevant to our study such as implicature, explicature or narrative modes that have largely puzzled the erudite mind. Part II is entirely dedicated to the study of Implicitness under the umbrella of the distinct narrative modes and of the Relevance Theory. The Conclusion aims to outline the basic trend American short stories have followed since the eighteenth century concerning the grade of implicitness the writers pervade their literature by.

Part I – An approach to relevant terms

Much has been written on Relevance Theory, Implicatures, and Explicatures, but in general all linguists claim that there is a distinction between the explicit content and the implicit import of an utterance. Jim Meyer’s distinction in his article What is Literature? A Definition based on Prototypes is a relevant one to bear in mind:

In pragmatics there is an important distinction between ‘explicatures’ and ‘implicatures’ in understanding the meaning of a text. An explicature is the semantic representation which is present in the linguistic cues of an utterance; an implicature depends on the explicatures (the propositions which are expressed) together with the context.

Jim Meyer makes some interesting quotations from Diane Blakemore’s Understanding utterances:

Speakers do not always intend to communicate a specific set of assumptions: sometimes the speaker’s intentions are less determinate so the hearer is simply encouraged to think along certain lines without necessary coming to any specific conclusion (1992.168).

Every hearer (or reader) is guided and encouraged by the text in the sense that it gives access to contextual assumptions which yield implicatures…A creative hearer is encouraged to take a greater share of the responsibility in the interpretation process, so that the extra effort she invests is rewarded by a wide array of very weak implicatures, which she is encouraged to explore (1992:172).

It is these ‘weak implicatures’ that we intend to analyse as well as the way the writer may violate many of the maxims Grice’s Cooperative Principle suggests as unequivocal to communicate accurately under the four categories. Namely: under Quantity: be as informative as required, do not be more informative than required; under Quality: make your contribution one that is true, do not say what you believe to be false, do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence; under Relation: be relevant; under Manner: be perspicuous (avoid obscurity of expression, avoid ambiguity, be brief and be orderly). 

The violation of these maxims may give place to what Meyer called ‘weak meaning’ or ‘weak implicatures’, meanings which are present but which are less strongly present and that, sometimes, combined with several other weak meanings may provoke in the reader the poetic effect. Meyer also quotes Blakemore on the definition of the poetic effect “the effect of an utterance which achieves most of its relevance through a wide array of weak implicatures” (Blakemore 1992:157). For Meyer then, a prototypical literary work contains many weak implicatures, so that the readers are invited to think of many propositions which are only weakly present.

Two other terms that may deserve a previous word are those of ‘short story’ and ‘narrative modes’. And in a way the latter will help as a tool to understand the former.  It is very difficult to define ‘short story’ most of all when it is still in midst of its development. Ian Reid tell us in The Short Story that we have to start defining ‘story’ and only then continue with ‘short’, afterwards analyse its evolution from the tale and note the impulse Romanticism gave to the genre acknowledging :

..that the short story typically centres on an inward meaning of a crucial event, on sudden momentous intuitions, ‘epiphanies’ in James Joyce’s sense of that word; by virtue of its brevity and delicacy it can, for example, single out with special precision those occasions when an individual is most alert or most alone (1982:28).

Reid also points out in his fifth chapter the ‘essential qualities’ of a short story, namely: unity of impression, moment of crisis, and symmetry of design and, what is more, questions their essentiality. It is not our intention to go into depth on these matters, may they interest us as much as they do, but arrive to a close definition which we can bear in mind while carrying out our research. For this matter we find Joyce Carol Oates’ personal definition the most relevant, being hers the selection of stories we are to deepen in:

My personal definition of the form is that it represents a concentration of imagination, and not an expansion, it is no more than 10.000 words; and no matter its mysteries of experimental properties, it achieves a closure- meaning that, when it ends, the attentive reader understands why..[..]..Its resolution need not be a formally articulated statement…[..]..but it signals  a tangible change of some sort; a distinct shift in consciousness, a deepening of insight. (7) [1]

James Joyce, Ian Reid, Joyce Carol Oates, and many others, have realized that it was conflict and the reader’s awareness of it all, no matter if suddenly experienced in an “epiphanic” moment or through pages of swift consciousness, that generated a piece of literature and therefore a short story.

Helmut Bonheim through his analysis of The Techniques of the Short Story  arrived to the conclusion that some narrative modes have been more popular in one age than in another. Bonheim starts his first chapter saying that “Even the shortest of story forms, the anecdote, tends to use all of the chief modes of narrative” (1992:3) which he later defines as description, report, speech and comment. For Bonheim these four modes are “the staple diet of the short story and the novel” (1992:3). But not in all ages the hierarchy of modes has been the same:

“In our age speech stands high in the esteem of most readers. Description is thought boring except in small doses; comment of a particular kind, namely moralistic generalizing, is almost taboo, even where imbedded in speech; and even report is preferred in the dress of, or at least heavily interlarded with, speech.(1992:8)

Society’s tastes during a determined period will be reflected in its literature and the study of short stories will, no doubt, show us the same trend. For Bonheim a short story is:

“an amalgam, usually an unbalanced one, of the four modes : whereas Irving’s story consists of description and comment, these modes may be absent from stories written about a century later, such as Katherine Mansfield’s “Theft”, which contains the other two modes almost exclusively” (1992:14).

Part II – Implicitness in a Selection of the Short Stories in Joyce Carol Oates’ Anthology.

In our days general literature criticism believes that the writer should intrude as little as possible in the reader, what Joseph Warren Beach called “exit author thesis” in The Twentieth Century Novel, Studies in Technique (1932:14), but during the 18th and 19th  century this was not so. The fashion then indicated that the author could be very explicit in his comment and therefore the most popular modes were report and comment.

Following a chronological order in our selection, we first find Rip Van Winkle. Irving’s last sketch of his Sketch Book has hardly got any speech at all – except for the middle part of the story – but a lot of comment, description and report. Irving makes use of a series of pseudonyms which act twofold: as a twinkle to the faithful reader, who will remember his previous publicity campaign, and as a way to give his story authenticity. The story is supposed to have been first told by Rip Van Winkle himself, written by D. Knickerbocker as a true story and finally discovered by Geoffrey Crayon. This introduction may also recall Cervantes’ introduction to Don Quixote where he intends to assure accuracy. The interference of the writer is clear and very characteristic of the time. The story itself starts with a long description of the Kaatskill Mountains and with the author addressing directly the reader: “Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson, must remember the Kaatskill mountains. They are a dismembered branch (……) At the foot of these mountains, the voyager may have descried the light smoke curling up from a village” (18). What further characterises the opening of this story is that the description will not really be relevant to the plot, what would be considered out of place in a modern story. Irving continues his story with a report of Rip’s character and his falling asleep to wake up twenty years later. It is only when he wakes up that the author’s intentions come to surface. Towards the middle of the story, here also helped with speech, Irving reveals that Rip has awakened being part of a Republic and not a subject of the King of England. In his quest for identity, Rip symbolises America’s own quest; his divorce from the past may well be America’s denial of her British past. There are very ‘explicit’ symbols like the sign on the tavern which had been disguised as George Washington, but could still be identified by Rip as “the ruby face of King George, under which he had smoked so many a peaceful pipe” (27) The story ends with one of its many samples of humour and irony: “it is a common wish of all henpecked husband [..] that they might have a quieting draught out of Rip Van Winkle’s flagon”.(32)

William Austin, in his Peter Rugg, The Missing Man, makes use of a similar strategy to put forward his tale as a letter form Jonathan Dunwell of New York to Mr. Herman Krauff and to reassure, therefore, its authenticity. Austin, nevertheless, alternates report with speech and comment making his story much more ‘modern’, although it has also got a lot of explicit symbolism. This old yarn had been long told as a nursery tale and later was forgotten for a long time. Austin like Irving at the end of the story includes a “Further Account of Peter Rugg by Jonathan Dunwell” advocating for its veracity.  Here we find out that after having been running for years to find his home, without being successful because he had defied Nature with his cursing, he arrives to find his house burned and its land auctioned. The story is a parable and as Irving’s has also to do with Time. The Further Account finishes with an “explicit” explanation:

Then spake a voice from the crowd, but whence it came I could not discern. “There is nothing strange here but yourself, Mr. Rugg. Time, which destroys and renews all things, has dilapidated your house, and placed us here. […]..Your home is gone, and you can never have another home in this world.” (61)

Both Irving’s and Austin’s tales are about a subject that has always fascinated men: Time, though the way they make use of it may differ in intention and in form.

The Wives of the Dead follows the same line, starting Hawthorne the story addressing the reader “The following story, the simple and domestic incidents of which may be deemed scarcely worth relating..”(63) It directly starts informing the reader of an incident that though it may seem insignificant it had aroused interest and for some reason or other, and one immediately hopes for the best.  The comment and report on the part of the author will continue all through the story embedded even in descriptions of the sort: “Her sister-in-law was of a lively and irritable temperament, and the first pangs of her sorrow had been expressed by shrieks and passionate lamentation.” (64) The descriptions will leave little to the imagination of the reader and almost no implicit elements will be found throughout the story. On the other hand, it has, as almost all Hawthorne’s stories, a lot of moral content, especially concerning the well-natured sisters-in-law who, believing each to be the only one to have her husband alive, behave so unselfishly as to delay telling the other in order not to make her suffer.  The author is always very present even revealing the thoughts of the characters in the form of direct monologue “My poor sister¡ you will waken too soon from that happy dream,” thought Mary”.(68) What strikes, for the first time in the story to the 21st century reader is the last paragraph which leaves the final outcome open, “Before retiring, she set down the lamp and endeavoured to arrange the bed-clothes, so that the chill air might no do harm to the feverish slumberer. But her hand trembled against Margaret’s neck, a tear also fell upon her cheek, and she suddenly awoke.”(68) This paragraph also supplies an example of “implicature” with this tear that also fell, telling us that in her anxiety the young wife had also wept. We are left to imagine the following development of the scene leading towards the final discovering on the part of both sisters-in-law that the other knew of their husbands being still alive, or, as a more suspicious reader may suspect,  one of two informers could not have told the truth and the story could lead elsewhere had it been written. A final word can be said on the last “she awoke”. Could it not have been Margaret, but Mary? She might as well have been dreaming.

            If we turn to Herman Melville and his The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids, we encounter a prose that sounds much more familiar to the modern reader. To start with the story breaks out with an initial “It” that the reader will not fully understand until the end of the second long paragraph, thus violating one of Grice’s maxims, and making the reader keep on with curiosity: “It lies not far from Temple Bar. Going to it, by the usual way, is…” (70) The reader will also be intrigued about this ‘usual way’ which he is supposed to recognise. The technique was not very much extended in Melville’s time and it violates Grice’s Cooperative Principle maxim “Be perspicuous” The story is full of implicit meaning. It was the beginning of industrialization which, as it stood, was against the incipient democratic principles and Melville denounces it in the story. The two parts of the story represent the two worlds: the wealthy capitalist class that produced nothing and just lived an empty life “of quiet absorption of good living, good drinking, good feeling and good talk” (76) – a men’s world and heaven – embodied by the Bachelors- and the other, the maid’s world and hell which incarnate wooing maids, young girls chained to a machine that dehumanize them and make them as white as the paper they manufacture. With this paper the lawyers will earn their money, bachelors will abuse maids, capitalist will control workers. The way the story is narrated, almost as if it were two different stories, is revolutionary for the time and indicates the gap between the two social classes. It may even indicate a feminist defence on the part of the writer “The girls,” echoed I glancing round at their silent forms. “Why is it, Sir, that in most factories, female operatives, of whatever age, are indiscriminately called girls, never women?”(89) For the bachelor that governs them women must be like “mares haltered to the racks” and not allowed to have children or husbands that would only disturb them. Their forms are silent, unable to fulfil their natural development. The guide lad, Cupid, relates it all to the visitor, as if it were joke on the part of the writer on the interrelation man/woman. The final exclamation: “Oh¡ Paradise of Bachelors and Oh¡ Tartarus of Maids” (90) unites both worlds in the character’s mind giving them their real importance, realizing that the paradise he earlier praised was on account of the hell of so many. It is what modern criticism would call an ‘epiphanic’ moment.

Edgar Allan Poe’s mad character in the Tell-Tale Heart begins addressing in the first person the reader as if in a conventional chat: “True¡ nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; (….) You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me.” He will continue trying to convince the reader he is not mad and by the mere fact of doing so and telling how he killed the poor old fellow, because he could not get rid of the look of “his Evil Eye”, he convinces the reader of the contrary.  Poe creates the ambiance and masterly leads the reader to the final outburst of madness by means of a continued insight of the character’s mind. The mind of a man or a woman, we do not know because Poe uses “I” or “me” that is driven mad by the fear of the power of an evil eye which he finally cannot escape.

The Storm is a master piece by Kate Chopin which leaves little for the reader to imagine. It is one of the most explicit stories of marital deceit with a happy ending in the story of American literature and, what is more, with no sense of treachery on the part of the actors. “The generous abundance of her passion, without guile or trickery, was like a white flame which penetrated and found response in depths of his own sensuous nature that had never yet been reached”.(133) The writer goes a bit further stating that it was her flame that penetrated him and taught him what he still did not know. In a time, when women had to be aloof from all sexual desire, not to say of the actual knowledge of sex, The Storm could not have been but ignored by all publishers as it actually was. The metaphor of the storm depicts Calixta’s passion which when put off leaves her feeling even a better wife.  Both couples are explicitly told to be at ease at the end of the story: “So the storm passed and every one was happy.”

The Yellow Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman may be considered the opposite of The Storm if we discuss implicitness. There is so much implicit that still nowadays the story is being analysed and interpreted on different levels, namely psychological, sociological or feminist. There is a lot to be interpreted. Only some examples are cited below. From the very beginning, the narrator names herself only with pronouns: myself, me, one, I.   This has been interpreted by many authors as a way to disguise her identity under a veil of anonymity which could include many other women in the same condition. When the narrator uses her name, it is only at the end of the story and in the third person when she has become the other woman, the one which has escaped from the yellow paper and is addressing the husband. “I’ve got out at last,” said I, “ in spite of you and Jane.(169)  She is no longer Jane, she is “I”. The yellow paper symbolises the oppressive situation many women lived in at a time, when post-partum depression was considered an mental illness and women were prescribed isolation and immobility by male doctors, which many times drove them to real madness. Gilman depicts how a woman can finally get beyond the yellow paper defying men’s power. ”And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back¡” Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time¡”(169) In the ending to the story it is the liberated woman that speaks, even if she is on her hands and knees, she keeps creeping over the fainted man.  Her husband faints because he cannot stand her half disobedience, or because he cannot consciously accept not having full power. The reader must make his own conclusions.

The Middle Years by Henry James is the story of an artist, a writer who achieves high quality art when he is about to die and cannot accept not having a further chance to continue with it now that it was finally in his possession. “The art had come, but it had come after everything else. At such a rate a first existence was too short-long enough only to collect material; so that to fructify, to use the material, one should have a second age, an extension. This extension was what poor Dencombe sighed for.” (174) James’ personal realism, which depicted his character’s inner experiences not merely life as seen in a mirror, works here very well. The writer by means of the character’s inner thoughts will keep us informed of almost everything. There is little implicit but we are taken by the hand of the author from beginning to end. Dencombe laments his almost lost life very early in the story foreshadowing the last sentences  ”Frustration’s only life,” said Doctor Hugh. “Yes, it’s what passes.” Poor Dencombe was barely audible, but he had marked with the words the virtual end of his first and only chance.” (189) This mixture of speech and comment on the part of the writer will close an ending which otherwise would have remained a little more open and nearer to 21st century taste.

Even more explicit is Jack London’s In a Far Country where the author in his celebrated two first paragraphs gives the reader a lesson of good behaviour when leaving the well-known domestic world to venture into the unknown natural world “For the courtesies of ordinary life, he must substitute unselfishness, forbearance, and tolerance.” Making use of report and comment Jack London will lead the reader till the end of the story where both characters kill each other after incurring in almost every capital sin. There is very little speech, just some thought in the third person narrator:

Well he would have company. If Gabriel ever broke the silence of the North, they would stand together, hand in hand, before the great White Throne. And God would judge them, God would judge them¡

Then Percy Cuthfert closed his eyes and dropped off to sleep.(205)

Old Woman Magoun by Mary E. Wilkins (Freeman) has relatively more speech than report or comment. It is a cry in favour of women and mostly coloured women. “The weakness of the masculine element in Barry’s Ford was laid low before such strenuous feminine assertion” (207)  The reader of the story – if not familiar with the author’s tales – will not know but for the language used by Old Woman Magoun that she is a coloured woman. Neither is he told that Lily is the daughter of a black woman and a white man. It is nevertheless implicit  “She’s got a good color” said Sally Jinks…(…)…”I know she’s got a beautiful color,” replied Old Woman Magoun, with an odd mixture of pride and anxiety, “but it comes an’goes.” (210) The beautiful colour and the mixture of pride and anxiety implies all the horror that lies under the life of a mulatto girl (though we are made aware of her blondness) whose grandmother knows better than let her grow up because she foresees an unlucky destiny in the hands of a loathsome white father. The episode of the berries which on the way to Greenham Lily is forbidden to eat foreshadows the final outcome as, later on, on the way back after having been denied the adoption which could have been the only salvation, the girl is almost induced to eat, though in a silent manner.  The author does not explicitly tell us what is in Old Woman Magoun’s mind, but she leaves it very clear with the single sentence “Come” she said, “it is time we were going. I guess you have set long enough.” (221) The girl has had enough poisonous berries and she will be freed from her terrible destiny of being given away as payment for gambling debts.

While getting closer to our time in our chronological journey through the anthology, we begin to encounter more and more implicit literature, less comment, more speech, and increasingly more ordinary characters who, notwithstanding, will in their quest for identity experience what any human being is deemed to experience: conflict and a moment of illuminating awareness. Often these characters will feel that life is an endless abyss of nothingness. On this line Ernest Hemmingway’s   A Clear Well-Lighted Place is one of the best examples of economy of words and comment but of profound enlightening on the eternal dichotomy between the young and fearless man and the more mature and sadly knowledgeable man who has finally realized there is “nada : pues nada” (299) to pray for. Hemmingway uses only two short paragraphs, the first – a description – and a middle one, in the form of interior monologue, to give the reader some explicit clues on the characters’ thoughts. The rest – mostly speech – serves to depict masterly the two worlds.

In The Strength of God, Sherwood Anderson’s Presbyterian minister also experiences this moment of sudden awareness that functions as a high-pressure valve through which all the repressed sexuality will give way to the appearance of God in the form of a naked school-teacher kneeling on a bed. Basically the story contains report and comment and the repressed thoughts of the only character. It is not until the end of the story that he addresses a second character, George Williard, to tell him how God gave him the strength to smash the window through which he spied the woman. But this second character will not utter a single word in response:

“I have found the light” he cried. “After ten years in this town, God has manifested himself to me in the body of a woman.”…..(….)..I am delivered. Have no fear…(…) “I smashed the glass of the window,” he cried. “Now it will have to be wholly replaced. The strength of God was in me and I broke it with my fist”. (263)

F. Scott Fitzgerald mastered another character-maybe because he had had the same suffering- who felt lost in the abyss of a wasted life. An Alcoholic Case shows two characters that though sympathising one with the other are jointly incapable of beating death. Death appears in a corner of the room, and both the nurse and her ‘case’ feel it.  ‘..she knew that death was in that corner where he was looking’.(309) Discouraged the nurse will explain, the day after, to her boss ‘It’s not like anything you can beat’ …(…)..it’s so discouraging –it’s all for nothing”.(309) Once again there is ‘nothing and then nothing’. With the use of ‘it’ and ‘anything’, of undetermined intrinsic meaning, the author implies that which the nurse is not able to put into words but the reader will perfectly grasp, thus violating all of Grice’s Cooperative Principle maxims.

William Faulkner, the most original writer of his day, almost re-invented fiction. He’s marvellous technique enhanced him to talk in the voices of every kind of character. In That Evening Sun the eternal tragedy of black people in the States is shown indirectly through the voices of the children of a white American family (its member will appear again in The Sound and the Fury published later). Through the incoherent chattering of the smaller children and a couple of assertions on the part of the father and Quentin, his nine-year-old daughter and first person narrator of the story, we learn the details of a frequent case of abuse to black women by white powerful men. Jesus, the black woman’s husband takes revenge in the person least guilty but most accessible: Nancy, his wife. “I just a nigger. It aint no fault of mine”.(350) Nancy’s moaning has all the tragedy implicit. She is not to blame but just accept her fate. After leaving Nancy alone in her cabin waiting for her destiny, Quentin’s question clears the reader’s doubts: “Who will do our washing now, Father?” I said. The matter is already settled and now the family has to look forward to their immediate needs, even a nine-year-old is aware of it. Faulkner mastered the economy of words and this “who?” is not questioning but really answering.

Richard Wright, less innovating but as reaching, depicts in The Man who was almost a Man another tragedy another black abuse. The reader together with the character, a fifteen-year-old black boy, will realize simultaneously at the time of hearing the sound of a train approaching, that the boy had been cheated into a-two-year slavery: “Two dollars a mont. Les see now…Tha means it’ll take bout two years. Shucks¡ Ah’ll be dam¡” (383) The reader is left running away with the boy after catching a train “away to somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man”.(383)  Here, once more in literature, an indefinite pronoun stands for the staple of modern society.

It is no coincidence that the first chapter of another memorable book starts: “It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life. I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was.”(441)  This is how Battle Royal, the first chapter of Ralph Ellison`s Invisible Man, begins. Here we encounter another black writer, but essentially the same character running after his identity and after success. Ellison’s character, does not have a name, he embodies all negro boys. The story is written in the first person singular and the reader does not have a clear picture of the narrator but the events narrated foreshadow what fate he will suffer. The anecdote of his grandfather will also serve as a device showing the boy the way to follow “Grandfather had been a quiet old man who never made any trouble, yet on his deathbed he had called himself a traitor and a spy, and he had spoken of his meekness as a dangerous activity” (442) The remembrance will haunt him all his life and it is explicit at the end of the chapter in the form of a dream where his grandfather writes “Keep This Nigger-Boy Running”.(445) He acknowledges not having at the time an “insight into its meaning”. So the chapter starts as it finishes with a search for identity and this endless running after self-assurance.

Human eternal quest seems to have a tragic ending in Ray Bradbury’s Three Will Come Soft Rains. It is a terrible future of nuclear war that mankind should avoid. There are many interesting features in the story as personification to describe the house’s actions,  that continues to function as if nothing had happened.  The house is afraid, though, and that fright is reasonable because the family is gone though “their images burnt in wood in one titanic instant” (458) can yet been seen.  The writer does not inform the reader immediately of the facts but goes little by little drawing the picture. The title of the story, the poem chosen by the house to be said  –not precisely at random – parallels the story up to the final outcome: “And no one will know of the war, not one will care at last when it is done. No one would mind, neither bird nor tree. If mankind perished utterly” (460) It is precisely the falling of a tree that will cause the final disappearance of the house under the fire. Then  everything collapses and leaves us one last voice “Today is August 5, 2026, today is…”(462) and hoping it would not be premonitory.

For the last part of the anthology Joyce Carol Oates selected several stories by contemporary writers, many of which belong to ethnic or social minorities, that have progressively had more and more echo in society and whose vindications are conveyed in their literature masterly and growingly elliptically.

Leslie Marmon Silko is one of them and Yellow Woman one of her best stories. As many of her contemporary writers, she does not openly speak in her literature but her message is implicit in depths in her stories. Hers is the voice of many Native Americans and it brings up issues of personal identity, cultural identity, and genre identity. The story is told in the first person singular and the narrator loosens herself to gradually believe she is Yellow Woman, part of myth and tradition and therefore free to live her sensuality without guilty feelings. But there is much more to the story if closely studied. With the frequent mention of dampness, heat, warmth in connection with the narrator’s senses, the author is linking  Mother Creator with her siblings. “My thigh clung to his with dampness…[…]…I cleaned the sand out of the cracks between my toes…[…]…I felt hungry…” (592) The land and the woman are all one, the narrator begins to feel part of tradition too, she wonders “if Yellow Woman had known who she was…[…]..Maybe she had another name. (493)  Later Silva will tell her “  But some day they will talk about us, and they will say “Those two lived long ago when things like that happened.” (595)

“Stella, cold, cold, the coldness of hell” This is the beginning of Cynthia Ozick’s story The Shawl. This seven words foreshadow the hell to be lived by the main character, Rosa , as well as depicts the character of Stella, her condition of being terrible cold and the ultimate reason of Rosa’s child death.  The title of the story the ‘shawl’ also functions as a symbol: it will first serve to hide Magda – Rosa’s baby – from the Nazis and later stop her from screaming when she actually watches the child die. In the story we first encounter coldness, naked, harsh words but gradually the author will impregnate them with a poetic scent “All at once Magda was swimming through the air. The whole of Magda travelled through loftiness.” (605) The words describe the instant previous to the child’s death against an electrified fence in a Nazi concentration camp. How else could it be beared?

David Leavitt’s Gravity has lots implicit in the title too. Gravity is what has to be beaten to prove human consistency. There is no direct reference to AIDS in the story nor to HIV+ but it is very well implied as for example in the incident of the two salesmen who refuse to shake Theo’s hand.  The title is echoed in “It seemed Sylvia had been looking a long time for something like this, something heavy enough to leave an impression, yet so fragile it could make you sorry.”  The  impression would be left, not only in Bibi but also in Theo who will realize that – no matter what – he could still mark a difference, impose his being and by doing so help both his mother and himself to “win some small but sustaining victory” (745).

Today’s writer has no other choice than to provoke with literature sudden revealing moments, epiphanies, ‘titanic instants’ because today’s conflicts are otherwise unspeakable; perspicuousness too flat. 

Perspicuous writing is also too limited for Sandra Cisneros. Her stories, almost poems, are like photographed instants, exquisite life portraits that elliptically tell us about Latino community in North America and its terrible circumstances. A house of My Own for example, consists of only two paragraphs, one of them only a sentence “Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem”. (749) and yet encompassing so many “weak implicatures”.

Finally, a word on Heat: our author’s own contribution to her anthology. Oates expresses in the foreword to the story that “For the author, the formal challenge of Heat was to present a narrative in a seemingly acausal manner, analogous to the playing of a piano sans pedal, as if each paragraph, or chord, were separate from the rest” (607). She thoroughly accomplishes the challenge. As  J. Alan Rice noted in his detailed study Chord Structure in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Heat” (1995), Oates “means that the narrative has been pared down to its essentials”. Her intention being to diminish it gradually until it is understood as unique notes “without sustaining notes from one chord to another” asserts Rice. “But the most important aspect of the structure of “Heat” is that the final chord, that which the story is about, is missing.” Once again how could something as despairing as the raping and murder of two girls else be told?


The success of a piece of literature is parallel to its success in reaching each and every reader.  The best way to do it will depend on the artist’s expertise and sensibility. There are no predetermined rules and the history of literature endorses it, but, many times, to convey meaning on part of the writer or to apprehend it on part of the reader is no easy task; it implies alertness on both sides.    In Joyce Carol Oates’ own words: “Because the meaning of the story does not lie on its surface, visible and self-defining, does not mean that meaning does not exist. Indeed, the ambiguity of meaning, its inner, private quality, may well be part of the writer’s vision.” (8)

From the 18th century up to our days storytelling has experienced notable changes. Far back in time have the parables with moralistic comment been discarded. Detailed description and lengthy report have also suffered a continuous metamorphosis evolving to more and more succinct speech, at times only images, the meaning of which the reader is merely invited to seize.

Notwithstanding this evolution, nothing is definite. Storytelling is a long winding road; a multi-dimensional road along which Society can trek, develop, progress and be substantially represented while led in its eternal quest for identity.

Works Cited

Beach, Joseph Warren. The Twentieth Century Novel: Studies in Technique. New York. The Century Co., 1932.

Blakemore, Diane. Understanding utterances. Oxford: Blackwell. 1992.

Bonheim, Helmut. The Narrative Modes: Techniques of the Short Stories. Cambridge.D.S. Brewer. 1992

Grice, H.P. Pragmatics: A reader. Oxford University Press. 1991.

Meyer, Jim. What is Literature? A Definition Based on Prototypes. Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics. University of North Dakota. 41: [33-42].1997.

Oates, Joyce Carol. The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Oxford & New York : Oxford University Press. 1994.

Reid, Ian. The Short Story. Methuen & Co. Ltd. New York. 1982.

Rice, J. Alan. Chord Structure in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Heat”. Copyright 1995. http://www.levity.com/corduroy/oateshea.htm (20/02/2002)

Myriam Mercader

[1] All pages without any special indication correspond to Joyce Carol Oates’s The Oxford Book of American Short Stories.


“Análisis de Metáforas” sobre Jorge Luis Borges.

Jorge Luis Borges

Este estudio – en inglés y parte de una tesis – es sobre el azaroso y rocambolesco devenir de un otrora inédito artículo de Jorge Luis Borges   “Exámenes de Metáforas”

y su entrelazamiento con la mecánica cuántica, como tanto en la obra 

del escritor argentino. 

Myriam M. Mercader

We could cite many examples of similarities between Borges’ work and Science or specifically Quantum Mechanics and Parallel Worlds Theory, though reality once more has overruled literature in the case I will immediately discuss below.

I have recently come across an old newspaper article in ABC Madrid Cultural, 25-09-92, where Eduardo García de Enterría in ‘Peregrinación de un Manuscrito’ explains why he decided to publish a then unedited article by Borges, ’Examen de metáforas.’  As I did not recall any data on the fact, I immediately decided to research on the matter. It is then and there that the many parallel universes of Borges’ started to appear or be created in the course of my research.

First, in the mentioned article in ‘Peregrinación de un Manuscrito,’ García de Enterría justifies the novelty of Borges’ essay on the metaphor studying two previous articles by Borges. The first (with the same name) had been pubished in Alfar, (1924) and then in Inquisiciones (1925, 65-73)); the second in Cosmópolis (1921) with the name ‘La Metáfora.’ After comparing them, Enterría comes to the conclusion they are substantially different from the manuscript he is publishing in ABC because the text in Cosmópolis was cited in Rodriguez Monegal’s Borges. Una biografía literaria (1987) as “predicando lo que sus nuevos poemas predicaban,” and: “en el texto que ahora se publica hay todo un párrafo explícitamente condenatorio a esa “secta contemporánea de versificadores” a que él pertenecía en 1921” (ABC, 15). Furthermore, Enterría explains that, when authorizing the recompilation of his completed works, Borges decided to keep his three first books of essays off print (Inquisiciones (1925), El Tamaño de mi Esperanza (1926) and El Idioma de los Argentinos, 1928) because he rejected most of what he had there written. Moreover, we read in ABC that: “cotejados uno y otro texto, carecen de cualquier relación directa y apenas un mismo número de los ejemplos de metáforas estudiados son los mismos” (15). Therefore, García de Enterría decides this lost manuscript was an enirely new essay with:” la fluidez, la gracia y la eficacia sorprendente de su prosa, la agudeza de sus análisis, todo lo que ha hecho su gloria literaria están aquí plenamente presente” (15).   

Second, in ‘Borges: “Examen de metáforas,” edición crítica y anotada’ (2005), Carlos García analyzes the same article in ABC and concludes that Enterría was wrong when he argued that it was a different version which nothing had to do with Inquisiciones. Contrarily, Carlos García states that its precursor (so to say) was a previous article which appeared in Cosmópolis (1921) with the title: ‘La Metáfora:’

A pesar de la identidad de títulos, que suscita o favorece la confusión, no es ese trabajo de Alfar / Inquisiciones, como quiere Enterría, la fuente del que se reproduce y comenta a continuación. El artículo en cuestión se remonta, como se verá, a «Apuntaciones críticas: La me-táfora» (Cosmópolis 35, Madrid, noviembre de 1921, 395-402; TR 114-120), al cual, sin embargo, corrige de manera decisiva. (200)

I find this last quotation very clarifying concerning García’s confusion, as we have quoted Enterría when he states than none of the articles had direct relation with the one he was then publishing in ABC.

Third, I found the article in Cosmópolis,‘ La Metáfora’ (which García connects with the one in ABC) published in Jorge Luis Borges Textos Recobrados 1919-1929, but with an annotation that Borges had written another two similar articles on the matter: the one in Inquisiciones, which both Enterría and García had mentioned and which was first published in Alfar in 1924 and another one, paradoxically entitled: ‘Otra vez la metáfora’ (a new one this time) which appeared in the third excluded book by Borges: El Idioma de los Argentinos, in 1928.

Finally, I should add here that Carlos García, though confused on Enterría’s belief, has very thoroughly come to the conclusion the manuscript had been written by Borges at the end of 1923:

El manuscrito representa, pues, un estadio intermedio, surgido entre octubre de 1923 y marzo de 1924 (me inclino por fines de 1923); es decir, fue redactado entre Ginebra y Madrid, seguramente con intención de publicarlo en la Península (200)

After some confusing couple of hours going back and forth in all the above mentioned books (as well as in various other related articles), I realized I was confronting the creation of parallel worlds in Borges, where different versions of the article about the metaphor were instantly appearing. Up to the moment, not three versions (as all of the critics mentioned above had come to sum up, though each of them considering different series) but four, namely, the first in Cosmópolis (1921), the second written in the late 1923, as concluded García and published in ABC in 2005, the third in Allfar, in 1924 and published in Inquisiciones in 1925, and the fourth in El Idioma de los Argentinos in 1928. I was tempted to find a copy of the latter, which I did not have at hand, and continue the research, but I decided not to. I left the research, confident that if I continued more articles of the sort would appear or would be created on my way. Instead, it was more interesting to include all the output of the previous hours of research in this dissertation as an example of what it is being argued about the parallelism of Borges’ work and Quantum Mechanics.

Ambigüedad Moral en “The Pupil” y otras obras de Henry James

Henry James

El propósito de este artículo es el análisis del uso por parte de James de lo que se ha llamado ‘ambigüedad moral’ teniendo como punto de partida su obra The Pupil. Sin embargo, ya que esta característica narrativa no es exclusiva de esta obra, también se anotarán algunos paralelismos con otras de sus obras como The Aspern Papers, The Turn of the Screw, The Wings of the Dove, o The Spoils of Poynton por citar alguna

En términos generales podemos afirmar que James recurre a la ambigüedad moral para producir en nosotros justamente la advertencia de lo moral y por consiguiente la necesidad de una reacción del lector estableciendo en la vida, que no es otro que el universo de la novela, una moralidad clara e inequívoca a riesgo que de no ser así se produzca como en The Pupil un desenlace fatal. Y es que para James, ambos mundos se pisan, la vida es arte pues el arte es una impresión directa de la vida.  El lector así, mediante su azoramiento frente a lo ambiguo en un tema tan trascendente, no podrá más que reflexionar y a adoptar una posición moral en relación con la anécdota.

The Pupil nos desvela el terrible drama de un niño-adolescente que sufre el desamparo moral de su familia (aunque de una manera más que sutil) y que tras un largo deambular compartiendo experiencias con su tutor cree encontrar en él ese asidero moral que le es tan necesario. Pero, y aquí la maestría del autor, el tutor también ha sufrido en el proceso de concienciación de lo moral, también tiene sus dudas, ha sido engañado, ha vivido su propio descenso a los infiernos y termina por provocar la tragedia. No es capaz de tomar una decisión inequívoca, de hacer que prevalezca lo moral, de renunciar a sí mismo en aras de su pupilo.

James estuvo siempre muy preocupado por la conciencia moral que debe yacer bajo toda obra literaria. En palabras de Harold Beaver lo que James más valoraba era ‘refinement’, ‘awareness’ y ‘conscious moral purpose’ ….o como más tarde concluye en el mismo estudio ‘It is moral awareness – the Arnoldian* appeal to the ‘amount of life felt’ – to which James always returned, whether (at its thinnest) in Hawthorne or (at its fullest) in Elliot.[1]

Es ésta una de sus mejores historias de duración media, llamadas también tales, que escribió a la edad de cuarenta y siete años cuando estaba muy arriba en su propia escala de excelencia como escritor. Sin lugar a dudas, The Pupil  nos ofrece todos

los ingredientes jamesianos , por nombrar algunos : temas como el de la renunciación (aunque tratado más por su ausencia que por su existencia), o la interacción inociencia-corrupción; y técnicas narrativas tan suyas como la del narrador-observador con punto de vista limitado, el foreshadowing, o la que especialmente nos interesa en este escrito : la ambigüedad.

La primera parte de este trabajo analizará estos dos aspectos : la visión moral de James y las técnicas de las que se vale en The Pupil para producir en nosotros ese grado de conciencia de lo moral.

La segunda parte del trabajo está dedicada al análisis textual propiamente dicho de The Pupil, para detectar así los casos de ambigüedad moral manifiesta entre sus líneas y poder valorar el proceso de revelación por el cual James guía a sus lectores, hasta la concienciación final.

La Tercera parte, intentará abordar esa curiosa inclinación que tuvo Henry James de utilizar personajes muy jóvenes, sobre todo en el período al que esta obra pertenece, para resaltar, aún más si cabe, el contraste corrupción-inocencia muy presente en sus obras. Esta fase – también llamada de Los Niños Inocentes –  en la literatura de James surge, curiosamente, muy cercana a la debacle teatral que nuestro autor había sufrido. Analizaremos en esta sección – someramente-  también pues, como su experiencia teatral influyó en su forma literaria, lo que se puede advertir en The Pupil.

Finalmente la Cuarta Parte trata de un tema muy ligado a la Ambigüedad Moral y que surge recurrentemente en la obra de James : el dinero, o muchas veces como en el caso de The Aspern Papers o The Spoils of Poynton  materializado en otras formas de manifiesto valor si no en dinero propiamente dicho. El dinero tendrá su papel primordial en The Pupil donde aparecerá como un tema casi tabú por lo innombrable aunque siempre subyacente a esta ambigüedad moral que estamos tratando.

James escribió The Pupil en 1890, comenzando con ella – casi como preámbulo – lo que se ha llamado, como comentamos anteriormente, su Fase de Niños Inocentes que luego completaría con obras como What Maisie Knew (1897), The Turn of the Screw (1898), In the Cage (1898) o The Awkward Age (1899).  En todas ellas niños inocentes experimentarán distintos grados de agravios que terminarán produciendo en ellos efectos devastadores y que irán desde la imposibilidad de madurar a su ritmo o la pérdida de la inocencia como es el caso de Maisie hasta la propia muerte como le sucede a nuestro Morgan en The Pupil o a Miles en The Turn of the Screw.



  1. Visión moral

Como ya se ha anotado en la Introducción haciéndonos eco de las palabras de Harold Beaver. ‘It is moral awareness to which James always returns’ . ‘Moral awareness’ o conciencia moral, tal vez mejor expresado como la energía moral que impregna y recorre toda obra, es de vital importancia para Henry James. En The Art of Fiction le debate al Sr. Besant su somera alusión al ‘conscious moral purpose’ de la novela:

‘This branch of the subject is of immense importance, and Mr. Besant’s few words point to considerations of the widest reach, not to be lightly disposed of. …It is a question surrounded with difficulties, as witness the very first that meets us, in the form of a definite question, on the threshold. Vagueness, in such a discussion, is fatal, and what is the meaning of your morality and your moral purpose?’ [2]

Queda claro que James valoraba inmensamente el propósito moral consciente del escritor y la dificultad de definición intrínseca de lo moral – tanto en lo estrictamente literario como en la vida – . Las formas en que nos alerta hacia este tema en casi todas sus obras son variadas pero siempre certeras y,  por sobre todo apuntan a que la idea de moralidad no puede ser vaga : ‘vagueness is fatal’.

Él, al igual que muchos otros, entre los que podríamos citar a Whistler§ o Wilde¨, se debatió en el intento de calificar a la vida y al arte, concluyendo que son una misma cosa. No existe el arte fuera de la vida  ni la vida sin arte. La novela para James no es otra cosa que lo que definió – también en su magistral  The Art of Fiction – como ‘ a personal, a direct impression of life’. Pero esta impresión de vida conlleva, sin lugar a dudas, como inseparable del hombre : su conciencia moral. El arte trasciende la pura forma, los problemas de ejecución y hasta de documentación (por lo que cuestionó a Zola durante mucho tiempo). El arte es algo más, dijimos que es vida. Sin embargo esta vida para ser auténtica para poder ser arte debe ser vivida en su plenitud, sintiéndola a la manera arnoldiana – the amount of life felt- dándole un significado, en definitiva solo puede considerarse como tal si posee un trasfondo moral.

A James se le ha criticado, como lo hizo Frank Moore Colby, que sus personajes no tienen cuerpo. Sin embargo el lector de James sabe que lo que al autor le importa es la conciencia humana y que tal vez si hubiese tratado con más detenimiento lo corporal – lo material –  Henry James podría haberse alejado de lo que verdaderamente le importaba.

Por esta razón cuando tratamos con escritores como Shakespeare o James, preocupados por la mente humana y sus cuestionamientos, inmediatamente surgirá la pregunta de cuál era sus visión moral. Ya hemos comentado que la visión moral de James la encontramos en textos explícitos como The Art of Fiction,  sin embargo, la evidencia que nos dejan sus obras es aún más importante.

Cualquier análisis que hagamos acerca de los elementos morales que surcan la obra de James tendrá que basarse en lo que podríamos llamar actos o elecciones morales de sus personajes. A saber, la decisión de Isabel Archer de volver con su marido, la decisión de Stretcher de volver a América, la decisión de Newman de renunciar a su venganza sobre los Bellegarde o la decisión de Pemberton, en la obra que estamos estudiando, ésa que en realidad nunca tendrá que tomar pues Morgan no le dará tiempo, presintiendo de antemano lo que su tutor decidirá. The Pupil nos ofrece uno de los casos de elección moral más ambiguos al punto que no sabremos nunca con certeza cual  ésta hubiese sido.

Los protagonistas de James tienen, sin lugar a dudas, posiciones morales muy personales y profundamente sentidas y por otro lado son consecuentes con su personalidad. Nunca tendrán actitudes que no se condigan con sus “personajes”. En su ficción Henry James creó un mundo de conciencia moral donde todo acto moral es relevante e importante aunque no por ello seguirá los cánones dogmáticos. Y si bien la vida en sí no es fuente directa de moralidad, sí nos provee de las condiciones en medio de las cuales las elecciones morales se deben tomar.  En este aspecto la obra de James está ligada a la realidad. De ahí la famosa frase de James que hemos mencionado antes y que viene a decir que el sentido moral de la obra de arte depende totalmente de la “cantidad de vida sentida” (the amount of life felt) que haya intervenido en su producción.

Un tema a debatir es si la visión moral de James es pues la que se deduce del devenir de sus historias y del hacer de sus personajes. ¿Creía James que el hombre es libre de decidir o por el contrario es víctima de un determinismo más poderoso que su voluntad?

Si nos fijamos en algunos de sus pasajes como en el caso de The Ambassadors cuanto Strether le aconseja a Litlle Bilham tomar una decisión :

What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that. The affair – I mean the affair of life – couldn’t, no doubt, have been different for me; for it’s at the best a tin mould, either fluted of embossed, with ornamental excrescences, or else smooth and dreadfully plain, into which, a helpless jelly, one’s consciousness  is poured – so that one ‘takes’ the form, as the great cook says, and is more or less compactly held by it; one lives in fine, as one can. Still, one has the illusion of freedom; therefore don’t be, like me, without the memory of that illusion.

Debemos argüir que la visión de Strether es la de James? No necesariamente. Sin embargo no hubiese puesto estas palabras en boca de su personaje sin no las hubiese meditado antes. Es posible que quisiera describir con ellas la sabiduría humana acumulada en cuanto a la responsabilidad del comportamiento humano. La doble visión de que los actos humanos, tanto en la vida como en el arte son provisionales y en definitiva ambiguos. Volvemos pues siempre a la ambigüedad : un acto humano que no esté condicionado es inconcebible. James al privar a algunos de sus personajes  de la necesidad apremiante de tener que preocuparse por el dinero (cosa que por otra lada también ha sido criticada), está fijando el foco de interés en otras condiciones que pueden resultar más interesantes para su análisis. Está fijando la atención en otras tensiones más sutiles que atañen a la condición humana. Puede que sus personajes no tengan cuerpo – como dicen algunos – pero todos coincidirán en que tienen una capacidad enorme para sentir y para realizar elecciones morales, sean estas ambiguas o no.

Toda la obra de James está tintada por este trasfondo moral – que no moralina – a veces bajo formas sutiles, irónicas, o ambiguas.  Renegó en cierto modo de Flaubert por la falta de moralidad que alguna de sus obras reflejaba y de Balzac y

Maupassant pues también demostraban demasiada poca estima a la dignidad personal en sus obras .

 The Pupil en este aspecto no es una excepción, muy lejos de ello tal vez sea una de las piezas más claras de conciencia moral manifiesta. Entraremos en detalle en cuanto a The Pupil en el análisis de la segunda parte de este documento. Puede resultar ilustrativo, sin embargo,  citar aquí algunos otros ejemplos de ambigüedad moral en otras de sus obras. Uno de los más notorios es el caso de The Aspern Papers cuyo narrador cuenta en primera persona su renuncia moral al aspirar a la posesión de unas valiosas cartas a cambio de hipotecar su dignidad y venderse a un matrimonio esperpéntico, y qué, paradójicamente en el proceso, logra volver a la vida a unos personajes perdidos en un pasado mohoso y yerto, hasta qué al final, quemadas ya irremediablemente las cartas deseadas, siente vergüenza de si mismo. Al igual que en The Pupil el uso de un narrador-observador implicado en la historia, y por lo tanto no fiable, suscita situaciones de extrema ambigüedad y por consiguiente de ambigüedad moral. Semejante situación se da en The Turn of the Screw a través de cuyas páginas es la institutriz la que nos cuenta la historia, que casi siempre veremos solo a través de sus ojos – si acaso ayudados por la visión auxiliar de su confidente la Sra. Grose – y que hasta el día de hoy mantiene división de opiniones con respecto a su significado y al papel de responsabilidad moral que desempeña la institutriz en el desgraciado desarrollo de la historia.  Es de señalar la coincidencia que existe entre The Aspern Papers y The Turn of the Screw cuyos narradores-observadores implicados en la historia no tienen un nombre definido adjudicado por James, al mismo tiempo que narran ambos en primera persona. Para no hacer más tediosa la enumeración citaremos tan solo otro caso más de ambigüedad moral, la de una de sus mejores obras de la última etapa: The Wings of the Dove. En esta novela la ambigüedad moral se mantiene – a través de silencios y de palabras no pronunciadas– hasta el último momento cuando se resolverá mediante la renunciación – el otro titán de la obra de James – y así nuestros protagonistas se salvarán moralmente aunque no por ello  obtendrán ni la felicidad ni tampoco el reconocimiento social por el cual recorren su propio calvario a lo largo de toda la obra.

Beaver en su comentario advierte de la particular forma de visión moral de James y de las similitudes con Hawthorne y con Elliot, pero fue a George Elliot a quién admiró realmente sobre todo en su primera etapa, cuando su concepto de moral se acercaba más al de la escritora ganándole siempre, en estas primeras obras, la batalla la conciencia a la pasión. Más tarde – a través de las nueve críticas que hizo de la obra de Elliot – le supo ver defectos como que en la vida real no siempre la renunciación traía consigo felicidad espiritual y aceptación social, sino amargura y soledad. Así lo plasmó en novelas como The Wings of the Dove , acercándose de esta forma a escritores como Ruskin o Arnold.

2.  Técnicas de narración

2.1.      Realismo psicológico.

Henry James era un realista, pero un realista a nuestros ojos modernos y no tanto para sus contemporáneos, pues se le reprochó falta de realismo, como fue el caso de críticos como H.L. Mencken u otros que alegaron que su mundo era demasiado estrecho e incompleto como para poder llamarse realista. Es que James no estaba

preocupado por todos los aspectos de la vida. Siempre intento evitar lo feo, lo vulgar, o lo común. No se preocupó como Dickens de la pobreza, o de la pelea por la subsistencia, eligió una franja social que conocía muy bien y cuyos miembros

eran susceptibles de dedicarse al goce de los refinamientos que nos depara la vida, sin por ello dejar de tocar también fondo. En su mundo James es realista, todos sus personajes actúan conforme a sus características psicológicas y nunca transgredirán su naturaleza esencial.

Su idea de realismo estaba en contraposición con la de romanticismo. Es decir, lo romántico implica todo aquello que como hombres nunca lograremos alcanzar, mientras que, lo realista es aquello que como hombres podremos esperar encontrar en el devenir de nuestras vidas. Así, sus personajes van creciendo a lo largo de la obra pero no actúan de forma transgresora a su propio esencia. La elección de esta franja social para pintar su especial cuadro de ‘vida’ no le resta autenticidad, profundidad o carga moral. Sus personajes se pueden arrastrar por las zonas más oscuras de la decadencia humana, sin que por ello el arte de James deje de ser refinado. James es capaz de mostrarnos lo más crudo con refinamiento, es esta su maestría. Sus personajes tocan todos los mundos, ascienden al paraíso, buscan sus propios paraísos perdidos, o descienden a los infiernos, y los lectores sentimos en todo momento su angustia.  El enfoque es especialmente psicológico, no en balde Henry James ha sido llamado el padre del realismo psicológico.

2. .2.    Estructura de sus novelas

Las novelas de James están estructuradas alrededor de un centro  hacia el cual todos los hilos convergen, y que, en sus propias palabras, es lo que ‘supremely matters’ En The Pupil aquello que ‘supremely matters’ es la relación entre Morgan y su tutor basada en la confianza y la fidelidad, ante las cuales la mínima traición solo puede dar lugar a la muerte del inocente.

También el proceso de creación de James era innovador para su época pues al contrario de los que comenzaban con un tema o una idea y luego la desarrollaban creando personajes que se movieran en ese universo hasta propiciar el fin deseado, James partía de una situación, ponía los personajes a funcionar en ella y los observaba mientras iban dando forma al desenlace final, que muchas veces confesó, no conocía con antelación. Eso sí, una vez creado el personaje y en marcha nunca traicionaría su psicología. En este aspecto volvemos a repetir, James fue fundamentalmente realista.

2.3. Narrador-observador, punto de vista limitado  y confidente

Una de las contribuciones al arte de narrar de James fue el especial uso que hizo del punto de vista, el ángulo desde el cual se cuenta la historia. Hasta entonces, casi siempre esta especial mirada era la del escritor, era él el que contaba la historia y dirigía la reacción del lector. James creó una inteligencia central, a través de la cual el lector casi siempre ve los acontecimientos y que en muchas ocasiones es también el personaje central de la obra.  Sin embargo, esta inteligencia central suele tener  un punto de vista limitado y no lo conoce todo. El lector correrá el riesgo de identificarse tanto con el personaje central que perderá la perspectiva general, hasta que en un momento de catarsis James lo llevará a comprender, o al menos a que surjan dudas que el lector deberá resolver, tal vez creando nuevas incógnitas. En pocas palabras:  provocará la reflexión en el lector.

James escribió en una época en la que nada se sabía de técnicas como ´stream of consciousness´ y por lo tanto el escritor no se sentía libre para zambullirse dentro de las mentes de sus personajes y escudriñar sus más recónditos sentimientos. Para suplir esta necesidad James utilizó la figura de un personaje confidente, es decir, un personaje de gran sensibilidad a quien el personaje principal revela su sentir y su pensar y como consecuencia de ello también les son revelados al lector. Pero James a veces juega con nosotros muy sutilmente y nos presenta a este observador-narrador que- aún cuando se pueda complementar con un confidente- tiene un punto de vista limitado. Es decir en realidad no lo llega a saber todo, algo siempre se le escapa pues en parte este algo esta relacionado con su propio ser, con su propia esencia. En el caso de The Pupil todas estas técnicas confluyen para crear esa ambigüedad que analizaremos en detenimiento más adelante, pues inteligencia central, observador-narrador y punto de vista limitado parecen amalgamarse en un solo personaje que es Pemberton que cuenta la historia, actúa de confidente de Morgan y al mismo tiempo enjuicia a la familia, se distancia de ella, se implica, se deja engañar y termina por engañar el mismo, cometiendo los mismos errores, siendo víctima de los mismos defectos y por ende asestando irremediablemente el golpe fatal. Conocemos a Morgan muy poco por sus propios actos, pues no debemos olvidar que todo lo que sabemos de él nos lo esta contando Pemberton,  Lo único que sabremos de Morgan al mismo tiempo que Pemberton-inteligencia central-narrador-observador  será lo que nos sorprenda a nosotros tanto como a él, ese grado de desesperación final de Morgan que será demasiado para su débil corazón.

Pemperton es uno de tantos narradores no fiables que surgen en la narrativa jamesiana como también lo es la institutriz de The Turn of the Screw, el narrador-observador de The Aspern Papers o Winterbourne en Daisy Miller. Todas ellas historias donde la ambigüedad moral desempeña su papel revelador de la necesidad de un trasfondo moral como basamento de toda relación personal.

2.4. ‘Foreshadowing’

Otra técnica narrativa que James utiliza magistralmente es la llamada ‘foreshadowing’:  ese presagiar acontecimientos que terminarán por suceder de forma ineludible y para los cuales mediante esta técnica nos va preparando, dotando a la obra, una vez más, de un realismo irrefutable. En los primeros dos párrafos de The Pupil James nos introduce en una serie de asuntos de ‘extrema delicadeza’ que marcarán el resto de la historia:

The poor young man hesitated and procrastinated: it cost him such an effort to broach the subject of terms, to speak of money to a person who spoke only of feelings and, as it were, of the aristocracy’…………..When Mrs Moreen bethought herself of this pretext for getting rid of their companion Pemberton supposed it was precisely to approach the delicate subject of his remuneration. But it had been only to say some things about her son that it was better a boy of eleven shouldn’t catch. They were extravanglantly to his advangage save when she lowered her voice to sigh, tapping her left side familiarly, “And all overclouded by this, you know; all at the mercy of weakness-¡”

Vemos la delicadeza de Pemberton al no querer tocar el problema de su remuneración directamente pues es evidente que lo entiende como vulgar; el niño, Morgan, que evidentemente es el tema delicado por el que su madre lo anima a ausentarse de la habitación para así del cual poder hablar con Pemberton mas libremente;  y también el tema de la delicada salud de Morgan a la que su madre ya alude en estos dos primeros párrafos. Todos temas que nos  ponen en antecedentes de lo que importará en la obra. En esta misma línea James seguirá haciendo uso de la técnica del foreshadowing a lo largo de la historia.

2.5. La ambigüedad y la falta de comunicación entre los personajes.

El tema de la renunciación es de los recurrentes en toda la obra de James, y en The Pupil no podía faltar, pero como con el caso del tema de la moralidad aquí se caracteriza por su ambigüedad. A lo largo de  toda la obra,  tenemos la sensación de que Pemberton renunciará a vivir su propia vida para dedicarla a Morgan, de hecho no lo está haciendo ya?   Pero de a ratos vemos que surgen dudas:

‘….the extraordinary little boy who had now become such a complication in his life’

o más cerca del final

  ‘for the first time, in this complicated conexion , our friend felt his collar gall him’….. ‘he saw his youth going and that he was getting nothing back for it’

Es entonces la ambigüedad la técnica que mejor sirve a James para crear en nosotros esa advertencia de lo moral, de lo que debe ser y no esta siendo, de lo que debe suceder y no esta sucediendo. Esta ambigüedad se sedimenta desde el comienzo con la continuada falta de comunicación entre los personajes, una falta de comunicación que va desde la que existe entre Mrs. Moreen y Pemberton desde el primer párrafo de la obra en relación con la remuneración del tutor –y  que se sucederá a lo largo de muchos pasajes de la misma- hasta la que al final se produce entre  Morgan y Pemberton sobre el delicado tema de sentimientos traicionados y que provoca la muerte del chico.

Para crear esta ambigüedad y esta falta de comunicación James se apoya en su técnica del punto de vista limitado. Vemos todo a través de Pemberton, pero Pemberton no lo ve todo, no entiende completamente a Morgan. Hay momentos en los que él se siente también engañado tanto por su pupilo como por el resto de la familia Moreen:

“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?”

Pemberton ve la situación desde su prisma personal teñido de sus propios egoísmos y conveniencias y no puede ser imparcial.. Aunque de sobra conoce los engaños de los que son capaces los padres de Morgan, en un primer momento también sospecha del chico. Y es que nuestro observador-narrador tampoco tiene conceptos muy claros acerca de la conciencia moral de su pupilo y también está implicado en la historia, forma parte de ella en tal medida que no se puede desligar y nos arrastra en su sentir la anécdota como propia. Tan solo la catarsis final nos despegará de él brindándonos la perspectiva y de alguna manera nos hará poner en orden todas esas incógnitas surgidas a lo largo de la historia, todos esos retazos de moralidad ambigua que habíamos ido percibiendo y que no terminábamos de valorar y de colocar en el rompecabezas de la historia. Es esta última pieza la que de forma casi mágica nos va a recolocar todo lo anterior y ofrecer la explicación final.



Este análisis textual pretende resaltar los pasajes que ilustren el tema que nos incumbe : la ambigüedad moral y al mismo tiempo tocará temas relacionados que ayuden a esclarecer lo que intentamos demostrar. La característica mas excepcional de todo el texto el la reiteración con que se suceden circunstancias, situaciones y frases ambiguas y que por descontado incluirán lo moral.

Capítulo I

Ya hemos comentado el comienzo de la historia en cuyos dos primeros párrafos la falta de comunicación entre la Sra. Moreen y Pemberton crea ambigüedad en cuanto a los honorarios que deberá percibir éste último y, hasta por momentos, también  con respecto a la certeza de su eventual integración como tutor de Morgan la cual, al igual que el propio Pemberton, el lector debe prácticamente deducir :

At any rate when Mrs. Moreen got up as to intimate that, since it was understood he would enter upon his duties within the week she would let him off now, he succeeded in spite of the child in squeezing out a phrase about the rate of payment. It was not the fault of the conscious smile which seemed a reference to the lady’s expensive identity,  it was not the fault of this demonstration, which had, in a sort, both  vagueness and point, if the allusion didn’t sound rather vulgar.

Todo en la conversación con Mrs. Moreen es ambiguo, vago ‘had in a sort both vagueness and point’. James nos acostumbra a esta vaguedad desde el principio y nos mete en un clima que será la tónica de toda la obra y quenos llevará a aceptar de forma natural la vaguedad o ambigüedad moral que tiñen las circunstancias. Es interesante recalcar que también en estas primeras líneas se nos apunta el hecho que aunque Mrs. Moreen pertenezca a ‘ as it were, to the aristocracy’ y tenga unas  formas muy sofisticadas, a ratos puede adoptar actitudes que suenan a los oídos de Pemberton

‘rather vulgar’

o más tarde cuando Permberton cae en cuenta que

……As for Mrs. Moreen Pemberton saw on a nearer view that her elegance was intermittent and her parts didn’t always match.

El narrador omnisciente nos irá situando poco a poco en la realidad y será nuestro único punto de apoyo para poder, al permitirnos una perspectiva desde fuera de los ojos de Pemberton, utilizar elementos de juicio claros a la hora de establecer cual deberá ser el patrón moral al cual el autor apunta al final de la obra.

En el Preface James nos define a la familia Moreen como ‘a wonderful American family, an odd, adventurous, extravagant band’. Esta imagen se irá conformando a lo largo de la obra. Las primeras palabras de Morgan – que muchas veces llevarán al lector y a Pemberton a la confusión – refiriéndose a la situación financiera de su familia nos la pintan como acomodada:

“We don’t mind what anything costs – we live awfully well.”

Toda la personalidad de Morgan – al contrario de otros personaje-niño como puede ser Maisie – parece hasta cierto punto contaminada por su procedencia de esta familia de aventureros. Morgan es una víctima de su familia pero pertenece a ella y no puede ser totalmente inmune a su condición. A lo largo de la obra pues le oiremos pronunciar palabras o tener actitudes que llevarán a Pemberton a malinterpretar la realidad. En relación a su situación financiera pronto sabremos que Morgan, aún siendo joven, se da perfecta cuenta de la hipocresía  que reina en su hogar.

Sucesivamente el lector y Pemberton irán dándose cuenta como la familia desciende en esa escala tanto socio-económica como moral hasta que, casi el final- se constata la terrible situación en la que ha caído la familia que ha sido puesta en la calle:

The host and his staff, in a word, had ceased to “go on” at the pace of their guests, and the air of embarrassed  detention, thanks to a pile of trunks in the passage, was strangely commingled with the air of indignant withdrawal.

En lo moral lo que primero conocemos de la familia a través de Pemberton son sus inmejorables intenciones para con su hijo Morgan

the amiable American family looking out for something really superior in the way of a resident tutor

así como exquisitos rasgos de la personalidad de Mrs. Moreen

‘the large affable lady’

o más adelante

‘the lady’s expensive identity’

y que irá degenerando hasta la formulación por parte de Morgan de la pregunta

Why should his people have liked the line of pushing and toadying and lying and cheating?”…..”And never a wince for dignity, never a throb of shame at looking each other in the face

Dentro de esta tónica cada vez más degradante de la moralidad de los Moreen recorreremos también la senda tortuosa de la ambigüedad moral.

En su primer encuentro con Pemberton, Mr. Moreen le explica que

He aspired to be intimate with his children, to be their best friend, and that he was always looking out for them. That was what he went off for, to London and other places- to look out for; and this vigilance was the theory of life, as well as the real occupation, of the whole family.

El man of the world como James reiteradamente califica a Mr. Moreen nos regala uno de los pasajes de mayor ambigüedad moral de la obra.  Dice querer ser el mejor amigo de sus hijos pero no lo veremos hablando con Morgan nunca. Está siempre lejos para paradójicamente poder cuidar mejor de ellos. Y aún, más curioso, sus palabras serán lo más cerca que lleguemos a estar de una definición por parte de un miembro de la familia de cual es su ocupación real a la vez que un ejemplo excelso de ambigüedad : la vigilancia de un hijo al que idolatran como es el caso de Morgan, y que abandonan a la responsabilidad de un extraño que a su vez tampoco tendrá claro su grado de responsabilidad para con el chico como quedará explicito al final de la obra.

Capítulo II

En el capítulo II  James nos cuenta las impresiones de Pemberton y los sentimientos que le provocó la familia aunque visto desde un distanciamiento en el tiempo:

Today after a considerable interval, there is something phantasmagoria, like a prismatic reflexion or a serial novel, in Pemberton’s memory of the queerness of the Moreens…….Their supreme quaintness was their success – as it appeared to him for a while at the time; since he had never seen a family so brilliantly equipped for failure. Wasn’t it success to have kept him so hatefully long?

En la memoria de Pemberton los Moreens ocupan un lugar poco delimitado moralmente. Lo ambiguo del lenguaje es obvio, sin embargo nos choca aún más su significado. La familia había triunfado en mantenerlo con ellos ‘so hatefully long’. Una familia abocada al fracaso cuyo éxito consiste en obligarlo a aceptar una responsabilidad que no es suya. Lo extraño de su cualidad es la clave de su éxito…el hecho de que Pemberton los calificara mentalmente como abocados al fracaso lo induce a permanecer con ellos…. nos preguntamos por qué? Todas estas incógnitas no tienen otro significado que nuestra ‘moral awareness’. Este abonar el territorio por parte de James hará que, cuando el brote reviente, la verdad acabe por imponerse.

Por otro lado James nos sugiere que  Pemberton no está preparado para entender las reglas del juego de los Moreen

He was still young and had not seen much of the world – his English years had been properly arid; therefore the reversed conventions of the Moreens –for they had their desperate proprieties – struck him as topsy-turvy.

Debemos pues deducir que debido a que las convenciones de los Moreen son retorcidas o que Pemberton no posee el conocimiento del mundo suficiente como para entenderlas …. Una vez más James nos hunde en la ambigüedad. Poco después nos sigue confundiendo en ese universo desdibujado

He had thought himself very sharp that first day in hitting them all off in his mind with the “cosmopolite” label. Later it seemed feeble and colourless – confessedly helplessly provisional.

He yet when he first applied it felt a glow of joy – for an instructor he was still empirical – rise from the apprehension that living with them would really he to see life.

Por momentos Pemberton es un personaje engañado e inexperto, luego  inmediatamente pasa a poder enjuiciar a la familia desde un punto de vista distanciado y con la perspectiva necesaria para valorar sus graves carencias – al tiempo que nos indica el gozo que le produce sentir que por fin vivirá la vida si permanece con la familia. Es evidente que no solo las convenciones de los Moreen son topsy-turvy, sino también las suyas y como lectores corremos el riesgo de contaminarnos con la misma facilidad que lo hace nuestro narrador-observador-personaje central.

Al enumerarnos los sentimientos que los padres sienten por el niño – aunque mas tarde lo abandonen a la suerte de su tutor – el narrador-observador-personaje Pemberton  vuelve a las andadas en su  ambivalencia de sentimientos

It was a genuine tenderness, an artless admiration, equally strong in each. They even praised his beauty, which was small…….Pemberton feared at first an extravagance that might make him hate the boy, but before this happened he had become extravagant himself. Later, when he had grown rather to hate the others, it was a bribe to patience for him that they were at any rate nice about Morgan.

Pemberton se sucede en odios y amores para con su pupilo y para con la familia y no parece esclarecer sus sentimientos ni establecer el patrón moral con el que medir a esta banda de gitanos o a sí mismo. Poco a poco empezará a vislumbrarse la tragedia que acontecerá al niño – poco a poco estos amores por parte de la familia  empezarán a convertirse en formas disfrazadas de desentenderse del chico de desembarazarse de él que – como ya vamos adivinando – contaminarán inexorablemente la relación pupilo-tutor que no se verá libre del contagio del mal.

It was strange to reconcile the appearance, and indeed the essential fact, of adoring the child with their eagerness and to wash their hands of him. Did they want to get rid of him before he found them out? Pemberton was finding them out month by month.

Pemberton – se nos indica- ha comenzado a darse cuenta de la situación anómala que se da en el seno de los Moreen. Esta observación del narrador omnisciente la compartirá el lector poco a poco y lo llevará mas adelante a extrañarse al encontrar actitudes similares en el mentor. Pemberton también estará tentado de librarse de Morgan.

Capítulo III

A partir del Capítulo III se sucederán diálogos con Morgan y con su madre que nos adentrarán en este característico universo de ambigüedad moral

Do you like it, you know –being with us in this intimate way?

My dear fellow why should I stay if  I didn’t?

How do I know you’ll stay? I’m almost sure you won’t very long.

“I hope you don’t mean to dismiss me”, said Pemberton.

Morgan debated, looking at the sunset. “I think if I did right I ought to.”

“Well, I know I’m supposed to instruct you in virtue; but in that case don’t do right.”

Este tipo de diálogo ingenioso será corriente entre pupilo y mentor y no deja de estar dentro de la tónica predominante en la obra de no decir las cosas por su nombre, de imprimir a todas las situaciones este aire de indefinición y ambigüedad. Aquí – aún cuando con ironía – Pemberton sugiere que en situaciones especiales tal vez sea mejor no ‘do right’.

Inmediamente a continuación Morgan pregunta

“Do you like my father and my mother very much?”

“Dear me, yes. They’re charming people”

They received this with another silence; then unexpectedly, familiarly, but at the same time affectionately, he remarked : “You’re a jolly old humbug”

Aquí Pemberton es pillado por su pupilo (y por el lector pues ya sabe desde el capítulo anterior que los tiene catalogados y que los llegará a odiar) en un desliz moral – literalmente mintiendo- pues había quedado claro que Pemberton desaprobaba la tendencia de los padres de desentenderse del chico.

El narrador-observador-personaje termina reconociendo que esta situación marcará un punto de inflexión en la relación pupilo-tutor

It produced for Pemberton an embarrassment; it raised in a shadowy form a question – this was the first glimpse of it – destined to play a singular and, as he imagined, owing to the altogether peculiar conditions, an unprecedented part in his intercourse with his little companion.

Una vez más toda elección del lenguaje es conducente a lo vago y ambiguo, apuntando preguntas borrosas, primera miradas, condiciones peculiares, papeles sin precedentes a jugar por parte de los actores que marcarán su relación.

Lo más ambiguo moralmente es que Pemberton de seguida se justifica diciéndose a sí mismo que todo este proceder suyo surge tan solo de su necesidad de inducir en Morgan la idea de que no debe faltarle el respeto a sus padres – sensación por otro lado que el lector- al igual que Morgan- no extrajo de sus palabras.

What had added to the clumsiness then was that he thought it his duty to declare to Morgan that he might abuse him, Pemberton, as much as he liked, but must never abuse his parents.

Como vemos esta solución tampoco nos saca del camino fangoso de la indefinición moral. Siempre volveremos a lo largo de lo que resta de conversación a este tipo de situación moralmente ambigua.

Capítulo IV

En este capítulo habiendo pasado otro año más en la  relación del tutor y su pupilo y caído en desgracia económica la familia, todos malviven en Paris, lo que no impide que Pemberton y Morgan disfruten de Notre Dame o Les Invalides.

En uno de estos memorables párrafos se nos explica, a través de la mirada de Pemberton, la lógica de Mrs. Moreen

Morgan was dear to his mother, but he never was better dressed than was absolutely necessary – …….Mrs. Moreen shrewdly forebore 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. Her position was logical enough – those members of her family who did show had to be showy.

Este pasaje nos indica como Morgan y Pemberton están siendo desplazado de la vida social de la familia y por lo tanto no serán acreedores a un buen vestir a la vez que va dejando cada vez mas clara la poca estatura moral de Mrs. Moreen.

En este capítulo surgirá la primera exigencia del pago del dinero que le deben por parte de Pemberton- y que lo irá aproximando a ese estatus cuasi-carencial en lo moral a la vez que lo irá apartando de el estoicismo altruista de estar con Morgan por que lo considere su obligación moral –   y por parte de Mrs Moreen el primer uso de la estrategia de dar vuelta las circunstancias para mostrar que Pemberton en realidad no merece ser pagado pues está disfrutando de la presencia de su pupilo y de la generosidad de sus padres al mantenerlo con ellos.

…she thought all the while they were getting on so beautifully. Pemberton’s reply to this revelation was that unless they immediately put down something on account he  would leave them on the spot and for ever.


“You won’t, you know you won’t – you’re too interested.” She laughed with almost condemnatory archness, as if it were a reproach –

Debemos inferir que a los ojos de Mrs. Moreen la posición de Pemberton no solo no es extremadamente generosa al seguir con ellos sin haber cobrado prácticamente nada, sino que es interesada.  Esta declaración de Mrs. Moreen y las reflexiones que al respecto le merecerán a Pemberton lo llevan a concluir que

He had simply given himself away to a band of adventurers….it pointed out a moral, and Pemberton could enjoy a moral. The Moreens were adventurers not merely because they didn´t pay their debts, because they lived on society, but because their whole view of life, dim and confused and instinctive, like that of clever colour-blind animals, was speculative and rapacious and mean.

Es ésta una reflexión final y definitiva – una definición clara al fin – de la  familia Moreen por parte de Pemberton.  Están lejos de ser humanos, se les compara con animales daltónicos, con bestias rapaces, pero también poseen aquellas cualidades que por terribles solo pueden pertenecer a los hombres : son especulativos y egoístas. Queda claro pues quienes son y que Morgan había esbozado ya estas cualidades en su lamentable familia – es más con su típico presagiar James nos adelanta :

When this truth became vivid to their ingenious inmate he remained unconscious of how much his mind had been prepared for it by the extraordinary little boy who had now become such a complication in his life. Much less could he then calculate on the information he was still to owe the extraordinary little boy.

Morgan es más inteligente que Pemberton- lo prepara para entender, le advierte de ciertas cosas –  o tal vez suceda que el chico no deja de formar parte de esta familia de aventureros y por la misma razón está jugando con su tutor dejándole saber algunas cosas ahora, y otras después. Revelándole como lo hará en el capítulo VI que una niñera que había tenido de pequeño había pasado por el mismo trance que Pemberton- cosa que aún no se atreve a contarle.  Sin embargo se nos dice que Pemberton permanece inconsciente de este ‘teje y maneje’ de los Moreen.

¿Como lectores debemos pues inferir que la inocencia de Pemberton le quitará parte de su responsabilidad final en la muerte del chico?

Es de señalar otro punto importante que se nos adelanta : el chico a empezado a ser una complicación en la vida de su tutor. Empezamos a contemplar junto con Pemberton la necesidad imperiosa de alejarse de este ambiente opresor y de empezar a vivir su vida que aún es joven y que de alguna manera se concretará cuando Pemberton se vaya a trabajar a Londres.

Capítulo V

Es éste un capítulo revelador de la personalidad no solo de los Moreen sino también de Pemberton, que como hemos señalado empezará a contaminarse de sus formas, y hasta contemplará la posibilidad de descubrirle a Morgan las malas artes de su familia e irse abandonándolos a su suerte.

Comienza el capítulo cuestionando Pemberton la idoneidad de tocar con su pupilo un tema tan filoso como el de su situación en la familia.

But it was during the ensuing time that the real problem came up – the problem of how far it was excusable to discuss the turpitude of parents with a child of twelve, of thirteen, of fourteen.

Absolutely inexcusable and quite impossible it of course at first appeared; and indeed the question didn’t press for some time after Pemberton had received his three hundred francs.

Empieza a tomar forma en la mente del lector que el tema de dinero es importante – de hecho lo ha sido siempre desde el comienzo del primer capitulo – aunque la exquisita relación entre pupilo y tutor muchas veces lo soslaye. Pemberton duda en confesarle a Morgan en que condiciones está como su tutor pero lo posterga pues recibe algo de dinero. Moralmente todo este planteamiento no satisface al lector pues quisiera que Pemberton no tuviera estos sentimientos tan mundanos, quisiera que su relación con el pobre Morgan no estuviera contaminada por algo tan prosaico. Mas adelante Pemberton se alegra de que la familia esté alquilando unos aposentos muy precarios pues en caso contrario habría aún menos dinero para él.

…the rooms they wanted, were generally very splendid; but fortunately they never COULD get them – fortunately, I mean, for Pemberton, who reflected always that if they had got them there would have been a still scantier educational fund.

Aquí James – o el narrador omnisciente –  nos guía en nuestra valoración de Pemberton al adentrarnos desde una perspectiva externa en su mente.

Aún una segunda vez Pemberton atacará en pos de su dinero a los Moreen

He cornered Mr. and Mrs. Moreen again and let them know that if on the spot they didn’t pay him all they owed him he wouldn’t only leave their house but would tell Morgan exactly what had brought him to it.

Como vemos, Pemberton se decide por lo que antes consideró impropio, exigir su dinero y en caso de no obtenerlo irse, explicándole a Morgan toda la verdad. Nuestro tutor sigue descendiendo moralmente – aún cuando se nos empuja a entenderlo y a justificar su comportamiento. De aquí la ambigüedad moral que tanto comentamos y que se mantiene durante toda la obra hasta el mismo final.

Como respuesta Mrs. Moreen le traerá otros cincuenta francos y surgirá entre ellos una conversación muy reveladora

What Mrs. Moreen’s ardour now bore upon was the design of persuading him that in the first place she was very good-natured to bring him fifty franc, and that in the second, if he could only see it, he was really too absurd to expect to be paid………….Wasn’t he paid above all by the sweet relation he had established with Morgan –

El desarrollo de la conversación llevará al maestro a aceptar la propuesta de Mrs. Moreen – aún cuando él lo considere una forma chantaje – de que siga con ellos bajo la forma de prestación gratuita de servicios a cambio del privilegio de poder seguir disfrutando de la compañía del muchacho.

Es curioso como la actitud de Mrs. Moreen y su planteamiento a todo juicio absurdo es aceptado prácticamente en el acto por Pemberton – quedando lejos sus pretensiones de remuneración aun cuando no así su intención de contar a Morgan su verdadera situación.

“That leaves me more free” said Pemberton

“To poison my darling’s mind” groaned Mrs. Moreen

“Oh your darling’s mind- ¡” the young man laughed.


“You may tell him any horror you like¡”

Con esta conversación se sucede la condición de víctima y verdugo, de chantajista y chantajeado de uno a otro y, por supuesto, James logra una vez más que reine la ambigüedad moral en todo el pasaje.

Capítulo VI

En este capítulo – después de algunas dudas – pupilo y maestro se sincerarán. Morgan le confesará que conoce la verdadera situación de Pemberton pues no es la primera vez que tal situación se da en su entorno. Zenobie, su niñera, había pasado por el mismo trance.

“They thought she’d stay for nothing” ….”She did stay very long, as long as she could.”…..”She told me it was their idea. So I guessed, ever so long ago, that they have had the same idea with you.”

Si todo este pasaje goza de ambigüedad en lo relativo a la moral – por parte de uno y otro – más sorprendido nos dejará el siguiente en el cual la relación inicial entre pupilo y maestro que podíamos representar por


ahora se convertirá en


“We ought to go off and live somewhere together,” the young man said.

“I’ll go like a shot if you’ll take me.”

“I’d get some work that would keep us both afloat,” Pemberton continued.

La conversación derivará en el enjuiciamiento por parte del chico de sus padres:

“They leave me with you altogether. You’ve all the responsibility”

y en la mentira –piadosa o no – una vez más de Pemberton:

“Except for  the little matter we speak of  they’re charming people,” said Pemberton.

El lector se pierde en esta vorágine de entrega por parte de tutor hacia su pupilo, de búsqueda de lo que es justo para ambos, de adivinar cual será la reacción de cada uno de ellos, y por sobre todas las cosas, de lo que como lector, como persona imparcial, debe considerar justo.

Inmediatamente Pemberton constata para sí que Morgan carece de la bajeza de sus padres y se pregunta como lo había hecho antes – en el capítulo II  cuando reflexiona sobre  ‘the far jumps of heredity’ – por la razón que hace que Morgan no posea las terribles cualidades de sus progenitores.

…a temper, a sensibility, even a private ideal, which made him as privately disown the stuff his people were made of.

Estas reflexiones nos acercan a Morgan y una vez más nos aseguran, por si antes había habido dudas, que es un muchacho intachable. Este revelador capítulo también nos llevará a la idea clara que tiene Morgan de su familia, aunque al igual que el lector no lo conoce absolutamente todo.

“I don’t know what they live on, or how they live, or WHY they live¡ What have they got and how did they get it ?…What the dickens they want to pass for?

Pero sí sabe que, sea cual fuere el motivo que los guia, la suya es una vida de hipocresía. Finalmente Morgan se pregunta y le pregunta a Pemberton por qué permanece con ellos …y se contesta que Pemberton debe tener su propia ‘idea’

“Oh you’ve got your idea”

“My idea?”

“Why that I probably shan’t make old –make older – bones, and that you can stick it out till I’m removed.”

Este juego en el que el engañado pasa a ser el que engaña y vice-versa , acabará por poner entre maestro y pupilo las cosas en claro

“Ah now that we look at the facts it’s all right”

Capítulo VII

En la misma tónica el Capítulo VII nos narra como Pemberton consigue un nuevo trabajo y – en principio bajo un acuerdo tácito de labrarse un porvenir para Morgan– abandona a los Moreen.

El lector se preguntará, sin embargo, hasta qué punto esto será cierto y hasta qué punto no estará – haciendo uso de todo su derecho – escapando a la terrible situación.

Capítulo VIII

Es este un capítulo clave – el del desenlace final – en el cual se plantean dudas que hasta cierto punto el lector solo se podrá contestar si hurga en su fuero íntimo y reconoce un patrón moral.

Pemberton está felizmente trabajando para una familia en Londres y recibe carta de Mrs. Moreen rogándole que vuelva pues Morgan está muy mal. Lo que primero se le ocurre al lector es que es mentira, es decir otra estrategema de Mrs. Moreen. Sin embargo, Pemberton no parece ponerlo en duda, aunque más tarde sabremos que intentó cerciorarse de ello mediante cartas a Morgan que éste no contestó.  Cuando abandona todo y llega a Paris se encuentra a un Morgan exultante y se indigna

“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?”

Lo ambiguo en todo este capítulo empezará por plantearse al preguntarse el lector por qué Pemberton no sospecha que todo puede ser una farsa de Mrs. Moreen. ¿No ha actuado ella siempre con engaños? Vemos como acusa a Morgan y que éste le asegura que contestó todas sus cartas y por ende no debe de haber recibido la que se refería a su enfermedad – lo que nos congracia con el chico. Por otro lado, también podemos sospechar que Morgan – tan listo e informado de los trapicheos de sus padres – supo de ello y prefirió que Pemberton volviera a sacarlo de engaños. Las

dudas están ahí sin resolver, y es que el autor nos ha llevado de la mano hasta este grado de ambigüedad que nos deja inermes en un universo de incógnitas.

Mrs. Moreen se defenderá de las acusaciones de falsedad y surgirá la posibilidad de que tutor y pupilo se vayan a vivir solos – aunque ahora Pemberton haya perdido su  trabajo. Mrs. Moreen les asegura, sin embargo,  que su marido no lo permitirá. Finalmente Mrs. Moreen plantea dejarse de experimentos tontos y que todo siga como antes de la partida de Pemberton.

..and we won’t have any more silly experiments, will we? They’re too absurd. It’s Mr. Pemberton’s place – every one in his place. Your in yours, your papa in his, me in mine – n’est-ce pas cheri? We’ll all forget how foolish we’ve been and have lovely times..”

Pemberton, a su pesar,  no lo tiene tan claro

..the suggested amendment didn’t keep his heart  rather from sinking, any more than it prevented him from accepting the prospect on the spot.

Y Mrs. Moreen a todo esto comienza a adelantar que pueden haber cambios en la familia.

Mrs. Moreen threw out more hints about the changes that were to be looked for..

Pemberton se hospedará en una habitación aparte, y se nos explica que esto agrada a Morgan pues favorecerá el momento de la escapada, como si de un libro de aventuras para niños se tratara, con Pemberton. Pero hay algo en el aire que aún no podemos – al igual que Morgan – aclarar. El foreshadowing sigue funcionando y nos prepara a nosotros y a Morgan para lo que vendrá-

….their long probation was drawing to a close. Morgan’s conviction that the Moreen’s couldn’t go on much longer kept pace with the unexpected impetus with which, from month to month, they did go on.

Sin embargo la situación no tardará mucho en tocar fondo. Unos meses después del regreso de Pemberton y luego de un paseo habitual con Morgan, al regresar al hotel, pupilo y maestro se encuentran una escena lamentable donde queda evidente que han sido echados por sus caseros. Este hecho afecta terriblemente a Morgan

When Morgan took all this in – and he took it very quickly – he coloured to the roots of his hair. He had walked from his infancy among difficulties and dangers, but he had never seen a public exposure….the tears had rushed into his eyes and that they were tears of a new and untested bitterness.

Parece que el agravio público afecta más a Morgan que el que desde siempre había sufrido en silencio – nos preguntamos por qué? Pero los acontecimientos se suceden rápidamente y veremos

…how the great change had come, the dreadful bolt had fallen, and  how they will all have to turn themselves about.

Palabras claves que anticipan y nos preparan para lo peor. Cada uno de los personajes tendrán que por fin definirse, también Morgan y Pemberton, y todo ello tendrá sus efectos irreversibles. Los Moreen explican – según sus convenciones invertidas –  que ya que Pemberton había hecho del chico algo tan suyo, lo deberá proteger bajo su responsabilidad ahora que ellos necesitan más tiempo y libertad para dedicarse a sus asuntos largamente descuidados. Entonces Morgan comprende

Morgan had turned away from his father – he stood looking at Pemberton with a light in his face. His sense of shame for their common humiliated state had dropped; the case had another side – the thing was to clutch at THAT. He had a moment of boyish joy,….the turn taken was away form a GOOD boy’s book – the “escape” was left on their hands.

El giro finalmente fue dado y somos testigos de  la reacción de Morgan que pasa de las lágrimas al sentirse abandonado por la familia hasta la felicidad ante la perspectiva de una vida nueva con su apreciado maestro. No habrá, sin embargo, mucha tregua para la alegría pues inmediatamente James pone a prueba la sagacidad del lector ante la reacción de Pemberton, que deberá ser observada  con mucho detenimiento si no queremos perder su profundo alcance.

The boyish joy was there an instant, and Pemberton was almost scared at the rush of gratitude and affection that broke through his first abasement. When he stammered “My dear fellow, what do you say to THAT?” …but there was more need for courage at something else that immediately followed and that made the lad sit down quietly on the nearest chair. He had turned quite livid and had raised his hand to his left side.

Si el lector no está muy atento fallará en advertir esa otra cosa que sucede y para la que tendrá que existir coraje . Y ello no es otra cosa que la vacilación de Pemberton que siente miedo y por un momento lo deja traslucir. El chico de extrema sensibilidad y conocedor de los intersticios psicológicos de su mentor, acusa el golpe y ello acabará con su vida.

“He couldn’t stand it with his weak organ” said Pemberton – “the  shock, the whole scene, the violent emotion.”

“But I thought he wanted to go to you” , wailed Mrs. Moreen.

“I told you he didn’t, my dear,” her husband made answer.

Todos reaccionarán desentendiéndose y echándose mutuamente la culpa, pero Morgan , el inocente, no vivirá para comprenderlos.

Es este último acto catártico el que produce en el lector la revelación final, la pieza que encaja y que hace que el rompe-cabeza cobre  sentido. Lo moral debe establecerse de forma clara, no podrá existir vacilación alguna si queremos preservar la inocencia.



1 El Método escénico

En 1890, año en que escribió The Pupil,  James obtuvo el encargo de escenificar The American (1877) con el cual obtuvo cierto éxito- lo que no le vino mal pues sus últimas novelas The Princess Casamassima (1886) y The Tragic Muse (1890) no había obtenido una respuesta muy esperanzadora.. James estaba preocupada de que a este paso no podría vivir de su literatura y creyó ver en el teatro una oportunidad de asegurar lo que él llamó ‘real freedom for one’s general artistic life’[3]

Así fue que escribió tres comedias en los años siguientes, aunque no encontró productor para escenificarlas. Finalmente descansó todas sus esperanza en Guy Domville, un drama de costumbres ambientado en la Inglaterra del siglo dieciocho y que trata de un joven católico que se debate entre su vocación religiosa y la obligación, ante la muerte de su hermano, de casarse y continuar el apellido familiar. James había puesto todas sus esperanzas en la obra y fue abucheado personalmente al salir al escenario al final de la obra. Todavía resonaban en sus oídos los aplausos de la obra de Wilde que acababa de ver : An Ideal Husband, y este fracaso personal lo hizo abandonar para siempre su vocación como dramaturgo.

Sin embargo dos conexiones con el tema que nos atañe podemos extraer de esta malograda experiencia : la influencia que el método escénico tuvo en su obra y la inclinación en la etapa inmediatamente posterior de escribir sobre niños y jóvenes.

1.1 La influencia del método escénico

Ya en The Pupil vemos la estructura del método escénico pues, aún cuando fue anterior a su fracaso como dramaturgo, ya estaba adaptando The American. La historia se desarrolla en una serie de escenas o encuentros dramáticos entre los personajes principales y cuyos diálogos albergan el motivo que es relevante para EL argumento. Son diálogos cargados de vaguedad o ambigüedad y que requieren del lector mucho afán de interpretación, pues están siempre vistos desde la conciencia del personaje central –  ‘central intelligence’ o ‘sentient center’  como a veces se le llamó- y por lo tanto, cada escena de la novela será reveladora de algún aspecto nuevo del personaje del cual el lector0 deberá distanciarse si quiere valorarlo e interpretarlo correctamente. Todas  estas características, las observamos en The Pupil y las hemos señalado en nuestro análisis en la Parte II de este trabajo.

Muchas de estas escenas también poseen la cualidad, por así decirlo, del tiempo real, al igual que en el teatro naturalista. Un ejemplo de ello en The Pupil es todo el capítulo I – el primer encuentro de Pemberton con Mrs. Moreen y Morgan – y que perfectamente podría ser la Escena I de una obra de teatro.

Este método, en su época, representó todo un cambio, pues James se inclinó más por ‘mostrar’ que por ‘contar’ . Es decir, en lugar de las extensivas explicaciones y descripciones por parte del autor que eran tan comunes en la literatura del siglo diecinueve James aparece poco en sus obras y solo nos llegan las impresiones del personaje central. Como consecuencia directa de ello, el esfuerzo interpretativo que se le requiere al lector es equivalente al esfuerzo que experimente el personaje central de la obra.

James creyó lograr así una mayor intensidad y efecto en sus obras que pretendió lo alejaran de los que llamó  ‘loose baggy monsters’ de la ficción clásica de la época. Así lo confesó en su Notebook  alrededor de 1897:

‘When I ask myself what there may have been so show for my long tribulation, my wasted  years and patiences and pangs, of theatrical experience, the answer comes up as just possibly this : what I have gathered from it will perhaps have been exactly some such mastery of fundmental statement – of the art and secret of it, of expresión, of the sacred mystery of structure.’[4]

2.  La Etapa de Niños Inocentes

Debido a este método subjetivo de representar la experiencia la obra de James se presta a un análisis psicoanalítico. Leon Edel , biógrafo de James, supo ver varias interpretaciones psicoanalíticas de su obra. Una que nos puede interesar en este estudio es la simetría que creyó entrever entre este momento tan angustioso de su carrera literaria – su fracaso teatral – y su interés por la niñez – pintándonos en varias de sus obras la exposición inerme de la inocencia frente a lo decadente y perdido del mundo adulto.

Leon Edel creyó ver mucho de James en Maisie,

Maisie’s bewilderment and isolation is James`s ….but the world’s cruelty and hostility are recreated into a comic vision of benign childish curiosity.

What Maisie Knew es por sobretodo la historia de una niña inocente y generosa cuyos padres toman como campo de batalla en el discurrir de su divorcio y que llega a aceptarlo todo, permaneciendo como espectadora de unas vidas casi ajenas, hasta que al final deberá elegir sus futuro y tal vez en esta última decisión perderá su inocencia, morirá el niño que lleva dentro, teniendo que actuar como una mujer.

Sir Claude – uno de los personajes- de la novela –dice hacia el final de la obra:

“One would think you were about sixty…”

Maisie contrastará en su inocencia con el comportamiento abominablemente amoral de sus padres, pero en el proceso de maduración perderá esa condición angelical que la caracteriza durante casi toda la obra.

También Miles , el pequeño de The Turn of the Screw,  sufrirá  las consecuencias de los defectos de los adultos. Tanto su padre que lo abandona a manos de unos criados cuando menos ignorantes o, como en el caso de Quint decididamente malignos. Se ha escrito mucho sobre la institutriz de Miles y Flora y parece prevalecer la idea de que era una persona desequilibrada que imagina – debido a sus neurosis – los fantasmas. Ello no quita intensidad a nuestra teoría de que lo que James nos está advirtiendo es que debemos seguir patrones morales muy serios, por sobre todas las circunstancias cuando los inocentes están por medio. La corrupción puede venir en forma consciente o inconsciente – ello no afectará el resultado final.

En The Awkward Age las dos vírgenes ansiosas sufrirán las vicisitudes interpuestas por los adultos y en In the Cage la heroína terminará derrotada por las circunstancias de una sociedad corrupta teniendo que resignarse a una vida por debajo de sus expectativas.

Esta fórmula ‘corrupción-inocencia’, a veces ‘moralidad-inmoralidad’ otras ‘lo que esta bien hecho-lo que está mal hecho’ que aparece tan interrelacionada por vínculos extremadamente delicados dará lugar a circunstancias de ambigüedad moral. Y es que en la vida, como en la literatura de James, es la perspectiva desde la cual cada personaje observa y actúa lo que prevalece. Ello nos adentra en un mundo de incertidumbres donde nada es blanco o negro. Donde debemos suspender los juicios hasta haber primero interpretado en cada caso cual debe ser el patrón moral a seguir. James intenta al menos llamar nuestra atención sobre tan filoso tema, que en sus propias palabras es

‘the close conexión of bliss and bale, of the things that help with the things that hurt, so dangling before us for ever that bright hard medal, of so strange an alloy, one face of which is somebody’s right and ease and the other somebody’s pain and wrong’.[5]

Todos los personajes infantiles o jóvenes de James se caracterizan por poseer una sensibilidad extrema – como en el caso de Morgan –  la misma  ‘extreme sensibility’ que James atribuye a los escritores en su ensayo The Art of Fiction.

Todos estos niños inocentes – de extrema sensibilidad – parecen para Leon Edel identificarse con el propio James maltratado ya no por el mundo adulto pero si por la sociedad – auditorio que no lo sabe interpretar.

Sea como sea, esta relación inocente-corruptor servirá maravillosamente a James para plasmar en su literatura esta visón moral tan suya y sin la cual consideraba que la literatura no tenía razón de ser.



The Pupil, es, entre muchas otras cosas, acerca de dinero. El dinero es un tema, que aunque no aparece en primer plano, si subyace a lo largo de toda la obra. Los Moreen viven sin dinero, pero Morgan hace cábalas acerca del tema y Pemberton sufre por él. Es decir, está ahí, subyacente.

En las primeras líneas del relato nos aparece el caballeroso tutor de Morgan al cual vemos ansioso pues necesita el puesto de trabajo para vivir. Ha estudiado en Yale y luego en Oxford y sus arcas están vacías :

..when as yet one’s university honours had, pecuniarily speaking remained barren.

Sin embargo no considera decoroso tocar el tema de su retribución directamente.

The poor man hesitated and procrastinated: it cost him such an effort to broach the subject of terms.

Es que Pemperton está criado y educado con el código de la época, que justamente James está analizando y al que aplica su crítica. La gente refinada del final del siglo diecinueve no debían hablar de dinero y el hecho de no hablar de ello daba por supuesto que el tema no era importante pues el dinero afluía a las cuentas bancarias de forma constante y un tanto enigmática. James sin embargo nos dice :

…..he would have liked to hear       (la cifra de su retribución)

La señora Moreen es reacia a tocar el tema del dinero pero el lector comienza a darse cuenta que este rechazo no se debe a su refinado desagrado en tratar temas tan mundanos sino que es una estratagema de evasión.

James nos pinta a las Sra. Moreen como la dama

…who sat there drawing a pair of soiled gants de Suede through  a fat jewelled hand and, at once pressing and gliding, repeated over everything but the he would have liked to hear

Con esta imagen James nos está diciendo que la Sra. Moreen no es sincera en cuanto a su pertenencia a la alta sociedad. Sus guantes aunque se nombren en francés están manchados y muy faltos de chic aristocrático.

El narrador de James, que continuamente entrará en la mente de Pemberton y que por momentos es él, verá a la familia como una banda de gitanos. Ni siquiera Morgan, que es el observador más cercano que tiene la familia puede entender de donde sale el dinero que apenas se menciona :

I don´t know what they live on, or why the live¡

La pregunta no la puede contestar nadie, el misterio de donde sale el dinero es impenetrable. A lo largo de la obra la Sra. Moreen y Pemberton tendrán algunos encuentros donde el tema del dinero saldrá a relucir y estas veces ya ambos habrán olvidado que no es elegante mencionarlo.

Cuando ya es obvio entre Morgan y Pemberton que el tutor ha sido engañado por sus empleadores y no está siendo retribuido por sus servicios, Pemberton le llega a decir a Morgan un tanto descuidadamente

We ought to go off an live somewhere together..

Cuando se decide a coger otro trabajo comenta

..I’ll make a tremendous charge : I’ll make a lot of money in a short time, and we’ll live on it

Aquí una vez más el dinero aparece. Antes pretendía ganar dinero cuidando a Morgan, ahora pretende ganar dinero para mantener a Morgan.

El drama se desencadenará cuando debido a que abandona a su nuevo pupilo para volver junto a Morgan alarmado por la falsa enfermedad, ya no poseerá dinero para mantenerse él ni a su pupilo.

Paradójicamente aunque James es criticado por el alejamiento de sus personajes de lo material, The Pupil nos muestra como claramente esto no es así, es más, no es la única obra donde subyace el interés material de los personajes. En The Wings of the Dove, por ejemplo los protagonistas deben contener sus sentimientos pues no disponen de dinero. Esta carencia cambiará sus vidas y en definitiva arruinará un amor sincero. En The Spoils of Poyton, unas antigüedades atesoradas por la Sra. Gereth cambiará la vida de los personajes principales. En The Aspern Papers el protagonista también pretenderá venderse en matrimonio por un “tesoro”. Hasta en In the Cage, la protagonista pretende formar parte de una sociedad donde Everand o  Bredeen tienen dinero a diferencia de ella misma y de su empobrecida familia. The Pupil nos muestra como toda la familia de Morgan se mueve con criterios conducentes a casar a sus hijas con unos buenos partidos.

Es obvio que James estaba muy preocupado en analizar las motivaciones materiales por las cuales los hombres y mujeres hipotecan sus principios y sus ideales; en esa eterna lucha que es la vida humana entre lo que nos hacen creer que necesitamos y lo que realmente nuestro espíritu necesita. La forma en la que James mejor supo contar estas tribulaciones está generalmente basada en técnicas como la ambigüedad moral que sobretodo magistralmente utiliza en The Pupil.


Además de disfrutar de una larga y productiva carrera como novelista, James fue un escritor prolífico de relatos cortos o tales. Consideraba que esta forma era la idónea para la concentración dramática que fue su pasión. A medida que fue creciendo como escritor más usó esta forma literaria que le sirvió para examinar presiones y conflictos peculiares. The Pupil le sirve para analizar los conflictos morales. Pero la técnica que utiliza Henry James se basa en la ambigüedad, es esta expresa ambigüedad moral lo que nos alertará acerca de la necesidad de guiarnos por patrones morales sólidos.

Nuestro estudio nos lleva a concluir que para James lo moral es ineludible, cualquier forma de minimización de su importancia es peligrosa. Si la actitud en este caso del adulto es ambigua moralmente, el niño inocente la detectará aún en su ínfima expresión, como ocurre en el caso de la vacilación de Pemberton al final de la obra que nos ocupa. El doble drama en The Pupil será que Morgan llegará a aceptar la hipocresía y falta de moralidad de sus padres pues aún le restaba el ejemplo moral del maestro. Cuando éste lo traicione ya no podrá continuar viviendo.

Morgan , como todos sus personajes niños, tiene mucho de James. James había sido un niño de hotel, de ambientes acomodados y que había dedicado su vida a asombrarse y a vagabundear. Para él la contemplación había constituido la acción. Morgan y Pemberton pasan sus años contemplando y en su contemplación viven y crean patrones morales. Los crean para seguirlos, no para transgredirlos, de ahí el desenlace.

Hemos analizado y concluido que esta ambigüedad moral no existe tan solo en Pemberton, también en Fleda, en la institutriz de The Turn of the Screw , en el protagonista de The Aspern Papers, o en Kate Croy y Merton Densher.

James tiene debilidad por lo implícito, lo tácito, las medias palabras, las insinuaciones, lo no dicho y esta manera de no decir, cuenta más que mil palabras. Esta forma ambigua le proporciona un ambiente idóneo para remarcar lo que más le importa. Y lo que más le importa en este relato es lo moral.


EDEL, Leon (1985) Henry James : A Life. New York : Harper Row.

PEROSA, Sergio (1983) Henry James and the Experimental Novel. New York University Press.

STOWE, William W. “Realism, the Drama of Consciousness and the text :  The Wings of the Dove” .Princeton : Princeton University Press.(1983).

1979 (1981) “The Pupil”; (1982) “The Real Thing”; (1903) “The Beast in the Jungle”. The Portable Henry James, M.D. Zabel (ed.). Penguin Books.

1992 (1884) The Art of Fiction.  Taller de Estudios Norteamericanos : Textos bilingües. (introd.. y Trad. M.A. Álvarez) León : Ediciones de la Universidad.

1987 (1897) The Spoils of Poynton, Penguin Books.

1985 (1897) What Maisie Knew. Penguin Books.

1984 (1899) The Awkward Age. Oxford University Press.

1984 (1899) The Wings of the Dove. Oxford University Press.

1983 (1914) A Small Boy and Others. Autobiography. F.W. Dupee (ed. Introd.), Princeton : Princeton University Press.

1979 (1881) A Portrait of a Lady. Penguin Books.

1987 (1961) The Complete Notebooks. Leon Edel & Liall H. Power (ed. Introd.).Oxford University Press.

1984 (1902) The Ambassadors. Oxford University Press.

Henry James etexts at Adrian Dover’s web site : In the Cage (1898)The purpose of this dissertation is to analyse moral ambiguity in one of Henry James’s finest middling-long stories, written when he was forty-seven and very much at the top of his game : The Pupil.

* Mathew Arnold poeta, ensayista y crítico literario inglés.1822-1888

[1] Henry James’ Moral Vision. Harold Beaver, ‘International Needs’ in the New Pelican Guide to English Literature 9. American Literature. 1991. Harold Beaver was Professor of American Literature at Amsterdam University and visiting professor at Denver University.

[2] Cita tomada de The Art of Fiction.

§ Whistler, James (Abbott) McNeill 1834-1903 pintor americano que residió en Inglaterra y Francia a partir de 1855.

¨ Wilde, Oscar 1854-1900 poeta, dramaturgo, ensayista y novelista irlandés.

[3] Leon Edel, The Life of Henry James (Harmondsworth,1977). Vol 2, p.15.

[4] The Notebooks of Henry James, ed. F.O. Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdock (New York, 1961). P.208

[5] Cita tomada del Prefacio de la Edición de New York de 1908.

[6] Henry James’ Moral Vision. Harold Beaver, ‘International Needs` in The New Pelican Guide to English Literature 9. American Literature, 1991. Harold Beaver was Professor of American Literature at Amsterdam University and visiting professor at Denver University.

[7] Taken from Henry James’ Preface to the 1908 New York Edition