The Real Real Thing

The peculiarity of Henry James’ “The Real Thing” is that the unnamed artist that serves as the protagonist is attempting to attain something accurate with his art. However in trying to serve just that purpose the artist casts two robotic and mechanical productions as his muses, who call themselves the Monarchs. Samantha pointed out in her blog that the Monarchs stand as that symbol of upper class, but how that aura has quite diminished, so has their standing in society – which is why they scope out an artist to take their portrait. Nevertheless there is another reading that can be applied to the names ‘The Monarchs.’

The male Monarch came tumbling out like a giant from the artist’s hand and the female equivalent drew as “insurmountably stiff…[and] looked like a photograph or a copy of the photograph” (200). The artist goes so far as to say that Mrs. Monarch could sit or stand still for hours “as if she were before a photographer’s lens” (199), which rendered her role as being painted or penciled in quite unfitting. Thus The Monarchs should be a title that states the idea of mechanical production as what was in the forefront of that epoch. Since the world James was writing in was beginning to rise industrially, photography, and that sort of attainable truth was in more demand than an artist’s palate.

Still the accuracy of the photograph is being challenged by James’ words and by his main character. For the Monarchs then are made out to be cardboard cutouts, replicas of themselves and far from the ‘real thing.’ I believe James was showing us the hot air of photography by making the artist’s models model through the motions, “with their society laugh about nothing” (208). Several times the artist comments on the authenticity and ‘realness’ of the Monarchs, but he contradicts himself by stating the above facts, and thus describing them as culture copies – fake realizations of the ‘real.’ And thus the reality of the literal situation is what ultimately lends itself to making the truth come out, that the Monarchs are servants for the artist in the end. Their true roles are being served.

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