A red colored complexion signifies a fiery temperament. A yellow or green hue of the skin may hint at sickness. A square jaw means the epitome of masculinity. Authors such as Upton Sinclair, Henry James, Charles W. Chesnutt and William Dean Howells used physiognomy to relay important qualities about their characters. For instance, Jurgis and Ona are presented as the ideal couple in The Jungle because of their fertility, intelligence and hardworking nature; there are the stereotypical Mammy Jane from The Marrow of Tradition and Silas Lapham from The Rise of Silas Lapham, each one an epitome of their femininity and masculinity, respectfully; but in contrast, there are the effeminate male characters of Gilbert Osmond from The Portrait of a Lady and Mr. Corey from The Rise of Silas Lapham; and finally, Isabel Archer, the preeminent ideal of ‘goodness' from The Portrait of a Lady, and her antithesis, the evil Captain McBane from The Marrow of Tradition. I will examine the characters to show how their appearance relates to their behavior and sensibility.
[...] Isabel Archer, from The Portrait of a Lady, almost directly correlates to her appearance: she is skinny, lithe with narrow hips improper for breeding, she has brunette hair doubt James ever even considered making the intelligent heroine blonde) and clear, grey eyes. Most notably, Isabel's grey eyes signify intelligence; and it is a good choice for the character because the grey relates to her ‘greyness' of feminine character. Isabel is skinny, which relates to infertility and intelligence and subtlety; it shows where Isabel has her priorities: she does not want the same destiny of marriage that is similar for everyone else in her species. [...]
[...] In the novel The Marrow of Tradition Captain Mc Bane is an evil character. From appearances he is wholly unpleasant. He is described as a man of Scottish descent with a ruddy complexion, most likely from being an alcoholic; the ruddy complexion could also hint at Captain McBane's fiery, and hot tempered nature. He has one good eye, which probably relates to his narrow-mindedness where one can not see the totality of the circumstances because they are one eye short. [...]
[...] This is like an antithesis to the character of Silas Lapham; where as he was loud, obnoxious and drew attention to himself, the effeminate male characters, like Mr. Corey in The Rise of Silas Lapham and Gilbert Osmond in The Portrait of a Lady, these characters are quieter, more lean in appearance, and possess either a determined or a thoughtful looking eye. For these characters, Mr. Corey and Mr. Osmond are presented as leaner so as to not seem obtuse as though, being skinnier afforded more clarity of mind for a fat person. [...]
[...] Jurgis and Ona are presented as the ideal couple: the ideal man with his strong jaw, and the ideal woman as fertile, and yet both of them are hardworking individuals. Sinclair wants to show that an ideal is possible to rest within an immigrant. They are not subhuman, in fact some of them like Jurgis and Ona, their characters are an ideal for all humans striving toward virtuous characteristics. Stereotypical characters are found within the novels: for instance, the masculine, ‘man's- man' Silas Lapham; the kind and loving African-American nanny, Mammy Jane; and the effeminate male character, like Mr. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee