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Society vs. desire

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  1. Introduction
  2. Isabel Archer: The protagonist of Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady
  3. Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening
  4. Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  5. Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage
  6. Conclusion
  7. Bibliography

In America there is the idea that a person can be whoever and/or whatever they want and still have the chance to succeed. This is part of the so-called ?American Dream?. This idea is often a theme in the American novel. However, in the American novel, despite a character's desire to live the way that he or she wants, this is often met with great opposition. The opposition can come in many forms, whether it is their lack of opportunity or financial security, cultural norms, values (that are often outdated or misguided) of other characters or societies, and many other forces. Some of the characters that desire to live according to their own wishes in American novels are Isabel Archer, Edna Pontellier, Huckleberry Finn, and Henry Fleming. Each of these characters desire a sort of independence, and it is this desire that shapes their lives and the events of the worlds they exist in.

[...] She stated earlier that she would die for her children but never give up herself. So she chooses to die, instead of give up on her desires, which would be giving up herself. She cannot live on in the way she has chosen without destroying her children's reputation, so she makes a choice that again goes against what society teaches. Although she ultimately dies, she retains her independence (and lets her desires win out) in spite of the favored morality, norms, and institutions surrounding her, and in this way differs greatly from Isabel Archer. [...]

[...] She has always prided herself on her moral strength, and thus the promises she made bind her to her husband in a way that slowly strangles the life out of her independence. Isabel always has the means to support herself, and at the end of the novel Isabel has the choice to stay in America and be with Caspar, but she returns to Rome and Osmond because she feels she must due to social institutions. Isabel's desires to be independent and free thinking do not win in the end, and she gives in, letting herself be stifled by society. [...]

[...] The societal feelings on these emotions give people a way of explaining why people act as they do in war. They are either cowardly our courageous. Henry has been taught this, and initially believes it, but after spending time and experiencing things in battle, the beliefs that he held due to society's explanations are tested and shaken. The idea of individuality eventually gives way as Henry begins to feel that he is a single cog in a machine, along with the other soldiers. [...]

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