Close readings of Henry James

// Post your close readings of In the Cage here by midnight on Sunday, April 26. Don’t worry if you don’t see your text after submitting; comments will be held for moderation until I read and assess them.

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32 thoughts on “Close readings of Henry James

  1. Henry James’s In The Cage makes striking commentaries on technology, communication, miscommunication, romantic signals and romantic fantasies. James folds the protagonist’s work in a telegraph office into broader themes of conflicted class identity and romantic desire. The girl’s workplace is effectively described as a cage, a metaphor for the circumscribed nature of her life. However, she ultimately adopts a sort of contentment through disillusionment. In this sense, the text is a celebration of the average life amidst a backdrop of capitalistic desperation, and is also utterly modern.
    That the caged girl lives a circumscribed life is visible in a number of early examples: she still is referred to as “the betrothed of Mr. Mudge” (James 140). This reflects the extent to which her fantasies are subverted by cruel, confining reality. Her identity within the text depends upon her relationship with a distant man, a reduction of her agency from a feminist perspective. The protagonist initially desires romance and excitement, but these exist in fundamental conflict with her identity; in her world, wealth and romance are unrealistic because of those to whom she relates. However, her “cage” is one of employment, which chains her to an identity she cannot shed, in that it shapes her interactions with others. Marx’s distaste for machines is visible in the oppressive nature of the telegraph itself, which essentially helps to propagate the girl’s delusion of grandeur: A certain man, essentially a stranger, might desire her.
    Her conversation with Mrs. Jordan in chapter eight, which includes a bragging match about knowing the secrets of the rich, offers an example of an identity defined by its role of servitude. However, the work she does simultaneously empowers her. She handles “their affairs, their appointments and arrangements, their little games and secrets and vices” (139), a form of interaction she equates with knowing these aristocrats personally. At the very least, they allow her to keep her fantasies, which conflate others’ lives with her own. To an extent, when she says, “They’re too real! They’re selfish brutes” (139) to Mrs. Jordan, the caged girl expresses a frustration with clientele; they cannot hope to match the standards of conduct that she imagines for them. This constitutes her unflattering opinion of them. She wipes the false veneer of glamour from a privileged lifestyle, foreshadowing the end of her own “relationship” with Everard. “I hate them;” she says, “There’s that charm!” (139). In a sense, the telegraph girl’s eventual disillusionment with bourgeoisie life, along with her paradoxical desire for knowledge of it, represents a textual illustration of the proletariat identity crisis. She desires snippets of bourgeoisie life as a means of living out idealized romantic fantasies, but resents the perceived superficiality of her clientele.
    While her ultimate decision to marry Mr. Mudge reflects the victory of an unromantic society, her corresponding contentment is a simultaneous example of internal victory through personal contentment. In that relationship, there is no mystique or veneer of glamour. The text therefore makes a melancholy testament to an ultimate unromantic reality while it glorifies the integrity of those who work.

  2. Chapter 10
    “They’re the most awful wretches, I assure you—the lot all about there.”
    “Then why do you want to stay among them?”
    “My dear man, just because they are. It makes me hate them so.”
    “Hate them? I thought you liked them.”
    “Don’t be stupid. What I ‘like’ is just to loathe them. You wouldn’t believe what passes before my eyes.”
    “Then why have you never told me? You didn’t mention anything before I left.”
    “Oh I hadn’t got round to it then. It’s the sort of thing you don’t believe at first; you have to look round you a bit and then you understand. You work into it more and more. Besides,” the girl went on, “this is the time of the year when the worst lot come up. They’re simply packed together in those smart streets. Talk of the numbers of the poor! What I can vouch for is the numbers of the rich! There are new ones every day, and they seem to get richer and richer. Oh, they do come up!” she cried, imitating for her private recreation—she was sure it wouldn’t reach Mr. Mudge—the low intonation of the counter-clerk.
    _____________________________________________________________

    In Chapter 10, the protagonist has a conversation with Mr. Mudge that reveals her attitudes towards the high society. The young telegraph girl uses these wealthy individuals as the inspirations to her daydreams, while claiming she only finds them interesting because she enjoys hating them. In their banter (and throughout the novella), Mr. Mudge serves as a foil to the girl, representing the boring reality of her working-class life.

    The girl refers to the upper class as if they are a certain breed of people. She generalizes for all high society, hyperbolizing their numbers. She uses caesura to build tension when stating, “I assure you – the lot all about there” (144). However, her apparent disgust with the upper class is ironic due to her fascination with them. She loves to hate them, which is an oxymoron in itself. This works as a disguise for her jealously; she hates what she cannot have. She isolates the upper class, claiming she can see them getting richer; she even explains to Mudge there is a season for them, when the “worst lot come up,” where “they’re simply packed together in those smart streets” (144). She also uses an alliteration at the end of her sentence to link ‘smart streets’ together – the ‘s’ sound is often used to suggest snakelike qualities such as slyness. Linking the rich with cunningness furthers her argument that these people are contemptible by creating distrust.

    The girl refers to the upper class as ‘wretches,’ inferring that she finds these people despicable and horrible. However, when Mudge questions why she feels this way, the girl adopts a tone of contempt, as if the answer is obvious. Without giving a much detail, she explains that the rich are dreadful “just because they are” (144). The italicized ‘are’ reveals her mocking tone, as if she were confused why Mudge could not understand. When Mudge continues to search for an answer, she responds curtly with “don’t be stupid” (144). She constantly puts down Mudge because she wants to heighten her own self-worth; creating space between her and Mudge allows her to feel more significant and important. He is a representation of her reality, while her idealized daydreams of Everard provide her with a glimpse of hope. Mudge is a lack-luster character, yet thinks logically and linearly. He later offers her a humdrum future by proposing to her, which she views being trapped in a stagnant social class.

    The use of the word “intonation” in the last sentence is important in understanding the girl’s attitude towards Mudge. An intonation is a tone or pitch pattern in speech that distinguishes kinds of sentences or speakers from different cultures. Here, the “low intonation of a counter-clerk” mocks Mudge’s position and shows how she feels that Mudge cannot resonate with her. She looks down on his position in society although it is not much different than hers. For some reasons, she considers herself more sophisticated from Mudge, by stating, “what I can vouch for is the numbers of the rich!” (144). She gives herself more credibility than Mudge because she considers herself to have rubbed elbows with the upper class. However, these socialites mean more to her and her fantasies than she will ever mean to them; Everard hardly knows that she exists.

  3. There is a line in chapter six, where the girl is talking to Mrs. Jordan about her engagement that reads “and what our heroine saw and felt for in the whole business was the vivid reflexion of her own dreams and delusions and her own return to reality.” Throughout the story, the girl looks down on Mrs. Jordan even while being her friend. She feels that she has the real insight into the upper class people they both come in contact with because she reads their messages while Mrs. Jordan only thinks she knows them. The girl is constantly taken up by these fantasies, that she has some special place unlike any other in relation to the upper class. You can see this in the scene two chapters earlier when she remembers the number Captain Everard sent in a telegraph that he needed. She describes it as “No happiness she had ever known came within miles of it”. The fantasies are her only real source of happiness in her otherwise boring life. The conversation with Mrs. Jordan, though, is the moment at which she sees someone as wrapped up in fantasy as she had been, and how many people must feel like they have that unique place with the possibility of rising beyond their birth. She sees in Mrs. Jordan’s delusion that marrying a butler would allow her to join the ranks of the upper class her own delusion that speaking to people for a few minutes a week and reading their messages to others could make them her friends. But she recognizes that in reality, people of their birth did not have the ability to join the higher society. After this conversation she makes the decision to marry Mr. Mudge and move away as soon as possible, because she cannot stand working at the telegraph office anymore now that the fantasy has been broken. However, she still recognizes that the delusion was a happy one, and one of the only happy things she has had in life. Because of this realization, she decides not to say anything to Mrs. Jordan and ruin her happy fantasy. She knows that by not breaking this fantasy she is giving up Mrs. Jordan as a friend, because the social gap between the girl and the upper class must also be between her and Mrs. Jordan if Mrs. Jordan’s fantasy of joining the upper class is to continue. The girl sees this as the only gift she has to give to her friend. The girl’s fantasy breaks at this moment, but the final realization comes in the final chapter when she finds out from Mrs. Jordan that Captain Everard does not have any money. Her fantasies had hinged on Everard being the rich man who in the stories would fall in love with her and take her away from her dreary life. However, not only did she know that wouldn’t happen but in fact couldn’t happen. For all of her insistence that she knew those people, her basic assumptions were wrong the entire time, and so her entire fantasy was pointless.

  4. First and foremost, I would like to disclose that while reading In The Cage, I was thoroughly confused and I may have missed some very important meanings/ events that occurred. I feel as though I didn’t fully grasp the context of the book. It was extremely hard to read for me without feeling as though I was reading in circles, or reading lines then rereading the same lines in order to fully grasp what was going on and even then, not fully comprehending the entirety of it all. I feel I may need to read it a couple more times and in solitary confinement until I truly understand Jamesian language, but for the purpose of this assignment, I will do my best to explain what I understood of it all and my interpretations (that were heavily molded from class discussion).

    “She felt it all, and seemed literally to feel it most when she went quite wrong, speaking of the stuffy days as cold, of the cold ones as stuffy, and betraying how little she knew, in her cage, of whether it was foul or fair.” (148)

    With these lines from In The Cage, the last lines struck me as alluding to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the famous lines of “fair is foul and foul is fair.” In Macbeth, it’s in reference to the breaking of boundaries and the idea of nothing is as what it seems, or the difficulty of distinguishing between appearances and reality. The three witches, in the beginning of the play, tell Macbeth a prophecy of him becoming Thane of Cawdor and coincidentally, Macbeth fulfilled that prophecy. However, there is never proof that what the witches say is just meant to be coincidental versus true – again, breaking the boundary of appearance versus reality. Also, Macbeth being perceived as the evil character and being the sole reason for the murder of Banquo, but Lady Macbeth was the evil hand behind the murder and blurring the lines of character roles. With the aforementioned quote, this can be heavily seen with the main female character within In The Cage and the fictional stories she invents from the messages that she relays as a telegraph girl. She is stuck “in her cage” of what she believes to be true versus what is actually true and being mostly wrong, as with the idea of the weather. She truly believes that she is right about the stories she creates, as right as the weather being cold but in reality it’s stuffy and little do we know, the telegraphs she feels to be can be completely false but we aren’t meant to know – as with the three witches and the prophecies they tell Macbeth being true versus appearing to be true. As said in class, we, as readers, are attempting to make meaning of her making meanings of things and in reality, nothing is as it seems. Also mentioned in class, the idea of Henry James alluding to Shakespeare’s King Lear can argue the relation to the telegraph girl and the themes of Macbeths, “fair is foul and foul is fair” and the blurring of boundaries between appearance and reality.

    But further, and apart from relating to Shakespeare, the quote claims, “how little she knew” (with reference to the telegraph girl and being stuck “in her cage”) and I read it in reference to myself, as the reader, and how little I knew while reading. Also, in reference to how some questions were never answered during the novel and we were left in the dark, as she was left in the dark. This novel becomes literal and metaphorical to our experience as the reader and our becoming of the telegraph girl because we are deciding whether or not we think she is delusional or imaginative. In a sense, this quote can be described as the reader undergoing the same emotions as the telegraph girl and thinking we know as much as her, but in reality, we are creating the stories as much as she is and we are in our very own cage because of her, but a different type of metaphorical cage.

  5. The passages that I have extracted from the book are passages that refer to the character of Mrs. Jordan. Almost from the beginning of the story, Mrs. Jordan stands out because she is one of the first of the main characters to interact with the girl in the cage – at least verbally. The girl thinks of Mrs. Jordan as “the only member of her circle in whom she recognized an equal” (120). This sense of being equals is what enables Mrs. Jordan to become a window into this life for the girl – a window beyond the confines of the cage, that is. Through the girl’s friendship with Mrs. Jordan, she is able to learn more about the social circles in which she has injected herself through the fantasies that she has created around the telegrams she reads.
    The reading of the telegrams itself presents another theme of this story – a theme of privacy. The girl, in her way is invading the privacy of the people outside the cage, while the anonymity of her position inside the cage protects her own privacy. This “one-way”-ness reminds me of another passage near the end of the novel in which a description of Mrs. Jordan calls forth “a French proverb according to which a door had to be either open or shut” (194). The paragraph continues stating that Mrs. Jordan’s life “managed to be neither.” Recalling the fact that the girl sees Mrs. Jordan as her potential equal, it may be interesting to think of this as the author indicating that the girl’s life is also a door that is neither open nor shut.
    In this case the door of “privacy” is both open and shut as the girl passes through to learn the details of strangers’ lives while never offering her own details in return. She grows to believe that she is important in their lives and even vital in keeping their secrets – when really, if she were completing the task of her job in the way in which she was expected, their secrets wouldn’t be in danger. It is only toward the end of the story that she realizes that she was never important to them – at least not as important as she had believed herself to be.
    The girl, after realizing in Mrs. Jordan’s retelling of the events of the climax that she is not a part of the story in the public sphere, finally accepts that her fantasy was just that. Coming to terms with that fact, she closes the door on her life as a worker and finally decides to marry Mr. Mudge. It is in this moment that the difference, and inequality, between her and Mrs. Jordan becomes apparent. She realizes that “they could now, after all, only look at each other across the social gulf” (204). She refers to this conversation as their “last chance” as she knows that in the wake of her decision the usefulness of Mrs. Jordan’s friendship has expired.
    For these reasons, and the fact that the story really only began to pick up after the introduction of Mrs. Jordan and concluded with their goodbye, I argue that Mrs. Jordan is meant to be the analogous “placeholder” for the unnamed girl within the story and remains her link to the world outside “the cage” until she is no longer needed.

  6. The main character of Henry James’ In the Cage remains nameless in order to represent the uncertain, bored, and curious part of our minds when faced with the habitual.
    In the opening paragraph of Chapter Five, the first line is an indication that the main character is ready for change. James’ writes, “This was neither more nor less than the queer extension of her experience, the double life that, in the cage, she grew at last to lead.” After years of working as a telegraphist, she has finally found something interesting to look forward to. By reading the messages passed between two people in the midst of an affair, the girl has something to look forward to, yet remains within the cage. The girl behind the cage is both connected yet disconnected from the world. How does this relate to the tech driven generation today? Children, teens, and adults alike are establishing their own lives online. The laptops, tablets, and phones become the metaphorical cage everyone remains trapped in. Those who live online have mere glimpses of the outside world through social networking sites. Those who live online are in a cage of their own creation. The online-savvy are only getting glimpses of the world around them.
    James’ goes on to write, “The nose of this observer was brushed by the bouquet, yet she could never really pluck the daisy.” This sentence can be interpreted as meaning, life goes on despite the cage; it is because of the cage that the girl is unable to experience the gifts life has to offer. The outside world is within reach, yet she hesitates to take for herself. Those who spend hours online often come across glimpses into the lives of their friends and family. Their joy becomes our joy. Their vacation become our vacation. The online audience only has a glimpse into both the mind and physical being of their connections.
    James’s continues with, “She had had a way then of glancing at people’s faces, but she had early learned that if you became a telegraphist you soon ceased to be astonished.” The excitement of interacting with new people every single day became trivial to the main character. Before the start of her double life, she merely took the message, recorded the number of words, and charged properly. The routine is habitual which leads to boredom. The lack of something new creates a desire for more than the mundane. When cellphones became more advanced, all anyone could really think of was getting their hands on the newest piece of technology. Through technological advances the world is at our fingertips. However, in today’s age, most are growing bored with the constant stream of updates on the “new” idea. New phones are released every year, but most of the gadgets put into the phones are the same. Most grow bored of the annual release, yet still spend hundreds of dollars to get their hands on it. When will a new and improved phone, with a completely different design, come around? When will the phone begin to grow smaller instead of bigger? Only time will tell.
    Henry James’ In the Cage is a classic novel that deals with a main character’s desire for more than the mundane. There is an entire world that most see yet never truly experience. The theme is one that carries on today. Technology continues to advance and most are burrowing themselves deeper within their self-defined cages. In an age of the distracted, one can only hope the cage will open and release the confined.

  7. “The amusements of captives are full of a desperate contrivance, and one of our young friend’s ha’pennyworths had been the charming tale of Picciola (A whimsical romance…of a count held captive in prison who falls in love with a weed growing outside his cell (211)).” (121-122)

    This quote, which comes at the beginning of chapter three, provides both a grounded context and literary foreshadowing, despite its seemingly inconsequential appearance. At the time Henry James published this work, it is likely that his readers would recognize the reference. Perhaps they had read the story themselves. This provides a small moment of grounding in a story that has very little that occurs outside of the girl’s own head. It gives the readers a chance for that small ‘a-ha’ before the world of fantasy dominates the action.

    The first part of the statement brings our mind back to the title, while also reestablishing the way the girl feels about her current employment. The people working in the telegraph office are captives. They are trapped behind bars, unable to leave and live a more exciting life, and they are expected to send messages for the class of people that are able (theoretically) to leave and live that exciting life that is dreamed of. The workers are service people who don’t get to see the sun or make spontaneous plans to travel into the countryside or go shopping whenever. They are expected to merely facilitate this for the ‘free’ people that pass by them without ever noticing them.

    However, it is the mention of Picciola that provides some of the strongest clues about the course of the novel and the mental state of the girl. The main character of this story is a captive, just like the telegraph girl sees herself to be. In addition, the main character is described as a count, so someone of the upper class. The girl throughout the novel sees her position in the telegraph office as giving her access to the upper classes in a way that might allow her to join them, even as she mocks and dismisses their interests. Part of her fantasy, at least when she speaks to Mrs. Jordan, is the idea that the barrier between class could be broken because of her more liminal position in the telegraph office that allows her to interact with them. So in a way, she is someone worthy of the upper class that has been imprisoned, like the count.

    The last bit of the story that we are provided in the note is that the count falls in love with a weed growing outside his cell. This brings up the idea that it takes an extraordinary act of imagination to assign romantic feelings to an object that will never return them. Just like the count, the girl develops this rich imaginary life to pass the time in the telegraph office, and feels like she is intimately involved with the people on the outside, people who in reality hardly pay attention to the person that sends their messages and will never return her feelings of being an acquaintance at the least. They might as well be weeds for all the consideration that they give her as they go about their lives outside the cage.

    It is also intriguing that in this story, the count falls in love with a weed. Rather than it being a flower known for beauty, or any plant known for usefulness, it is the weed that holds his attention. This could point to the fact that despite Captain Everard’s attractive appearance, he is not in fact especially beautiful or useful. Instead he makes his living by attaching himself to the right people, and taking up space that he would not be given if there was any other around it. He is not someone who is worth falling in love with. And as soon as she frees herself from the fantasy, the girl is able to recognize that.

  8. A Shelter of Fantasy

    –Excerpt from Chapter V, Online Version of In the Cage by Henry James

    “She recognised quite as much those of her sex whom she would have liked to help, to warn, to rescue, to see more of; and that alternative as well operated exactly through the hazard of personal sympathy, her vision for silver threads and moonbeams and her gift for keeping the clues and finding her way in the tangle. The moonbeams and silver threads presented at moments all the vision of what poor she might have made of happiness………She quivered on occasion into the perception of this and that one whom she would on the chance have just simply liked to be. Her conceit, her baffled vanity, was possibly monstrous; she certainly often threw herself into a defiant conviction that she would have done the whole thing much better.”

    From her vantage point as an unseen witness, the girl in In the Cage learns just enough to fabricate a fantasy world so that the cage, by restricting her physically, liberates her mentally. The passage above reveals the competition between her longing to actually participate in upper class society with the safe satisfaction brought about by imagining possible stories. Hypotheticals run rampant in her mind as she is provided with a puzzle of personal messages that leave much up to question. To fill the gaps–and her mundane hours of work–she pieces together the “clues” into something she would enjoy reading about, so “all the vision” she constructs is highly idealized. The reference to her observations as clues suggests she considers them to be left intentionally for her to collect. From her perspective, she is not crossing any boundaries by investing in others’ personal business; rather, she is making sense of information they have willingly provided to her. Her status as an invisible robot works to her benefit, for the information that crosses her path brightens a working class existence that would otherwise be rather dull.
    Her fantasies are composed of glorified “perceptions” of upper class life. Women in finery walk by and she sees “moonbeams and silver threads”, an image reminiscent of a childhood fairytale. Without firsthand knowledge of actual upper class life, she assumes it could be similar to the romance novels she reads for entertainment. Composing these stories serves as both a form of closure and amusement. Therefore, the cage, by restricting her access to the outside world, is also a form of security. It locks in the fantasy that she has a chance at this elite life. Confined to this vantage point, she has only her imaginative observances and no experience with actual interactions that could be unpleasant. Unlike those living their lives in the moment, she has time for insight and speculation about their problems that leads her to believe “she would have done the whole thing much better”. This assumption is only valid until proven wrong, and with only glimpses and no chance to attempt the “whole thing”, she has no reason to believe otherwise and her hope can continue.
    This fantasy begins to blur with her reality, for it consumes her waking thoughts until she develops a “baffled vanity” that cannot be proven wrong, for she is given no opportunity to test it.This is not to say that her beliefs in her abilities are entirely mistaken; her imagination does seem to set her apart from the women she observes, and she may handle the troubles of their lives better, given the chance. However, it is impossible to say for sure, because this “gift” she believes she has could be only a result of her living conditions. In this way, the cage is not entirely negative, since it has allowed her imagination to flourish.
    Although she is able to “find…her way in the tangle”, this tangle is not her own, and it would likely not be as easy if she were an active participant in the drama and struggles of high society.
    This superior insight she has developed leads her to think she could be of assistance to some of the women she observes. However, she does not help them–she only “would have liked” to. implying she is holding back. While she may have gathered the intel necessary to “warn” the wealthy women of dangers only an outsider could predict, actually doing so would require interacting with them, and she does not do so. This hesitance to take action is likely due to her fear of breaching the physical and social divide, for the hope of a fantasy is safer and more enjoyable than attempting to make it real. This is reiterated later in the novella by her awkward interaction in the park with Everard. Such extravagant fantasies often make reality pale in comparison.
    The telegraph girl even delays marriage to Mr. Mudge so as to prolong this fantasy. Eventually, with the help of Ms. Jordan, the girl does seem to realize the inevitable futility of her daydreams. Despite her “defiant” opinion of her grasp on high society, she finally accepts the fact that real life, while not like a half penny novel, can be satisfying in its own way. This fantasy has been beneficial, for it has enriched her true existence before putting it into perspective. The cage has isolated her from the society she longs to be part of, but in a world with such limited social class mobility, also has enabled her to participate in a removed way through inventing moonbeams of her own that are likely more enjoyable than reality.

  9. “It had occurred to her early that in her position—that of a young person spending, in framed and wired confinement, the life of a guinea-pig or a magpie—she should know a great many persons without their recognising the acquaintance” (Chapter 1).
    From the beginning, the imagery of being caged in and confined is clear. Framed and wired confinement draws reference to a metal cage, such as the kind that one would keep an animal in, and to the physical location of her spot in the post-and-telegraph office. The fact that the girl is referring to the literal and metaphorical cage that she’s in by the first sentence is a strong indicator of the way she views life. There is life inside the cage, and there is everything outside of it. Her position in life can be referring to many things: career, gender, social class, and identity. Her job, gender, and social class trap her within her current lifestyle, meaning that it may not be possible for her to leave the cage. The first chapter calls attention to the imagery of physical separation and confinement, referring to screens, fences, barriers, gulfs, and bridges. The imagery of physical separation reinforces the idea of the cage, where one is stuck on one-side of the wire frame and is unable to cross to the other side. Messages and smells may be able to cross the boundaries, but people, like the girl, are unable to do so.
    There are different ways to interpret what a cage really is but it comes down to the ideas of confinement versus protection. The idea of confinement is obvious; one is trapped within some kind of boundary and cannot leave or escape it. It places whoever is in the cage or confinement as submissive, since they are cannot leave unless someone unlocks the door for them to give them a way out. The girl is confined to her cage in the telegraph office by her gender, social status, and current media. As a young woman, she has few job opportunities and her low social status requires her to work. That means that she is stuck unless she can marry well out of social sphere, which her relationship with Mudge deems impossible. The media available to her, the telegram and the novel, confine the girl in less obvious ways. The telegraph messages and her halfpenny novels are a way for her to artificially escape the cage. They lend to her imagination and fantasies so that she can make-up stories and mysteries in real life rather than face her dull, ordinary life in the cage. The cage can also provide protection, because it is cut off from the rest of the world. One can stay in the safety and security of the cage, where nothing unexpected or frightening ever happens. Leaving the cage means leaving that sense of security behind because it requires facing reality head on instead of hiding behind bars. The girl is protected from change and from the drama of the stories that play out. She remains an observer to the love affairs and stories that she creates, so she does not have to face consequences for whatever happens. Watching from a distance is safer than being an active participant.
    The imagery of the cage is made obvious from the start, enhancing the girl’s feeling of entrapment. However, the cage and other descriptions of separation do not necessarily have to be a bad thing. It is confinement but it is also protection. The girl may be confined to her post, but she has not fought the protection it offers.

  10. Henry James’ In The Cage explores social class dynamics and the desire to escape the mundane. In The Cage follows the life of an unnamed telegraphist who almost seems to live vicariously through the telegrams that she comes across during her shift at the post office. The unnamed protagonist in the novella certainly tries to escape reality through the various telegrams and attempts to enter a world of splendid fascination. Throughout the novella, it is clear that she cannot quite escape the “cage” that she lives in and it is only through her imagination that she may obtain a more vivid albeit temporary life.

    James opens In The Cage with the passage, “It had occurred to her early that in her position—that of a young person spending, in framed and wired confinement, the life of a guinea pig or a magpie—she should know a great many persons without their recognizing the acquaintance” (1). From the very beginning of the novella, the reader is presented with the fact that the girl spends her time in a “framed and wired confinement”. James compares the unnamed girl to an animal, more specifically a guinea pig or a magpie. In doing so, it is safe to assume that the girl has a reluctance to be in her cage. Like a magpie, she wishes to be free and to explore the world, but she is restricted. Although it is not quite clear what the girl does for a living from the passage, the reader soon finds out that she is a telegraphist and the only reason she has a one-sided acquaintance with so many people is because of the incoming telegrams.

    The cage becomes a rather prevalent concept throughout the novella. The cage confines the girl physically and metaphorically. It becomes a symbol of the reality that imprisons her and she becomes dependent upon the telegrams that she comes across on a day-to-day basis to escape such a confinement. In the passage, James even compares the girl to a bird, or more specifically, a magpie. She has a free mind that is held back by the bars of the cage and as a result, she resorts to her imagination to flee from the harsh realities of her life. The reader is even presented with a picture of the mundane nature of the girl’s life when she only derives entertainment and a sense of familiarity from the telegrams that she receives.

    Interestingly enough, the theme of escaping the realities of life through technology can still be seen today. With the help of social media and networking, people can easily escape the mundane and rewrite their lives for the general public. As presented in the passage, there is even a sense of voyeurism that is still alive today when one finds the social networking profile of complete strangers and through one way or another, learn more about said strangers without any interaction at all. As seen in In The Cage, technology can definitely help us escape into a more extravagant world that is much different from reality, but there is a slight uneasiness to the concept when people become acquainted with another without having any prior interaction.

    The cage becomes a rather complex concept throughout In The Cage. Throughout the novella, the cage becomes the reality of the girl and the telegrams that she receives at her job seem to become the only way she can obtain an impermanent, yet incredible fantasy. Unbeknownst to the senders of such telegrams, she has struck a form of friendship with them and their telegrams become her only escape from reality, or the cage. While the concept of the cage may seem bizarre, the notion of using technology to escape the mundane is still prevalent today, which is most notable in social networking. It has become increasingly easy to exaggerate on social networking and to even form one-sided acquaintances with other people who are otherwise strangers. As evident In The Cage, technology certainly switches up the ordinary, but can also be the cause of a sense of disconnect in the way people interact.

  11. Oakley Purchase
    Professor Raley
    English 146DR

    Tact and Finding Reality from Disillusion

    “Reality, for the poor things they both were, could only be ugliness and obscurity, could never be the escape, the rise. She pressed her friend—she had tact enough for that—with no other personal question. (p.233 Chapter XXVI). Reality contrasted against the imaginative, or the fantastical, shapes the narrative of Henry James’s In the Cage. With the slow rise of the middle class the notion of navigating above one’s social station was becoming less foreign. However, for working young women, marriage was still one of the only opportunities to rise above the social class you were born into. While crossing over the metaphorical and literal division between social classes may appear within reach, the boundary proves more rigid than one would assume. For the unnamed girl, her cage as a telegraphist encapsulates the boundary between the upper and lower echelons of society, she constantly receives pieces of reality in the telegraphs she works with, but she shifts and twists the reality into delusion. Unlike Mrs. Jordan, the girl escapes her delusions about “the rise” and formulates her own future, however her turn away from the desire to rise is not a negative one, and her tactfulness in handling the fantasies of Mrs. Jordan is her final turn away from her voyeuristic imaginations.
    Tact is defined as a “ready and delicate sense of what is fitting and proper in dealing with others, so as to avoid giving offence…the faculty of saying or doing the right thing at the right time.” (OED). In aristocratic England, knowing how to rule, how to be tactful in ruling, was critical in reinforcing the patriarchal and unequal norms of a class society. Despite the presence of divisions, they must be handled with a certain understanding. The girl has witnessed the divisions first hand; her cage engulfed her, as she was unable to truly inhabit the world around her. Furthermore, while the girl was anonymous, those who did not engage with her did not ridicule her. Her fantasies of rising above her class were a result of monotony rather than delusion; she was standing at the precipice of another world and passed time by involving herself in the realities of other people. However, when the smoke has faded and she is faced with truth, she accepts her life, not as one of “ugliness or obscurity” but as one of reality. This is what separates her from the life of Mrs. Jordan. When Mrs. Jordan has her moment of realization she is destroyed, but instead of rising out of it with a new perspective she still clings on to her disillusions of grandeur. Furthermore, once the unnamed girl has broken through her fantasy she does not force Mrs. Jordan to do the same thing, she rises above the pettiness and understands that imagination and hope of “the rise” may not be important for her anymore, but it is the world in which Mrs. Jordan operates.
    For the unnamed girl, tact becomes her catalyst for rising. Her rise may not be through social status, but instead, through the ability to comprehend how social structures work. Imagination was critical for this growth; she broke out of the cage by turning the outside world into a romantic novel, which led her to a period of self-discovery by slowly finding her reality through breaking down the narrative she created.

    1. James, Henry, In the Cage. Project Gutenberg eBook, 2005.

  12. Henry Cage utilizes the main character in, Into the Cage, as a metaphor of a bird trapped in a cage. She is a woman trapped in her position as a telegraphist mundanely reading tons of coded telegrams. This fosters her lustful imagination and fantasies, reading telegrams as romantic stories between lovers. Her romantic imagination stems from the boring role of a telegraphist and drove her to desire a deeper connection with the telegrams. James illustrates this with the main character’s description of her relationship with the telegrams between Captain Everand and Lady Bradeen, which is shown in the text, “That was a specimen of their give and take; it fed her fancy that no form of intercourse so transcendent and distiller had ever been established on Earth. Everything, so far as they chose to consider it so, might mean almost anything.” (James, 147) Her active imagination stems from her deep attention to the telegrams and her desire to be outside of her cage at her job. James carefully places discreet metaphors that illuminate the role of a working class woman in their job. Such metaphors are represented throughout the text as stated, “The want of margin in the cage, when he peeped through the bars, wholly ceased to be appreciable.” (James, 147) In this passage James describes the main character’s total desire to be able to interact with Mr. Everand or refer to him by name, but she is unable to because of her role as a telegrapher. She is behind a curtain of privacy in her job, but is totally immersed in the personal lives of the telegrams. The telegrams are her way of capturing a real version of the romantic novels she reads, but she is forbidden to break the wall between both worlds. As stated in the text, “With Captain Everand she had simply the margin of the universe. It may be imagined, therefore, how their unuttered reference to all she knew about him could,in this immensity, play at its ease.” (James, 147) The realm of her relationship with Mr. Everand and Lady Bradeen is only imaginable. The telegrams are her portal into a romance novel that she is writing and adding her own perspective to. Her job forbids her to be apart of them, but her imagination takes over and it is hard for her not to interact with them. “She had only two torments, the greatest of which was that she couldn’t, not even once or twice touch him on some individual fact. She would have given anything to have been able to allude to one of his friends by name, to one of his engagements by date, to one of his difficulties by the solution.” (James, 147-148) This passage illuminates the direct metaphor James utilizes as the main character, a bird trapped in a cage. She is trying to live and be a part of a world that exists only in her mind, due to the nature of her job. She is the epitome of a working class woman during the 1890’s, controlled and socially pressured by their jobs and role as a woman in society. Like a bird she must live a life in a cage, but she is able to imagine and entertain herself with the idea of an exciting life with romantic twists. It his her escape from the dreariness of her daily life, robotically counting words in telegrams over and over again. James is able to give the reader an outlook to the perspective of a working class woman who finds a way to entertain herself and utilize her repetitive work as something fun to do. He illuminates the social pressures that were directed towards women during his time in London. The main character’s ability to create descriptive stories through tiny codes that she memorizes is accurately described by James as a lonely bird blocked from the life of the outside world that she can see, but is unable to interact with.

  13. Stephen Da Costa Guimarais
    English 146DR
    Rita Raley
    26 April 2015
    Endless Medium
    Henry James’ “In the Cage” follows the imaginings of a young London telegraphist whose complacency and dissatisfaction with her own life merits the nuances of the aristocracy that she herself despises. The post office, along with Mr. Mudge are symbolic of the monotonous and caged lifestyle that she unconsciously resents. More generally, the narrative characterizes the polarity of suffering and desire. One is derived from the other, and in the absence of one, the other cannot exist. Observation of elitist intercourses represents her own desire to escape her status in life, and hence her reason for entertaining herself with surreal thoughts. Similar to virtual realities that technology provides people today, our distractions stem from a subconscious inadequacy, a void. In order to escape this form of suffering, we use virtual mediums to imagine or seek objects of our desire. However, in our virtual realities, we can only achieve a level of participation that is intangible. But does this even matter? After all, is a dream any less visceral than reality. On the contrary, I believe that one could argue that if anything, the objects of our desire surface from our subconscious. Because of this, reality is never as fulfilling as the dreams a person manifests. Which is why relative to reality, mankind’s desires are intangible and unobtainable. Regardless of this assertion, dreams are in fact part of reality, which is why our mistress is not too sad with her self-reflection.
    Captain Everard serves as the love interest of protagonist, but her assumptions of the man seem rather perverted to Mrs. Jordan. During the discourse about Everard, the circumstances surrounding his union with Lady Brandeen surface. Mrs. Jordan inquires, “Don’t you know, dear, that he has nothing?”. The ignorance of the mistress is evidence of her unreality centralized on her most visceral object of desire. Even so, this does not dissuade our protagonist from accepting her own circumstances. It is acknowledged that “reality, could only be ugliness and obscurity, could never be the escape, the rise.” The dreams of the mistress to marry Everard and live a life of affluence are all derived from her reality with the grocer. Her desire to escape this reality resulted in her distracted observations and interests that lay beyond her own world’s parameters. So in the instance that a person is forced to indulge upon an unpleasant circumstance, their mind subconsciously digresses from the object at hand. Which is the reason people are not thoroughly capable of devoting their whole being towards an unfulfilling object.
    Despite the extraordinary amount of personal investment and observation the mistress put into familiarizing herself with the nuances of the wealthy, their presence and influence is tantamount to nothing. In her final discourse with Mrs. Jordan, the pair discusses their own circumstances and make a request of each other. The girl demands that when they have their “own house” that Mrs. Jordan “must visit very soon”. However, the request at the conclusion of the novella is twisted when Mrs. Jordan inquires, “when am I to think of you in your little home ?”. Although the inquiry seems to have diverted little from its origin, the presence of Mrs. Jordan as a physical entity does not appear to be a requisite. Further implying that all the mistresses imaginings and acquaintances do not actually exist in reality. All of the scenarios leading up to the conclusion can be argued to be surreal dreams because her life is not impacted by these manifestations. In the end, she will continue to live under the same set of circumstances that clung to her being from the offset.

  14. Maher Zaidi
    Henry James In the Cage Response
    In Henry James novella In The Cage we have a story where an unnamed telegraph operator indulges in her fantasies of extravagance. In this novella we see an exploration of both class values and class distinctions. This is accomplished through the point of view that James shows us as well as the language used by the telegraph operator. Although we do not know her name her anonymity allows us to explore the ways that media allows us to escape our fantasies any indulge in extravagances. Also by showing us the ways that media operates like this and the forced anonymity that someone like the operator would experience, we are invited to think about the operator’s fantasies as they unfold and are unsure what to believe. By having us associate with her fantasies we are shown how a lower class society looks up to a shadow of an extravagant upper class world that it can have no hope of joining. We see this want to express power, with the idea that she has of potential blackmail, the contrast of her actual engagement with Mr. Mudge as contrasted with that of her attempts to piece together the lives of Everard and Lady Bradeen.
    From the beginning of the novella we see that her infatuation with the upper class is reflected by the shadow of her confinement. She has to leave to the country to enter a boring wedding arrangement yet she doesn’t want to do this. Even though she knows she can’t ever be apart of the high society she still enjoys her ability to be by it. We see this in chapter one when she says “It would be far from dazzling to exchange Mayfair for Chalk Farm, and it wore upon her much that he could never drop a subject.” (Ch. 1). From here we see that she would prefer the caged up room in which she berates the cigarette smoke of countless upper class strangers then a more low-key but intimate and lower-middle class society. At least from here we see that she has a chance to mingle in with her fantasies of the rich.
    As the novella progresses we see her as an in-between for these messages that re being typed up and transmitted, although she should be in a place where she is not paying attention and only relaying information she stops and stoops in on this. She in fact understands this as we see in chapter XI where she thinks about possibly blackmailing Everard. When she weighs this possibility the narrator describes her as thinking, “ It wouldn’t certainly be anything so gross as money, and the matter accordingly remained rather vague, all the more that she was not a bad girl.” (Chapter XI). This is interesting as the reader feels that she has a mixture of guilt and glee in her attempts to understand and associate with Everard’s aristocratic society. The fact that she contrasts herself as not a bad girl is both non-believable as it is something that the reader understands is actually not in her power to do, there is nothing that can bridge this gap between her and Everard.
    This gap is unable to be bridged until they actually meet. Although Mrs. Jordan shows us that the world of Everard is not as it seems, as he is in fact broke. Although this would seem to make it seem that Everard would be closer to the level of the protagonist, in fact in only strives to deal a larger wedge into their lives, one in which Everard can still marry a rich widow, while the narrator will only have to live in poverty with her grocer husband. The extent of this significance is to show us that although mass communication on the surface opens up more avenues towards communication with different kinds of people in fact they are as sealed as they were before if not even more so. James demonstrates this by having the nameless telegraph operator being in her own world, as James writes, “ she was quite unaware—she was full of her thoughts.” (Chapter XXVII)

  15. Reading In the Cage by Henry James was definitely not the most pleasing. The story for me did not have a lot of substance, plot, action, but rather was a story of an anonymous women who works at a telegraph. But even with all that the story still had an underlying meaning. I believe that meaning was actually hidden in the title of the book. It showed that the lady who worked at the Telegraph was like a bird in a cage; she was trapped and fascinated with life outside that cage. The life being the lives of rich people which infatuated her and the cage being the telegraph of Mr. Cocker’s that she worked at. A passage that describes this well was, “The barrier that divided the little post-and-telegraph-office from the grocery was a frail structure of wood and wire; but the social, the professional separation was a gulf that fortune, by a stroke quite remarkable, had spared her the necessity of contributing at all publicly to bridge” (Chapter 1). The women could have left the cage; it was weak and frail as described and the out she had was to marry Mr. Mudge the grocer who is a very simple, ordinary, and predictable man that could only provide a life not so much better than the cage.

    The woman was not from the top of the hierarchy like her customers nor was Mr. Mudge. But this was no ordinary woman; even though she described the rich as “…They’re selfish brutes” she loved to live vicariously through them with the help of their telegrams (Chapter 7). Staying on that analogy of a bird trapped in the cage, she is technically set free when she develops some sort of feelings for a Captain Phillips Everard who has been coming in lately. But like any pet, they always return to their rightful owner. The owner in this situation can be the Telegraph, which is the cage but later becomes Mr. Mudge and his marriage proposal. He does not provide the out of the cage as previously said as that has shifted to Everard but instead Mudge just becomes another cage that the lady would be transferred to.

    Looking at another passage, “ She would just give him a few days more to come back to her on a proper impersonal basis—for even to an embarrassing representative of the casual public a public servant with a conscience did owe something—and then would signify to Mr. Mudge that she was ready for the little home” (Chapter 22). Everard could be seen as the freedom out of the cage. That freedom didn’t signify any type of guarantee or protection which is why when she didn’t hear from him for the longest she realized it was time to go back to the cage and security, albeit not the greatest, of Mr. Mudge.

    In conclusion, Henry James did not meet the hype that I thought he would bring with this book. This book had lacked much to me. That does not take away though from the meaning I got from this book. I believe that the title of this book played a big role as the analogy for the book. The lady of the Telegraph chose to live the life of the bird stuck in the cage even though the outside world amazed her; she knew it wasn’t for her as it was unpredictable.

  16. Henry James’ In the Cage is seemingly bestrewn with various details regarding the rather uneventful life of an unnamed girl working in a post-and-telegraph office, who spends much of her time following the lives of individuals through their intimate telegrams. Alongside those around the protagonist, there are characters that engage in interesting ways with others that makes them much more of a participatory party, however, this young girl does not. As much of the plot is riddled with things so often considered mundane, the protagonist is capable of achieving something from her passive life and activities in a creative way, thus making her actions something relatively productive.
    Of the many girl’s actions throughout the work, she is initially seen as having a simple job to fulfill. In chapter one, the work opens by describing the protagonist having the function to simply “sit there with two young men—the other telegraphist and the counter-clerk” while working at the post-and-telegraph office. Almost in the same moment of chapter one, the young girl is described as having the “life of a guinea-pig or a magpie,” an animal that leads a simple life within the confines of a cage and completing the same tasks countlessly and repetitively. This particular description presents the protagonist in a way that makes her seemingly living a shallow and unfulfilling life than the senders and recipients of the many telegraphs that she reads in her time at the office. However, the comparison of the protagonist to the magpie is very interesting due to the nature of the bird as a collector of many different appealing objects. This particular behavior does reflect the most onto the protagonist as she is, in a sense, collecting the knowledge and secrets of other people as a past time in her occupation. In this collection of knowledge of other people, she in turn becomes much more creative in various different ways.
    The more consumed that the protagonist becomes with the information on the telegrams that she reads, the more involved she seems to become. In chapter five of the work, the protagonist is described to have “lived more and more into the world of whiffs and glimpses, [and] she found her divinations work faster and stretch further.” In the midst of reading the short telegrams in the office, she in turn begins to allow her imagination to run wild in order to compensate for any missing information, which then allows her to create grandiose stories that involve the sender and recipients of the telegrams, whom she believes are having an affair. Though these actions do seem to initially present her as having a rather shallow past time, it is not so because her stretches of imagination are allowing her to be creative in her thinking in the midst of the mundane actions that she must engage in. This in turn makes her imagination and creation of stories much less shallow and more of an act of personal creativity as a means of escaping.

  17. “This indeed is a small specimen of her cultivation of insidious ways of making things easy for him—ways to which of course she couldn’t be at all sure he did real justice. Real justice was not of this world: she had had too often to come back to that; yet, strangely, happiness was, and her traps had to be set for it in a manner to keep them unperceived by Mr. Buckton and the counter-clerk (Chapter 11).”

    This passage is interesting because the diction displays the profoundness of the unnamed main character and Captain Everard’s relationship by presenting language that evokes themes relating to the morality surrounding the situation. The words are paradoxical and push the reader to think critically about the girl’s invasive practice of reading Catain Everard’s telegraphs. The way James’ describes the girl’s actions as “insidious ways,” alludes to a moral deficiency in her actions, but one that is juxtaposed by the fact that her devious actions make “things easy for him.” The ethos is then further extrapolated because James’ makes it seem as if Everard might not be deserving of her “insidious ways,” by saying “ways to which of course she couldn’t be at all sure he did real justice.” James is implying that the Everad might not be the virtuous nobleman that she makes him out to be and is not deserving of the good will that the girl has for him, although she is also invading his privacy. Not only does the first sentence show how the imagination of the girl leads to unhealthy boundaries that manifest in her thoughts and in her day-to-day reality, but also it shows how human’s can make any action seem reasonable if they choose so.
    The author then proceeds to justify his paradoxical first sentence by claiming, “real justice was not of this world,” which points to an amoral view of the world. That the world is neither benevolent nor vicious, but that maybe it is both simultaneously, or even that the world is without any disposition and can be tilted either way by man’s free will by spontaneous good or ill action. Then James offers a counter point with another grand claim that happiness is an actual truth of the world, he states: “happiness was, and her traps had to be set for it in a manner to keep them unperceived by Mr. Buckton and the counter-clerk.” The other truth that James asserts here is that happiness is fleeting and because of her metaphorical caged position she waits like a spider for flies. For our main character, happiness is not a state of being, it is an object, specifically, it is the gossip from the telegrams that she gets to read. What is even more fascinating about this passage is that the fleeting happiness she waits for is also accompanied by a slight fear and paranoia from here coworkers. She essentially is forced to not show happiness because it would mean that something was out of place or that something was wrong and thus her co-workers might find out that she reads the telegrams.
    The passage illuminates the psyche of the main character and shows more depth to her experience of being in the cage. The sense of desire, justification, and reasoning that accompanies her guilty pleasure gives us a larger scope of her character and human thought and action in general because it reminds the readers that they can never truly know anyone’s thoughts or motives.

  18. “She felt she scarce knew what- as if she might soon be pounced upon for some lurid connection with a scandal. It was the queerest of all sensations, for she had heard, she had read, of these things, and the wealth of her intimacy with them at Cocker’s might be supposed to have schooled and seasoned her. This particular one that she had really quite lived with was, after all, an old story; yet what it had been before was dim and distant beside the touch under which she now winced. Scandal? -it had never been but a silly word. Now it was a great palpable surface, and the surface was, somehow, Captain Everard’s wonderful face. Deep down in his eyes was a picture, the vision of a great place like a chamber of justice, where before a watching crowd, a poor girl, exposed but heroic, swore with a quavering voice to a document, proved an alibi, supplied a link. In this picture she bravely took her place.” (192-193)

    The telegraph girl in Henry James’ In the Cage presents a unique connection link between class divisions and serves as an active player within the relatively passive technicalities of technology. At a certain point in the development of her convoluted relationship with Captain Everard, she has the power to reveal his secret affair and become a player in the scandals of the upper class. The intimacy of her knowledge becomes palpable in that moment and she ultimately chooses to continue the fantasy of having control rather than actually possessing it. If she plays out her fantasy by twisting the knife on Captain Everard, it means her fantasy is over and her imaginative capacity spent. She values her knowledge over her ability to act on it and subsequently spares Everard from discovery.

    In her conversation with Everard, she realizes how capable she is of connecting her imagination with his reality and discovering the full extent of his love affair with Lady Bradeen. The telegraph girl transforms from a passive to an active connection link, and her language reflects that change. Prior to her conversation with Everard, she was contained in her cage and was unable to act on her imagination. In this moment, she is extremely aware of her position outside the cage, describing her thoughts of being “pounced upon” because of her attachment to the affair and of “the touch under which she now winced”. Her thoughts revolve predominantly around her sensations and visual queues. Through her conversation with Everard, the screen that separates her from the lives behind the telegraphs she reads disappears. What “before was dim and distant” now feels to her “the queerest of all sensations”.

    Part of what makes the telegraph girl hesitant to act out her intimate knowledge is her awareness of class. Even when she has equal power to Everard, whom she believes is much wealthier than she, she feels the apparent division between them. This division is discernible in her imagining a chamber of justice, where “a watching crowd” connects her as an alibi and makes her an active link in the scandal. In this moment of equality, all the telegraph girl can see is the upper class looking down on her.

    It is evident that the screen between the telegraph girl and the upper class has disappeared based on her description of Everard’s facial features. She appears to look clearly for the first time at Everard’s face, which does not have the usual screen of smoke in front of it. The possibility of her connection to a scandal is made visible in the “great palpable surface” of Everard’s face. She imagines the chamber of justice “deep down in his eyes” and sees more clearly than ever the type of judgment she would receive if she were to be attached to the affair. The removal of the screen and her transformation from passive to active shows her the limitations of her social status. Everard’s face reminds her of her position and ultimately prevents her from revealing his secrets. It’s only when she can see most clearly that she knows that she wants to stay in the cage and continue her fantasy.

  19. Lauren Davis
    English 146DR
    Professor Raley
    26 April 2015
    The Transparent Screen
    “This transparent screen fenced out or fenced in, according to the side of the narrow counter on which the human lot was cast, the duskiest corner of a shop pervaded not a little, in winter, by the poison of perpetual gas, and at all times by the presence of hams, cheese, dried fish, soap, varnish, paraffin and other solids and fluids that she came to know perfectly by their smells without consenting to know them by their names.
    The barrier that divided the little post-and-telegraph-office from the grocery was a frail structure of wood and wire; but the social, the professional separation was a gulf that fortune, by a stroke quite remarkable, had spared her the necessity of contributing at all publicly to bridge.” (Chapter 1 Paragraph 1-2)

    Screens provide both a layer of transparency and opacity, obscuring some but not all of what lies on the other side. The Girl’s description of the screen can be taken on both a literal and metaphorical level.
    In her description of the screen, the barrier is described as keeping objects “fenced out or fenced in” (1.1) and creates the illusion that the audience can decide which side they see the girl on. The reader is given the impression that the girl is what is either fenced in or fenced out. She is literally separated from the other people that she works with, but also caged in, separated from the outside world. She is either protected in her own cage, the screen transparent enough for her to make out small details and give deeper meaning, or caged out from the rest of the world and unable to experience what she sees through the transparent screen. In doing so, the screen becomes the liminal space between opposing binaries of class and gender.
    Physically, the girl’s location is in a telegraph station, near a grocery. She is in a wealthy enough part of town to experience these upper-class happenings through her screen, both in real time by the immediate outside and in her work by reading exchanges between upper-class persons. However, her content with her physical location is dismal, she is described to be in “the duskiest corner of a shop pervaded not a little . . . by the poison of perpetual gas” (1.1), and though she is caged and though she is separated by a screen, the screen is transparent and allows for an osmosis-like saturation of smell and experience. The unnamed girl is forced to experience these invasive smells, “without consenting to know them by their name” (1.1), which parallels her own action of reading the telegraphs without knowledge of what they look like, but still knows them by their names and private exchanges. She, like the smells of the grocery store next door, passes through the screen, through the liminal space, to permeate what is fenced in or fenced out by personal telegraphs and what would otherwise be private matters between two or more people.
    After addressing that she is “divided . . . from the grocery” (1.2) store, the narrator clarifies the intended extent of the screen metaphor: that she is what is separated from society by her job and social class – by her literal position in both. The narrator claims that the barrier, the transparent screen, created the “social, the professional separation” and that her position both socially and economically “was a gulf that fortune . . . had spared her the necessity of contributing at all publicly to bridge” (1.2); the girl was not of the same socioeconomic class that she viewed through her transparent screen, there was too large a gap in her fortune in comparison to others but allowed for her to not contribute externally to that particular culture of society. She was “spared the necessity,” (1.2) to contribute, and thus was allowed to be an onlooker through her transparent screen. She did not have to be a part of the society that she actively chose to observe and fantasize, and that separation allowed for a deeper connection with the internal affairs of upper-class individuals.
    The screen itself, fencing in or out, creates the barrier that the girl needs to be able to partake and fantasize about what is on the other side of that fence. The girl is both within and without of the fence, being able to see into the lives of others, but is unable to cross the threshold that the fence creates. The girl is also the liminal space, the in-between for the telegraphs being passed back and forth, as well as being between classes – above the lower class but working, not being wealthy enough but still familiar with the wealthy because of her position. The description of the screen provides double meaning to what and where the girl is.

  20. In Chapter V of Henry James’ “In the Cage”, the narrator explores being an observer, rather than a participant; and engages with reconciling the expanding role of technology in isolating the individual, while exploring the possibilities brought on by it. Analyzing the opening passage of the chapter, will reveal insight into the larger problems and themes encountered in the text.

    Focusing on the opening statement of the passage:
    “The double life that, in the cage, she grew at last to lead. As the weeks went on there she lived more and more into the world of whiffs and glimpses, she found her divinations work faster and stretch further. It was a prodigious view as the pressure heightened, a panorama fed with facts and figures, flushed with a torrent of colour and accompanied with wondrous world-music.” [Chapter 5-Gutenberg]

    James asserts and engages the reader to better understand the space the narrator is surrounded by, and the life she lives and creates for herself. Noting her “double life, in the cage”, James exposes the duality the unnamed narrator must live, trapped as a telegrapher, and the life she must create for herself because of it. Juxtaposing that this life “she grew at last to lead”, points to irony of her situation, growing into a state of stagnation. In this sense, James reveals to the reader what it’s like to see “the world [in] whiffs and glimpses”. Because of her entrapment in the small confinement of the postal-telegraph office, this entrapment surrounds her and begins to shape how she sees and experiences the world. Forced to entertain herself with creating stories to amuse herself, the double life she’s forced to lead is a device of escapism for the narrator, that allows her imagination to fill in the spaces of the “whiffs and glimpses”, not only for the small fragments of information given to her by customers, but also for the world passing her by.

    Importantly, James does not simply critique London’s expanding technology, nor downplay the importance of imagination in modernity. Rather, he explores both sides and invites the reader to question whether technology is a burden that exposes the narrator to a life she can never have, or a means to allow her to escape the confines of her low economic status, and pursue a sense of social mobility in her mind. Noting London’s shift toward integrating technology, James asserts:

    “What it mainly came to at this period was a picture of how London could amuse itself; and that, with the running commentary of a witness so exclusively a witness, turned for the most part to a hardening of the heart. The nose of this observer was brushed by the bouquet, yet she could never really pluck even a daisy. What could still remain fresh in her daily grind was the immense disparity, the difference and contrast, from class to class, of every instant and every motion.” [Chapter 5-Gutenberg]

    Indeed, James does offer a negative critique of technology in London. Shifting toward “amus[ing] itself”, he captures the transition of London during this period, and reflects the female narrator’s transition to becoming “exclusively a witness”. The narrator notes the disconnect by observing that while someone may capture a glimpse or be “brushed by the bouquet”, they are detached as participants because of the increasing role of technology, and are unable to “pluck even a daisy”.

    But to contrast this critique, James offers in the wider narrative that this isolating and potentially hazardous wired network, allows for people to escape the mundanity of everyday life and explore and imagine through technology. The glimpses that the telegrams give to the narrator into the lives of the upper-class, allows her to explore a life outside of her pay-scale. In the same vein and offering similar imaginative possibilities as her half-penny books, the telegrams shifts power into the narrator’s hands and allows her to create stories about the customers. Although she may be physically trapped inside one location because of economic need, she is able to travel, and expand beyond her status through technology serving as a method toward expanding her imagination and allowing a furthered sense of mobility for the narrator.

  21. In the Cage by Henry James is a novella that explores the relationship between technology, imagination, and human nature. The protagonist is a nameless telegraph girl who spends the majority of her time employing fantastical means to allow herself to live a double-life; that of the high-society aristocrats she passes messages between, and that of her working-class status.
    The passage I will be looking at today occurs at the beginning of chapter 11, starting “She would have admitted indeed…” (XI). I want to examine this passage because I think it provides insight into the “cage” the telegraph girls lives in, the one created by her cycling imagination. Throughout this passage Henry James builds off of a character trapped by her own thoughts: the telegraph girl examines the alluring Captain Everard’s actions in detail, contemplating the way he “bade her good morning” and “raised his hat to her”. The telegraph girl describes how Captain Everard always returns, even if he disappears for long stretches of time, and it is this reoccurrence that keeps the telegraph girl’s imagination active – as she says, “With Captain Everard she simply had the margin of the universe”.
    The reason the telegraph girl analyzes Captain Everard’s movements to such extremity is because her cloistered environment feeds her imagination: to the telegraph girl, Everard is destined to act as one of the heroes from her romantic novels might, and she therefore attributes his movements to those that are destined for greatness. The insanity behind our protagonist’s over-analysis gives the reader an idea for her fascination with escapism, with trading the tedious minutes of the cage for a fantastical, impossible life. The telegraph girl spends her days pretending to be someone else (someone rich with meaning and significance) because to let her life play out in grey tones is, in a way, not letting her life play out at all. This duality is supported by the sentence “Everything, so far as they chose to consider it so, might mean almost anything”. The desire to hyperbolize tiny actions is the telegraph girl’s only means to explore the life she feels she is meant to lead. The telegraph girl resists moving away from her job for so long because her job – although dull – is the only form of connection she has with the aristocracy, a class doused in more wealth than she could ever hope to achieve. The telegraph girl ultimately realizes that this connection is pointless because although it is enough of a connection to support her fantasies, it will never be a stable enough connection to advance her to a higher class. James creates this connection to make the point that technology has the ability to connect us all, but only on the shallowest of levels; the connections we achieve through technology are feeble, and mostly serve as a form of indulgent fantasy.
    The sentence “Everything, so far as they chose to consider it so, might mean almost anything” also highlights the role absence plays in In the Cage. In this sentence, the telegraph girl asserts that her opportunities with Everard are limitless – by analyzing each of his actions, she provides herself with an endless scope of opportunity for escapism because she gives herself the choice to determine what a mere nodding of his head might mean. The irony is that the telegraph girl’s “everything” amount to absolutely nothing in the scope of the book. Just as the connection she forms with the aristocracy are groundless, the interactions she has with Everard prove to be fruitless. By emphasizing the scope of possibility, James also shows the reader that nothing is to come of a world so focused on connecting to as many people as possible, across as great of a distance as possible.

  22. The opening portion of Chapter 5 presents some revealing insight into the main character’s situation within the world. She admits that the longer she spends in this caged profession, the more elaborate her “divinations” become (James Ch. 5). This would mean either that she was reading into and assigning implicit context to the telegraphs more and more, or that she was becoming more disillusioned by her day to day work – likely some combination of the two. One of the phrases that captures her position particularly well is “a witness so exclusively a witness” (James Ch. 5). The girl’s condition of working within an enclosed space that is also exposed to the exterior world is introduced in the first chapter and expanded upon throughout the story, but the idea of her role as a witness is especially fitting. There are many voyeuristic pastimes within society, but most of them still include some degree of participation. But the girl is so exclusively a witness because she must sit and be constantly aware of what is happening outside, but continue to carry on working within her cage. James’ comparison of her to a guinea pig evokes images of the pet animal scrambling on a running wheel or within a transparent ball – watching, hearing, and smelling what is happening and running so hard to try to take part in it, yet remaining trapped. And as she becomes more deeply entrenched into this condition, she increasingly relies on the words of the messages that she is transcribing in order to feel relevant. Because this is all she has to go off of, and perhaps because the messages themselves are not complete narratives, the girl acquires somewhat of a spiteful perspective, a “hardening of the heart” (James Ch. 5). The girl becomes frustratingly aware of the class distinctions within her society, and resents the attitudes of the excessively wealthy. She criticizes their lack of awareness of the lives of the rest of the population, a condemnation which is likely confounded by her own restrictions from becoming more in touch with the outside world. Ironically, the girl probably would not feel so excluded if she did not spend her days reading everyone’s conversations without ever really knowing what they are about. But she learns to rely on what she does gather from the messages in order to attain some degree of participation. Since she has become rather resentful though, she internalizes what she reads in the messages to the point of feeling a sense of superiority over their writers, and implicitly the world at large. The girl is all-too-aware that she is simply a facilitative operator between the communications of other people’s lives, but she is able to invert this by focusing on the fact that she knows and retains so much more than anyone expects. She is supposed to simply be counting the words, but she of course read and interprets the messages. And even if the senders knew she read the telegraphs, they would likely assume that she would remember very little considering how many she goes through on a daily basis, not to mention that they should not be very interesting since they are of a completely exterior context. The senders do not realize that the girl in fact uses their partial narratives to take part in the greater community. Cognitively collecting their “struggles and secrets and love-affairs and lies,” the girl is able to have “a triumphant vicious feeling of mastery and ease” over these extravagant individuals she has grown to so resent (James Ch. 5). It is through this internal satisfaction that the girl is able to continue working in the cage, living a life separate but involved, without ever really contributing. The girl uses these telegraphic microcosms of the world in order to rationalize her subsistence within a space so constantly cognizant of that world.

  23. The Girl in The Cage

    The first paragraph of Henry James’ /In the Cage/ paints a complete picture of the novel’s primary protagonist. Though she is unnamed, her identity is spelled out in a number of sentences. The first sentence itself serves as a summary of the whole description, and in some ways may be even more telling than the rest of the paragraph: “It had occurred to her that in her position—that of a young person spending, in framed and wired confinement, the life of a guinea-pig or a magpie—she should know a great many persons without recognising the acquaintance” (117). The word “confinement” sets the tone for the girl’s attitude towards her job. She does not enjoy her actual work, but she finds solace. The first animal that the girl is compared to is a guinea-pig: an animal not known for its intelligence and one that simply runs on a wheel with no purpose. The girl created a goal for herself, which is to intimately know her upper-class customers, and continues to run towards that goal despite the fact that it will never lead her to the glamorous life she so desires.
    The second animal that she is compared to is a magpie, a bird that collects shiny objects. The girl is undoubtedly a collector—she collects stories and secrets—but what is more telling is the fact that a magpie collects things that shine and sparkle. These are qualities that can be linked to expensive objects like diamonds or precious metals, but they can also describe something as cheap as tinsel. The girl has a propensity to become attached to anything that she thinks will connect her to the upper class, but she remains unaware of how valueless any of her secrets or stories are. Though seeing the fallacy in Mrs. Jordan’s belief that she will soon transcend class, she does not see her own hypocrisy. She deludes herself with shiny objects.
    The second sentence of the paragraph shows in what way she deludes herself: “That made it an emotion the more lively—though singularly rare and always, even then, with opportunity still very much smothered—to see any one come in whom she knew, as she called it, outside, who could add to the poor identity of her function” (117). This sentence has too many qualifiers to simply mean that she gets excited when she sees a friend. The “as she called it” could be referring to the word “outside,” as in outside of the cage, but it seems more likely that the word being referred to is “knew.” She considers herself as knowing these people when she simply observes them. The “opportunity still very much smothered” alludes to the fact that she cannot let on that she knows her customers by way of reading their messages.
    The paragraph then goes on to describe the girl’s job, using negative descriptors to indicate how pointless she finds her job. The sounder is “always going,” she must “dole out stamps,” “answer stupid questions,” “give difficult change,” “count words as numberless as the sands of the sea,” etc. While that may not say much about her personality, she must certainly be shaped by her job. Her hatred of her work is what pushes her to try to live out the romance novels that she endlessly consumes. Though an omniscient narrator, this paragraph is certainly straight out of the girl’s mind and heart.

  24. In Chapter VIII of Henry James’ In The Cage, the unnamed narrator tells her friend, Mrs. Jordan, of the telegraphs she has seen from those they deemed privileged. They included “Their affairs, their appointments and arrangements, their little games and secrets and vices,” a scenario that Mrs. Jordan is reluctant to believe. She responds “Their vices? Have they got vices?” This passage is especially intriguing because Mrs. Jordan has always seen a life of privilege as her goal and is certain that she is about to marry into the lap of fortune by the end of the novel. She has many delusions of grandeur, but for the first time, she is confronted by the idea that the privileged people actually struggle with “vices.” Because she believes the “privileged” life to be so far greater than her own, she only considered the “affairs”, “arrangements”, “little games and secrets” portions of their lives. To her, it would be akin to living in a dream or a heaven.
    The narrator, on the other hand, has been intrigued by this affair more than anything because she lives in a completely different kind of dream. Her beliefs and inferences of these telegraphs she has been reading are being constructed into a romantic affair because of her reading of ha-penny novels. Her ideal lifestyle is something that she believes can be grasped and realized. To her, it was obvious what was going on. However, she still distances herself from the privileged fantasy. To her, these were simply characters playing out a story, just like in her books. She remarks, “They’re too real! They’re selfish brutes” (Chapter VIII). The characters, in her mind, have already ceased to be human in their dealings and escapades. They’re “brutes,” but ones that she are completely fixated by.
    Both women have realized that they live a completely different lifestyle than the ones in the telegraphs, but both believe in their delusions of them and are immersed in their story. Mrs. Jordan wishes, throughout the novel, to marry into a privileged family, and ends up with the butler of such a family by the end. She still genuinely believes she is just a step away from luxury, but the narrator sees this as a simple dream that has gotten out of control.
    The narrator herself reads as a sort of escape and finds the lives of the privileged enchanting and cannot tear herself away from them. She realizes this is her “cage,” as she is unable to keep reading if she marries and unable to marry because she is more in love with her dreams and want to escape reality. She eventually breaks out of this mental cage and marries at the end of the text. This passage shows how both the narrator and her companion Mrs. Jordan were trapped in their own worlds. At the end, when both follow similar paths, one has managed to move on while the other refuses to let go and keeps waiting for a life that will never come.

  25. Jasmin Diaz
    Professor Raley
    English 146DR
    26 April 2015
    The Reality of Imagination
    “She quite thrilled herself with thinking” (James, ch 12). In the short story “In the Cage”, Henry James depicts a young female telegraph operator who constantly comes up with interpretations of the messages and people around her to entertain her understanding of the world. The unnamed telegraphist is overwhelmed by thoughts and desires that cannot be openly expressed due to her social and economic status. Therefore, she attempts to substitute reality by reimagining her own. Although the story shows the protagonist’s life to be enriched by her imagination, the world she imagines is just as restrained. She struggles to imagine and create a fictional reality because she is forced to submit to the overwhelming power of class consciousness. The narrative of her imagination is still subjected to the reality of her social and economic confinement, limiting her ability to form a new identity. Even in her imagination, her social and economic status remains immutable. Ultimately, the creative power of the imagination is limited by her knowledge and understanding.

    In the story, James emphasizes the telegraphs girl desire to please and serve the upper class. For example, the telegraph girl fantasizes about what she could do with the knowledge of the affair between Captain Everard and Lady Bradeen:
    Sometimes she almost felt that he couldn’t have deprived her even had he been minded, by reason of the web of revelation that was woven between them. She quite thrilled herself with thinking what, with such a lot of material, a bad girl would do. It would be a scene better than many in her ha’penny novels, this going to him in the dusk of evening at Park Chambers and letting him at last have it. “I know too much about a certain person now not to put it to you—excuse my being so lurid—that it’s quite worth your while to buy me off. Come, therefore; buy me! (James ch 12).
    By alluding to her romance novels, the telegraphist emphasizes the fantasy of her relationship with Captain Everard. The phrase “bad girl” carries a negative connotation because it indicates that she is doing something that she should not. That it is wrong for her to even imagine attempting at a relationship with Captain Everard. Therefore, her fantasy life provides an allusion to her social and economic hindrance. She understands that as a working woman, she does not possess any real power and that is reflected in her fantasy life. Her knowledge of the affair does pose a threat to Captain Everard, however; the telegraph girl fails to act upon her potential for black mail. The function of knowledge and power in her imagination becomes apparent. Although she is attracted to him, the telegraph girl is very aware of her status in society. It is unrealistic that the Captain could ever be interested in her in any romantic way. The only real relationship possible between a rich man like Captain Everard and the telegraph girl remains the same in both real life and fantasy, monetary.

    Furthermore, the telegraph girls’ desires remain unfulfilled as she continues to participate in the affair between Captain Everard and Lady Bradeen. For example, James mocks the telegraphs girls’ devotion towards the captain. She describes how the captain, “should recognize her forbearance to criticize as one of the finest tenderest sacrifices a woman had ever made for love” (James ch12). Although she has comes to terms with the fact that she will never be involved in a romantic relationship with the captain, she still wants to be a part of his life somehow. By using the word “sacrifice” James emphasizes the act of the telegraph girl giving up her desire to imagine a world where she could be a part of the upper class. Instead, the telegraph girl imagines that her own unimportance and disregard of feelings gives the impression that she is trying to help the captain out in his affair. However, she still fails to be recognized by Captain Everard as someone of importance because of her social and economic position. What is considered more important are her obligations as a telegraphist, and nothing more. It is not actually a “sacrifice” but what her job entails. Therefore, her knowledge of the affair and her complicity only reinforces the sad reality of her stagnant social and economic position.

    Imagination is much more convincing than reality because it is our own personal creation. It gives us the ability to construct a different perspective of the people, events, and things that surround us. However, in the short story “In the Cage”, Henry James suggests that narrative imagination can be repressed. James explores how imagination convenes with our everyday lives. It influences not only our thoughts about what we see and what we do, but mainly our contemplation of what is possible and the limitations of life. As demonstrated by the telegraph girl, her imagination is constrained by class consciousness. She is knowledgeable of her social and economic limitations, therefore the telegraph girl refrains from being irrational and imaging a fantasy life where she marries the captain and lives happily ever after. It is unfortunate that our thoughts but out thoughts can be constrained by the need to create minimal change.

    Works Cited
    James, Henry. “In the Cage.” Web. 27 Apr. 2015. .

  26. In examining Henry James’ “In the Cage” the reader is able to best understanding the contextual meaning if they put themselves in the shoes of the telegraph girl. Starting with the title of the novel, the reader is positioned inside of the telegraph cage inside of the marketplace. The title is providing the setting for the storyline, as well as giving indication of how the girl feels about her situation. The lack of a subject in the title universalizes the condition of being “in the cage”. This is in conjunction with James’ choice not to ever give the girl a name. Despite being the main character of this plot, she is never referred to by a name. While the storyline may seem specific to the characters involved and the reader may not be familiar with the particular experiences described, the condition of feeling trapped “in the cage” can be universalized to anyone.
    Focusing further on the introduction to the novel, the first paragraph of “In the Cage” sets the tone for the rest of the work. The first line of the text is as follows: “It had occurred to her early that in her position—that of a young person spending, in framed and wired confinement, the life of a guinea-pig or a magpie—she should know a great many persons without their recognizing the acquaintance.” Although at this point in the story the reader has yet to learn additional details about the life of the girl, after reading the novel and looking back this statement is quite a meaningful one, putting the rest of the text into context. This sentence introduces the concept of observation without participation. The folks sending the messages do not give any thought to who is the intermediary between their words and the destination. Her position is seemingly invisible in the transitory process of communication through telegrams. As she begins to develop a one sided relationship with Lady Bradeen and Everard, who have no idea that she is invested in their exchange.
    The girl’s profession is more than just a plot detail because it also serves to open up the entire story to be interpreted in the context of what it means to communicate and connect. Describing her “function” implies that the girl is essentially like a machine. People assume that because she is supposedly mechanical in this way she is paying no notice to the content of the messages. The assumption of her robotic state is what entitles her to a voyeuristic perspective on the inner relationships of those sending messages. However, she defies this by memorizing and observing the details of Lady Bradeen and Everard’s relationship. She expresses her subjectivity and humanity by engaging with what she is reading. Although some may claim that her position takes away her human characteristics, I would argue that her creativity and emotional investment give her an intellectual freedom
    Once again referring to the conditions of her workplace, James refers to the “transparent screen” which “fenced out or fenced in” the people of the market. The girl’s physical space at work parallels her emotional state. She exists within a confined life with “screens” and boundaries, which determine the parameters of her existence. However, she uses her imagination to free herself and gain a sense of intellectual independence that transcends her boundaries and opens up opportunities for her creativity to flourish.

  27. “It had occurred to her early that in her position—that of a young person spending, in framed and wired confinement, the life of a guinea-pig or a magpie—she should know a great many persons without their recognizing the acquaintance. That made it an emotion the more lively…to see any one come in whom she knew, as she called it, outside, and who could add something to the poor identity of her function” (117).
    From the opening passage of the novella, In the Cage by Henry James, the unnamed protagonist adequately describes her unfavorable environment working in a post office and also gives notable insight regarding her views on her life.
    Her place of work can be perceived as highly undesirable and unfit to create a complete identity. Her function in her work is to “count words as numberless as the sands of the sea” in the “duskiest corner of a shop” (117). Her life is one that can be described as insignificant without value, working a monotonous job outside of contact with society. However, her job “in the cage” provides her with unique opportunities. As a telegrapher, she has continued access to an abundance of messages she is constantly “wired” to. Her “confinement” and presence in the cage, in addition, gives her protection and anonymity. As a result, her status in the cage provides her detachment from society coupled with tremendous amounts of information giving her a false sense of power over an upper class she believes she can enter.
    In the quote above, the protagonist is highly critical of the upper class women and exerts her power over them. “There were the brazen women, as she called them…whose squanderings and graspings, whose struggles and secrets and love-affairs and lies, she tracked and stored up against them, till she had at moments, in private, a triumphant, vicious feeling of mastery and power, a sense of having their silly, guilty secrets in her pocket…” (130). Her criticisms of the upper class and her knowledge, in general, made her very proud. The faults she found in the upper class gave her satisfaction that she is capable of living outside the cage and into the society of the wealthy.
    However, once she’s able to escape from her cage with Captain Everard, her power is lost, and she soon realizes where she stands in society. “She did last thing or pretended to do them; to be in the cage had suddenly become her safety, and she was literally afraid of the alternate self who might be waiting outside. He might be waiting; it was he who was her alternate self, and of him she was afraid” (183). She has a better understanding of the higher class as she tries to identify with Captain Everard. She realizes, however, that they are completely different people. The reality strikes when she can finally leave her cage where her power lies. As a result, she becomes frightened, seeking her cage for safety.
    The protagonist received great power positioned in the cage. She felt threatened by the upper class, hence her exertion of her power over them. However, it gave her a false sense of power that translated to overall power similar to that of the upper class, prompting her assurance to enter that class. Once that was gone when she left the cage, however, her status in society become clear, her leverage disappeared, and she became harshly reminded that she will forever remain in her current social status.

  28. Love and money go hand in hand. Through the eyes of the protagonist in Henry James’ In the Cage, a young woman who has grown up in poverty creates a romantic fantasy between herself and Everard, a wealthy regular of Cocker’s. The imagination of the telegraphist reveals the tensions between love and status, where marriage becomes a direct act of social standing. It is more of a business rather than a union based on emotion and feeling.
    The young woman is portrayed as confused and aware of her own ranking to Everard and society:
    “Could people of his sort do that without what people of her sort would call being “false to their love”?  She had already a vision of how the true answer was that people of her sort didn’t, in such cases, matter—didn’t count as infidelity, counted only as something else: she might have been curious, since it came to that, to see exactly what (Chapter 15).”
    These questions that circled her mind were in regards to Everard and the possible implications his relationship with her would have on Lady Bradeen and Mr. Mudge. She would conclude that their difference in class ranking would make an infidelity unaffecting because Lady Bradeen and Mr. Mudge would not feel threatened solely by it’s impossibility: For a wealthy individual to marry one in relative poverty. Whether rich or poor, individuals associated themselves with others based on their mutual class standing. This made Everard’s fantasized infatuation with her appealing because it excited her desire for a handsome and rich man to take a romantic interest in her. A man who was very mysteriously different from the dull grocer Mr. Mudge who was completely intent on marrying her. Her lack of encouragement in a realistic marriage with Mr. Mudge demonstrates how much her fantasized relationship with Everard has become a reality in her life. She wanted to see “exactly what” her relationship with Everard could become and would not give up the possibility of a wealthy connection. However, when Everard is discovered to be a poor fraud, she immediately overturns her rejection of Mr. Mudge “It was strange that such a matter should be settled for her by Mr. Drake (Chapter 27).” This decision to marry Mr. Mudge after discovering that her fantasy of Everard was based falsely on his being a wealthy gentleman threw her into further confusion. A confusion which she would help end and quiet through marrying Mr. Mudge and ending the possibility of her imagination with other relationships.
    Although a unromantic notion, money is ever important in love in Henry James’ In the Cage. It is revealed to be a terrible wrong to misrepresent and important when judging one’s possibility in marriage and attraction. Mr. Everard’s wealth was an important leading trait that caused the telegrapher to become sexcually attracted to him. However, when the twist is revealed, the normal conformity to mutual class ranking is followed. The soon to be Mrs. Mudge is unromantically engaged and still ever confused about the rankings in society.

  29. Connor London

    Close Reading of In The cage
    Throughout his 1898 novel, In the Cage, Henry James employees second person, ambiguity, and shows the wasted skills of the main character to critically examine how the use of the new telegram medium affects people in ninetieth century London society.
    The majority of the story takes place within the “framed and wired confinement” of the telegraph office where four workers, three women, Cissy, Mary, the nameless main character referred to only as “our young lady” and their male boss work everyday. Though impoverished the protagonist is engaged to Mr. Mudge, a grocer in the same neighborhood. In this cage they send telegrams for those who can afford them – the London elite. Although a menial job, the main character’s intelligence is shown throughout by the “endless right change to make and information to produce” which she effortlessly completes. More importantly her active imagination is shown as she invents stories of her customers. The protagonist is the newest worker in the cage and while she has an active imagination, her coworkers do not. Perhaps making the claim that sustained robotic work kills imagination. Along with a nameless protagonist, the blurred line between real or imaged elements of the story adds to the theme of ambiguity in the novel. It is unclear if her relationship with the “very happy circumstance indeed” of handsome Captain Everard is real or simply imagined. Regardless at least the wasted use of her imagination as a telegraphist is put to use by her daydreams to pass the boredom and may underline James’s criticism of the mundane livelihood some lower socioeconomic Londoners fond themselves in. Working hard all day while the rich, “spend to get still more, or even to complain to fine friends of their own that they were in want. The pleasures they proposed were equaled only by those they declined […] [their] mere approaches were so paved with shillings. “ Escaping into her imagination is all the nameless telegram operator can do to pass the boredom. As time goes on she finds her “divinations work faster and stretch farther.” The author’s fear of the telegram affecting the whole of society is furthered by his use of second person. By employing it the reader does more than simply observe the story but is included in it. This allows the probably wealthy reader at the time to be in the cage with the workers and look out of the cage from the workers’ point of view and see themselves. However, while the protagonist loathes many of the elites, she is also fascinated by them, clearly seen by her curiosity towards Lady Bradeen and her attraction to the Captain. While reading this text I struggled to keep deep focus for deep reading and Nicolas Carr’s premise rattled through my head as I struggled through the words. However once I found the librivox recording online I read along with the audio and found it much easier to get through. Once I did this I understood James’s premise and fears of the new technology of the telegram for London society.

  30. “She found her ladies, in short, almost always in communication with her gentlemen, and her gentlemen with her ladies, and she read into the immensity of their intercourse stories and meanings without end… she could envy them without dislike.” (pp. 131-132)
    This passage from the story entitled In The Cage, written by Henry James, is an example of how descriptive and deep James can be in his writing. It is interesting for the reader to explore the text of In the Cage because of the seemingly unending insights we gather from the young woman, whose thoughts are shared to us by the narrator.
    This passage is one of the first indications to the reader that the young woman is rather nosey in the sense that she frequently reads private messages that are not intended for her viewing. This however is the exact reason that In The Cage remains an intriguing read, although it can be rather dry and hard to follow at times. When James states “she read into the immensity of their intercourse stories and meaning without end” it becomes clear to the reader that the young woman disregards any sort of manners to do with the privacy of the people who are sending their letters. It is interesting to find that the young woman working “In the Cage” is not described as having any feelings of guilt or shame as she nonchalantly invades the private messages of numerous random people. The young woman explains how it seems as though the females are often the ones who are in pursuit of the men in these messages that have a sexual nature (pp. 131). This portion of information is probably intended to surprise the reader and to keep them highly curious of what will occur later in the story. Sex is almost always an attention grabbing subject and the fact that we learn early on, that the females in the story seem to be more aggressive a sex than males is quite remarkable.
    The narrator states later in this passage, “Perhaps she herself a little even fell into the custom of pursuit in occasionally deviating only for gentlemen from her high rigour about the stamps” (pp. 132). This excerpt gives the reader the sense that the young woman working at the post office more actively pursues men than they pursue her. Not only that, the young woman seems to be interested in wealthy, high-class gentlemen, judging by the way she makes notice of the type of stamp they use for their mail. This textual description that is given early in the story may seem like foreshadowing to the reader. It is difficult to ignore how curious and speculative the young lady is of the various gentlemen who enter the post office.
    The story In The Cage would not be the same without the young woman knowing so many private bits of information. James must have sought for the reader to enjoy the fact that the young woman knows so much about other peoples’ private lives, yet simultaneously have a certain amount of disapproval for her because she is constantly intruding on other peoples’ private and sensitive personal matters.

  31. The woman, who counts the letters of the telegraph, is a manifestation of the author’s fear of loss of privacy through the invention of the telegraph and the way it is used. Her ability to infer so much of the life of Captain Everard through minimal contact and a few words he pens to his lover, Lady Bradeen, shows the readers how the private life of telegraph customers are no longer safe. Even though the woman’s job is to count the letters of a telegraph, her ability to take the time to read each letter and is able to ascertain how “They were in danger, they were in danger…” (151) gives the reader the scope of invasive behavior of the telegraph.
    This danger she speaks of, is proven to be true at the end of the story. Through Mrs. Jordan retelling of the events of Lady Bradeen and Captain Everard, “It all got about—and there was a point at which Lord Bradeen had to act” (206). Lord Bradeen’s discovery of his wife’s adulterous affair is the “danger” in which the nameless woman foresaw back in chapter twelve. Yet, how is she able to deduce such a feat when a message transmission is counted by the letters and the words short? She does this through the gleaning of small facts, mixed with her imagination, and is able to derive a story around the illicit couple that ends up being a reality.
    The readers are able to see a foreshadowing of this nature in chapter seventeen, after she reveals her knowledge of the Captain’s “danger” to him, in which his reaction is “During this moment he leaned back on the bench, meeting her in silence and with a face that grew more strange” (169). His “silence” and facial reaction is an indication of how much he realizes the nameless woman knows of the troubles he is in. He realizes then how much of his private life has been penetrated into, and from there becomes progressively more distant from the woman in hopes of retaking back what is sacred to him.
    What is also surprising is her ability to infer how the Captain was not only in danger from Lord Berdeen, but also from Lady Berdeen. Her words, “…because he’s in danger from her too” (176) once again is another foreshadowing of the events that are transpiring during this couple’s love life. Information, remarkably, only gathered through bits and pieces of words.
    The placements of the word “danger” in this novella is the suggestion of the author’s regard for the role of woman and her ability to read into the private lives of her customers. The word itself appears early in the novella as a foreshadowing, then again when the climatic event is transpiring, and finishes the story as an affirmation of what actually is actually transpiring despite the woman’s often fanciful escapes of reality. These words is a message from the author of the nature of the telegram and its ability to open the doors of the private life for another to be seen.

  32. The unnamed heroine (if we may call her that) of In the Cage is perhaps most troubled by the difficulty of reconciling her life as a wistful, young lady with her job as a private, London telegraphist. By confusing the personal and professional nature of her relationship with Captain Philip Everard, however, the story also motions towards the unique paradox of telegraphic correspondence: as convenient and explicit the message itself may be, the meaning can become painfully impersonal and obscure. Ultimately, this dissociation works not only to manifest the girl’s romantic delusion, but also to reveal the disenchantment of middle class identity in post-industrial England as a whole.

    Henry James grounds these rather abstract themes by localizing them, literally and figuratively, in context of the girl’s workstation, referred to more dismally as “the cage”. Therefore, the girl’s mounting disillusionment – over her romantic fantasy with Everard, her occupation as a telegraphist, and society at large – is realized and even resolved in terms of its physical relation to “the cage”. Although the significance of this ‘thematic localization’ is present throughout the work, nowhere is it laid more bare than at the close of Chapter 15 during a momentary exchange the girl has with Everard outside of the post office:
    _________________________________________________

    “Do you mind my smoking?”
    “Why should I? You always smoke there.”
    “At your place? Oh yes, but here it’s different.”
    “No,” she said as he lighted a cigarette, “that’s just what it isn’t. It’s quite the same.”
    “Well, then, that’s because ‘there’ it’s so wonderful!”
    “Then you’re conscious of how wonderful it is?” she returned.

    He jerked his handsome head in literal protest at a doubt. “Why that’s exactly what I mean by my gratitude for all your trouble. It has been just as if you took a particular interest.” She only looked at him by way of answer in such sudden headlong embarrassment, as she was quite aware, that while she remained silent he showed himself checked by her expression. “You have – haven’t you? – taken a particular interest?”

    “Oh a particular interest!” she quavered out, feeling the whole thing – her headlong embarrassment – get terribly the better of her, and wishing, with a sudden scare, all the more to keep her emotion down … She stared straight away in silence till she felt she looked an idiot; then, to say something, to say nothing, she attempted a sound which ended in a flood of tears.
    _________________________________________________

    Reading this passage through the lens of what I’m calling ‘thematic localization’ requires the reader to fully understand what’s at stake. Again, our protagonist’s conflict is not so much her unrequited lust as it is her struggle for identity in 19th century London. Whenever the girl reads herself into Everard’s adulterous affair with Lady Bradeen, she conflates the reality of herself as a middle class telegraphist with the fantasy of herself as an unseen provocateur of the social elite. Interestingly enough, while it is her confinement to “the cage” that moves the girl to such farfetched romanticism, “the cage” itself is the only physical sphere where that romanticism is able to survive. By convincing herself that the fantasized life she dreamt up in “the cage” might be actualized outside “the cage”, the girl exposes herself not only to the painful truth of her own romantic delusion, but also to that of the entire working class.

    James’ deliberate localization throughout In the Cage cleverly unites his critiques on the fallibility of telegraphic correspondence and the illusion of social mobility in post-industrial society. The girl’s relationship with Everard is defined as a professional transaction within a post office, but just as easily as a telegraph is misread, so too can that relationship be misunderstood. Fantasy is not reality; “the cage” is not the same as the park; and “there” is not “here”. The girl idealizes her walk in the park with Everard as an opportunity to confirm that their relationship – whatever lustful undertones she thought existed – was as real outside as it was inside the post office. To her dispair, Everard remarks that “here is different”, and then unknowingly assures her that their relationship is “wonderful”, but only because it’s as though she had taken a “particular interest” in his business. The girl’s “sound which ended in a flood of tears” is the crushing realization of her own reality. In this reading then, “the cage” is not restricting the girl’s romantic or social freedom, rather, it is protecting her from the stark reality that such freedom hardly exists at all.

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