Paste By Henry James Analysis

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Marxist Critical Reading of Henry James’ ‘Paste’ ‘Paste’ by Henry James is a story about a young woman named Charlotte receiving a pearl necklace that belonged to her dead aunt, from her dead aunt’s stepson. The stepson, Arthur, believes the pearls to be fake and ‘paste’ (that is, worthless) but Charlotte’s wealthy friend and colleague Mrs Guy assures her that they are real. Charlotte is then faced with some indecision over whether or not to return them, and ultimately does, only to find them later in the possession of Mrs Guy. I will be using Marxist literary theory to analyse ‘Paste’. Marxist literary theory stems from the socio-political theory set out by Marx and Engels. In their early work, ‘The German Ideology’, Marx sets out to…show more content…
She has a power over Charlotte socially, the younger woman seems to defer to Mrs Guy as her superior, doing as she bids when Mrs Guy refuses to go to Charlotte, saying rather ‘“No,[…]bring them to-night to mine.”’ (p.9) and Charlotte does not question this. Mrs Guy seems to wish to be seen in a position of economic power over Charlotte, and she is quite happy to parade the necklace in front of the younger woman, ‘“Almost? Where, my dear, are your eyes? They ARE ‘Arthur’s!”’ (p.19) and therefore uses pearl necklace to act as a status symbol, Mrs Guy obtaining it is representative of her regaining power over Charlotte (which seems to lessen when Charlotte is in possession of the necklace initially)– appearing as a higher class than her. And whilst towards the end, Charlotte seems to ponder whether or not Mrs Guy has been underhanded in her dealing with Arthur (with the narrator revealing her thoughts), ‘Hadn’t she perhaps in truth dealt with Arthur directly?’ (p.20) she does not directly confront Mrs Guy, nor accuse her of anything (or even ponder if Mrs Guy was wrong). Considering this in terms of Marxist criticism, we could argue that Charlotte as a character is affirming bourgeoisie values, because she does not question one who is above her class and is resigned to lose the necklace. Additionally, the pearls could be seen as having a higher use-value to Mrs Guy, she can…show more content…
As earlier stated, Marx suggests that ‘the value relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, [has] absolutely no connection with their physical properties’ (Marx [1867] 2004, p.667). When it is not being seen as ‘paste’, the pearl necklace seems to represent something else. For Arthur, if the pearls are not simple ‘paste’ and worthless then they have the potential to represent the idea that his stepmother was not ‘beyond reproach’ (p.7), an idea which he puts out of his mind in order to reconcile the view he holds of his stepmother – one in which she seems to be in high social esteem, so much so that he cannot let Charlotte leave without informing her that his ‘“stepmother was [not] at ANY time of her life the sort of person to allow herself to be approached-”’ (p.7). For Mrs Guy and Charlotte both the pearls are representative of economic and social power. Charlotte, as referenced earlier ponders using them to further herself economically. Mrs Guy seems to have an underlying desire to possess the necklace throughout; she describes herself as ‘understanding’ the pearls (p.11) as if Charlotte cannot understand them. Mrs Guy seems to ascribe to the pearls a higher class than Charlotte herself – a class outside of their simple economic value. Thus, the pearl necklace is fetishized as a commodity. Within ‘Paste’ it is a symbol,

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