Art In Helen Humphreys Afterimage Essay

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Art plays a very important role in Helen Humphreys’ “Afterimage.” For Isabelle Dashell, the lady of “Middle Road Farms” art provides an escape from the difficulties of life. For Annie Phelan, a 20-year-old Irish maid employed at the Dashell’s estate, modelling and participating in Isabelle’s photography provides both a way for her to experience life and a means of finding herself. In the novel, Humphries uses the characters of Annie and Isabelle to illustrate the versatility of art, and demonstrate its positive and negative effects When Annie first arrives at “Middle Road Farms” she has virtually no sense of identity. Annie does not know her family as they “died in the hunger” (11) when she was a baby. All that she knows about her past…show more content…
In the climactic fire at the end of the novel, Isabelle misses it almost entirely because she is in her darkroom developing photos. When she comes up the stairs into the garden and sees the fire she says that it is “as if she is climbing up into one of her own photographs” (232) suggesting a sense of displacement. When she sees Gus falling out of the window to safety she thinks that “it is the perfect photograph, and she has missed it” (248). She does not worry about the child’s safety, or anyone else’s for that matter. Rather, her biggest concern, her biggest fear in that moment is “that she will not be able, no matter how she wills it or orchestrates it, to create an image as pure and true as this” (248). For Isabelle Dashell, art is a way to hide from life. She uses her photography to fuel her denial of the tragic events that have taken place in her life, which ultimately makes her situation worse. On the other hand, Annie Phelan gains confidence in herself through her modelling and participation in Isabelle’s photography. It is through this newfound confidence that Annie is able to establish her identity and begin to experience life. Art functions very differently for these two characters, and Humphreys uses these characters to
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