Henry James 'The Pupil'

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Differences among social classes are apparent in every single society; such distinctions were especially visible in the British Isles during the late nineteenth century, the setting of Henry James’s 1891 short story “The Pupil”. James portrays an employer-employee and an employee-client relationship of scorn with its roots in socioeconomic inequality by using devices such as point of view and diction. The narration’s focus on Pemberton’s point of view highlights the class disparity between the characters, thus explaining Pemberton’s distaste for his employer and student. The author writes the story from a third person limited point of view with its focus on Pemberton’s perspective. This feature reveals Pemberton’s thought process and background, …show more content…

During his first encounter with his student, Pemberton disapproves of his student’s behavior towards his mother and “reflect[s], somewhat grimly, that the first thing he should have to teach would be to appear to address himself to his mother when he spoke to her (20-23)”. This sentence establishes a disapproving attitude towards his pupil with the word “grimly”; in other words, Pemberton’s first impression of his charge is not a positive one. Interestingly, class hierarchy also plays a small role in this negative perception, as it is likely that Pemberton expects his charge’s manners to be of better quality based upon his aristocratic status. Later, Pemberton’s feelings about his pupil intensify from frowning to distaste; his student responds to his request for his salary’s size with “a strange little comment, in the shape of the mocking, foreign ejaculation, ‘Oh, la-la’! (76-78)”. The boy’s mocking of his teacher further highlights the existing class differences, which have already irritated Pemberton, and ignites a feeling of dislike for his student based upon the disparaging connotation of his student’s remark. The conveying of attitudes of dislike and disapproval through diction sets the stage for a strained relationship between the characters. The economic disparity between Mrs. Moreen, her son, and Pemberton are the source of Pemberton’s dislike for them. Pemberton’s psychological response to this inequality is no different than that of many people of various socioeconomic classifications throughout the history of civilization who have learned to dislike people who do not live as they

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