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Give your interpretation of Strether’s
decision to return home at the end of the novel. Does it fit his
Throughout the second part of The
Ambassadors, Strether seems intent on staying in Paris.
He is so focused on this desire that he even urges Chad to stay
and promises Madame de Vionnet that he will work to keep him there
with her. However, at the very end of the novel, Strether resolutely
decides he must leave, which seems to be a complete rejection of
his previous sentiments. This drastic change may initially seem
out of character for Strether, but it is actually not.
A number of events lead up to Strether’s change of direction
and have a significant effect on the way he sees Europe and his
relationship to the European social landscape. Strether is middle-aged,
and the United States has been his home for every one of his fifty-five years.
Just because he has a good time in Paris and gains a new way of
looking at the world around him does not mean that he is completely
comfortable there. When he begins to trust Madame de Vionnet, the
only born-and-bred European he interacts with, he is optimistic
about European culture and begins to find his own place in Paris.
However, when he sees her intimately involved with Chad, he realizes
two things: one, that his own love for her is futile, and, two,
that she will willingly use him for her own gain. These realizations
remind Strether that although he enjoys Europe, he is out of place
there and will always be unable to fully understand the culture.
Even though America will be forever different to him because of
his enriched perspective, and even though he has developed an increased
awareness of the country’s faults, he feels he is too old to live
outside of his own culture, the only culture he will ever fully understand.
In this way, Strether’s actions are perfectly in line with his introspective,
self-conscious, and conservative character.
What is the significance of the structure
of The Ambassadors?
The Ambassadors is a meticulously
structured novel. Split into twelve equally sized chapters (called
“books”), the novel also has two climaxes that each fall in the
penultimate chapters of their respective sections. Likewise, the
novel has many reoccurring structural elements, such as balcony
scenes (in which new people become acquainted), two-person conferences
(in which advice is given), and garden scenes (in which personal
revelations are had). This structure allows James to imbue his novel
with significance and meaning without having to add blatant plot
or dialogue. For instance, when Strether comes upon Mamie standing
on the balcony, the structure offers us an opportunity to compare
this scene to the first scene involving a balcony, when Strether
meets little Bilham. Because of this structured mirroring, we can
automatically assume that little Bilham will play a role in the
scene between Strether and Mamie. Sure enough, he does. Soon we
also learn that Mamie is, indeed, waiting for little Bilham. Furthermore,
both balcony meetings give Strether the opportunity to learn more
about the two characters he interacts with on the balcony.
In another instance, we can trace the structure of the
novel in an hourglass shape through Strether’s relationship to Paris.
In the opening, Strether is in Paris only to extract Chad. Throughout
the first part, he learns to appreciate the city, and by the middle
he longs to stay. The second book begins with him conspiring with
Chad to allow them both more time in Paris. However, as the second
part continues, Strether becomes disillusioned with Paris until,
by the end, he decides to leave. Tracing these kinds of patterns
in the structure of The Ambassadors helps us derive
meaning from a dense, complex text.
Compare the ambassadorial style of
Strether to that of Sarah Pocock. How is one a more effective ambassador than
Mrs. Newsome asks both Strether and Sarah
Pocock to be her ambassadors in Europe. She asks them to bring her
wayward son Chad back home. However, they have very different ambassadorial styles
and attempt the task in divergent, and contradictory, ways. In the
end, they have very different results. Strether arrives in Paris
certain of his task but also open to enjoying himself. He is uncertain about
whether he wants to marry Mrs. Newsome, and he is uncertain about
his role at home in Woollett, Massachusetts. Strether immediately
has to remind himself to focus on his mission, or else he risks
wandering too far into the temptations of the Parisian world. However,
as soon as he begins to interact with Chad and Chad’s friends, he
begins his own journey to a place of growth and deeper self-realization.
He subconsciously desires this journey, one which, in the end, has
a positive effect on him, although it leads him to fail as Mrs.
Sarah Pocock, in contrast, is a married woman with direct
orders from her mother. She is not in a transitional stage in her
life and has come from a position of stability and permanence in
Woollett. Married to a successful businessman, Sarah views her trip
as a familial chore: to make her family whole and increase her family’s
fortune. She does not have the personal insecurities of Strether,
nor does she have his needs or his imagination. She is able to stay
completely focused on the task assigned by her mother and is thus
a much more effective, and in the end more successful, ambassador
for Mrs. Newsome.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Ambassadors!