Words as predators in Henry James's The wings of the dove

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Trussler, Gail
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The frequent predatory images in 'The Wings of the Dove' are created by the characters in order to reconcile the conflict they experience between their strong desires for personal gain and their equally strong desires to see themselves in a favourable light. In portraying themselves as victims of other characters' predation, the characters conveniently overlook the rapacious nature of their own behaviour, while at the same time experiencing a sense of control over the characters around them by capturing them with verbal images. The roles of prey and predator within the novel are thus not fixed; they fluctuate according to the motivations of the characters who produce the images, and are paradoxically overturned by the predatory power these characters gain in the very act of defining themselves as prey. The ability of words to capture and to create a sense of control makes them a powerful commodity in the novel, and yet their power frequently eludes the characters as they attempt to grasp it. Words to a certain extent parallel money, and the characters' comprehension and utilisation of the power of words to limit or to expand meaning is affected by the limitations, or lack thereof, of their own wealth. Words, however, are shown to have a power more far-reaching and potentially sinister than that of money, for their implications are ontological; in representing a person, they serve as a replacement for the person, and so figuratively annihilate them.