Date of Award

January 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Eric Wolfe


Despite Henry James’s reputation as a novelist of upper class manners, many critics have argued that his work also contains well-grounded criticism of capitalism and consumer culture. An even larger number of writers have analyzed James’s idiosyncratic style, characterized by ambiguity and abstractness. Where these two analytic approaches overlap, the area examined in this dissertation, James makes a deeper critique of capitalism’s redefinition of human purpose and its reification of the human mind and consciousness. James suggests, through his ambiguous and abstract language, that open-ended language which rejects concrete and conceptual meaning can gesture toward a space in which people can reclaim their full humanity and reject the reification of life – a space that is non-reified. Moreover, this non-reified space, while it can help an individual redefine her subjectivity, is brought to fruition when people share deeply intersubjective connections. By applying to four James novels the Marxist elaboration of commodification and reification by Georg Lukács, the detailed analysis of Jamesian grammar and syntax by Seymour Chatman, and the phenomenological discussions of language and intersubjectivity by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, as well as the views of Gertrude Stein on the importance of allowing linguistic space that is not already filled with meaning, this dissertation finds James’s gesture toward a space in which people can be fully human, experience each other as fully human, and rediscover language as a powerful force for mutual creation of the next moment and, from there, the world.