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The elements that define the person, or the constitution of self, is an abstract
concept that has clouded human thought since the beginning of complex conscious
thought. Forming the basis of most philosophy, the pursuit of the concrete definition of a
“human” is a quest that has continued to plague academics and elude unanimous
agreement amongst humanity. The Portrait of a Lady presents two conflicting stances that
both possess merit and truth within their core arguments and leaves the reader to decide
which stance he or she believes to be true; there is no one true definitive answer as to
what makes an individual’s unique personality, and it is perhaps more accurate to say that
it is because of the complexity and variety of human ideology that there exists a problem
that yields no answer, as the definition of the conception of self is inherently subjectivethus, neither stance is more “correct.”
Madame Merle declares that “the self” is composed of one’s environment and is
the result of exterior stimuli throughout one’s life; she essentially states that the tangible
world is fundamentally intertwined and that all development is the result of human
interaction. Man is subjected to existing in a connected world, for he is instead of an
independent mind, a cog in the machine that is society and functions as a part of many
other people, each whom subsequently in turn is a component of another. Madame Merle
also believes that only through acquired possessions, either physical or emotional, can a
person seek to feel complete. The emotional makeup of an individual can be explained
and affected by his or her surroundings rather than what the mind believes itself to be in
the position taken by Merle.
While Madame Merle serves to portray the more superficial and tangible
constitution of self, Isabel believes in the inherent characteristics unique to a person.
According to Isabel, a person’s self is defined to be whatever he or she wants it to be. It is
to essentially state that the basic characteristics of a human is purely natural and intrinsic;
subsequently, no external provocations can hope to truly change such qualities. These
attempts to modify the person serve to only hinder the actuality of the true self, rather
than a component of the actual self. With this core argument in mind, Isabel argues that it
is acceptable to indulge in the possession of luxury goods, so long as the individual can
differentiate between what reflects the origins of the luxuries and their makers and what
reflects the actual person. External modifications provide no further expression of self in
the argument of Isabel, and the self expresses itself through material goods in the
argument of Madame Merle; then who is to say which position is correct?
The reality of the dilemma rests within the inherently flawed attempt to define a
universally correct ideology that all humans should abide by. Each different conception of
person possesses some truth; it is foolish to believe that outer and palpable materials and
understandings cannot hope to convey one’s own personality, be it through the type of
clothing that one wears, the preferences and dislikes that one retains, or the friends that
one holds dear. The adage, “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are” holds

It can also be argued that the ability to be influenced by others is the result of ones changing and moldable personality. .some truth in that it is only to be expected that the individual seeks and is molded by an existence that he or she can enjoy and experience in the actual world. Thus. Thus. as this is to go against what has made humanity great. Thus. the dissonance that exists between Madame Merle and Isabel is cemented in a never ending war and subsequently promotes the more logical conclusion of accepting both stances holistically. it is possible to say that someone’s unique personality is the result of a collection of life experiences and the expression of this unique trait is done through the connection with the perceptible world. It is impossible to convert all of humanity to a single.its freedom and variety in seeking truth. Similarly. it is also imprudent to believe that the acquisition of material wealth is the only way to create one’s self. which demeans the importance of human connection and interaction. individual thought and motives are the basis for one’s person.these qualities are learned. not inherent.the coming about of the person forms from the already present elements. Both Madame Merle and Isabel’s positions can easily co-exist. Isabel’s argument has the ability to encompass Madame Merle’s argument as well. To say that Madame Merle’s belief holds no truth at all is to say that all men and women can seek to segregate their own personal beliefs from their peers’ personal perceptions and opinions. Isabel’s argument is grounded in that while outside factors can influence a person. Her conception of self stems from the principle that the already existing self is absolute in nature and is unwavering. as they are simply different perspectives of the same open-ended question. The connections that a person makes in life are the roots of ones values and ethics. unifying belief system.