When Howard walks into the scene in the Kipps dining room after he catastrophically comes to call off Jerome’s engagement, he says he “had the sense of being in one of those horrid claustrophobic Edwardian plays, in which the whole world is reduced to one room” (39), which gives readers an idea of how tense things are in the dining room. It is also true that, in this moment, to many of the characters in the room, this issue at hand is the “whole world.”
Imagery: Saturday night party and the evening sun (82)
As Levi walks home to prepare for his parents’ anniversary party, the evening sun is described as behaving with the Belsey house in an intimate way, suggesting “The night was going to be sexy, close and warm” (83). These thoughts and images conjure up other thoughts and images in Levi’s mind, of clubs in Boston where he would rather be. All of this rapid-fire imagery constructs a montage of what weekend parties can be, in contrast to what the Belsey party eventually, actually, is.
Imagery: Carl swimming (133)
Zora meets Carl for the second time in the Wellington swimming pool, and begins to find him very attractive; before leaving, she watches him swim, “watched the initial seal-pup flip-flop of the boy’s torso, the ploughing and lifting of two dark arms in turbine motion, the grinding muscles of the shoulders, the streamlined legs doing what all human legs could do if they tried a little harder” (133). Although in these ways Carl seems to represent the pinnacle of human physicality, he is, as a black male, again compared to an animal.
Imagery: The Heath/The Millers’ (275)
The Belseys spend Christmas at the Millers’ residence, which is described as “a sprawling North London parkland,” and also described in detail in the following paragraphs. The narrator says that the “Belseys have always loved visiting the Millers. Not for the house itself…But the Heath!” (275-276). This luxurious description of a land so foreign to the Belseys' functions as a literary contrast between America and England; as a plot device, it rolls out a beautiful image just before the next line on page 276, delivered by Kiki, about Carlene Kipps: “She’s dead!”
Imagery: Hendrickje's hands (433)
In the very last scene in the story, Howard notes carefully the way that Rembrandt has painted his love Hendrickje in Hendrickje Bathing, 1654. He notes how the “woman’s fleshiness filled the wall,” and also how “her hands were imprecise blurs, paint heaped on paint and rolled with the brush, the rest of her skin had been expertly rendered in all its variety – chalky whites and lively pinks, the underlying blue of her veins and the ever present human hint of yellow, intimation of what is to come” (433). This image ends the entire book, and is an explicit invocation of the beauty of Kiki: right after noting Hendrickje’s fleshiness, Howard looks out into the audience and sees “only Kiki” (433).
On Beauty Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for On Beauty is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.