The Portrait of Mr. W. H.

Narrator's Reaction to Erskine's Death in "The Portrait of Mr. W.H."

The long, antepenultimate paragraph of “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” neatly interrupts the dialogue that has just revealed the true nature of the death of Erskine, a friend of the narrator. The narrator is taking in the shocking news that Erskine had died naturally of consumption and not by suicide, as a letter from Erskine himself had previously led the narrator to believe. Then, in considering the odd circumstances surrounding his friend’s recent demise, the narrator asks himself why Erskine in his tragic egress “turned back to tell [him] what was not true” (100). The paragraph continues with the narrator musing on the meaning of his friend’s dying untruth, ultimately in an attempt to convince himself of its “very uselessness” (100) in converting him back to the theory of Willie Hughes. However, latent in the language he uses to dismiss and devalue Erskine’s letter lays that exact capacity for reconversion that the narrator explicitly denies. He is almost desperately persuading himself that he has lost faith in the theory. He wants to believe that he had at that same moment in which his faith left him, experienced a fundamental change in his character and sensibility that prevents him from being affected by Erskine’s pose of...

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