The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What do you think of Kitty's reasons for pursuing an adulterous affair with Charlie Townsend? Do you sympathize with her, with him, or with neither?

    I sympathize with Kitty. Though her actions hurt her husband Walter terribly, Kitty does not intend this kind of harm. She has yoked herself for life to a man she does not like, and she has never been in love before. Charles charmed her immediately, and she sought some solace from her loveless marriage in their relationship.

  2. 2

    Do you think that Kitty made a bad choice in marrying Walter Fane? Why or why not?

    I do not think that Kitty made a bad choice in marrying Walter Fane. It was her relationship with Walter that brought her to China, where she eventually achieved self-realization and embarked on the path to a better life. If she had not married Walter, she probably would have ended up with someone in England, and she would never have solved the problem of her own shallowness.

  3. 3

    Do you think Kitty's shallowness is the result of her upbringing, or is it an innate personality trait?

    I think that Kitty's shallowness is a result of her upbringing. Kitty's mother is so selfish and grasping that Kitty could not have turned out any other way; her mother was determined to raise Kitty to be a woman men would find appealing, and in order to do this, she encouraged Kitty’s most base personality traits. In Kitty’s final speech, she vows to raise her daughter as an independent woman, indicating that Kitty herself believes that such qualities are learned rather than innate.

  4. 4

    What is Walter's reaction to discovering Kitty's affair? Do you find his reaction frightening?

    Walter remains totally silent and polite, though his paleness suggests that thoughts are churning in his mind. He soon gives Kitty an ultimatum: she must choose between accompanying him to the cholera epidemic in Mei-tan-fu, responding to legal action brought against her for her infidelities, or marry Charles. Kitty is delighted at the possibility of the last option, because she has long dreamed of the possibility of marrying her lover. However, Charles refuses to leave his wife and children – something that Walter already knew, as indicated by the fact that he had Kitty’s things packed when she came home. Walter has extensive knowledge of human nature, which makes his choice to marry Kitty all the more puzzling.

  5. 5

    Why does Walter want Kitty to go with him to Mei-tan-fu? What purpose does his wager (i.e. he will divorce Kitty and allow her to stay in Hong Kong if Charles will agree to marry her) serve?

    During one of their conversations, Walter reveals that he forced Kitty to accompany him into the epidemic because he wanted to see her die. He was furious at her for her infidelity but he did not want to kill her himself, so he forced her to come with him into Mei-tan-fu because he was sure that the delicate Kitty would not survive such a situation. By suggesting that he will bring legal action against her (and knowing that she has no grounds to oppose such a case), he forces her into coming with him to the epidemic. But it is his clause about marrying Charles that is truly the masterstroke: he knows that Charles will refuse, and so Walter allows Charles to tarnish himself in Kitty’s eyes.

  6. 6

    Which religions are significant to which characters? What is the role of religion in the novel?

    The Catholicism of the nuns is deeply woven into their ethic of service; the Mother Superior of the convent gave up a life of prestige for one of prayer and work, and it has brought her great peace. Watson’s interpretation of Taoism as a paradoxical faith that emphasizes humor and mystery allows him to live peacefully among the native people of China.

  7. 7

    What is the "painted veil" in the novel?

    The painted veil of the novel suggests the appearance of daily life; it is like a veil covering a deeper reality. It comes from the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which describes the unreality of the world and the (perhaps unsuccessful) quest of a seeker to find some truth in it.

  8. 8

    What does the novel suggest about the significance of work for women?

    Work is a way for women to realize their highest potential. The transformation of Kitty's personality is only made possible by her work in the convent, which is described as refreshment for her soul. The nuns are remarkable for their calm even in the face of a deadly epidemic, which partially comes from the dedication they have to their work with the orphans. Work of some kind is presented as a way for both men and women to become more compassionate, courageous, and happy.

  9. 9

    What does Kitty accomplish by going to the Bahamas with her father?

    By going to the Bahamas with her father, Kitty cements a bond with the last remaining person in the world who cares about her welfare; she had very difficult relationships with both her mother and husband, and now they are both dead. Moreover, Kitty always treated her father very coldly, viewing him primarily as a source of income, and now she is committed to overcoming this petty side of her personality and creating a true bond with her father. Last but not least, being in the Bahamas will offer her the opportunity to raise her daughter as an independent woman who need not rely on a man.