After Claire has entered the Carmelite convent, Newman arranges to attend a religious service (a Catholic Mass) there in hopes of feeling closer to her. Newman finds the experience disorienting and oppressive; readers are given imagery of the music, the visual ornamentation of the church, and the smells of the incense. Catholicism at the time was often associated with old-fashioned, superstitious, and repressive practices, and Newman experiences all of this while attending the service, increasing his horror at the idea that Claire has given up her life. The totalizing imagery heightens this immersive and oppressive atmosphere.
When Newman first visits the Bellegarde country estate, he is struck by the serene but impenetrable beauty of the chateau and surrounding estate. The imagery of the landscape and building reveals the majesty of the Bellegarde family, as well as their inaccessibility to anyone not born into that world. Newman as an outsider will never feel comfortable or at ease in this setting, just as he will never be welcomed into the family.
The lavish ball thrown by the Bellegarde family to celebrate the engagement highlights the splendors of the Parisian aristocracy. The imagery of sumptuous dress, brilliant jewels, perfumed flowers, and elegant food and drink reveals just how desirable this world is, helping readers to understand why Newman feels so triumphant at having entered into that world. The imagery also reveals why he is dazzled and distracted, and overlooks the suspicious behavior of his fiancée and her mother.
Newman's Experiences of London
Newman's visit to London after he leaves Paris, having decided not to reveal the Bellegarde secret, is described according to the sights he sees, the music and theater he listens to, and the local delicacies he eats. This imagery reveals Newman's desire to fully immerse himself in his experience of a new city, and drown his sorrows over his failed engagement. While he is not good at integrating himself into the social life of the residents of the city, he is good at consuming it as a tourist, and finds more satisfaction when he confines himself to this role.
The American Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The American is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
This is primarily a piece of fiction however most writers draw on inspiration from their own experiences when writing a novel. The novel reflects James's preoccupation in this period with writing about Americans traveling abroad, a theme shared...