Newman's Rejection of Family Interference in a Woman's Marriage Decision
At the start of the novel, Newman is outraged and disgusted at the idea of family members influencing a woman's decision about who to marry, deploring the custom as a kind of European barbarism. However, the same reason why a family would likely favor one suitor over another (money) is the same major reason why Newman thinks a woman would want to marry him, a circumstance he has no problem with. Later in the novel, rather than directly trying to woo Claire, he tries to persuade and then blackmail her mother and brother into telling her to marry him. Rather than rejecting family influence over marriage decisions, he tries to use this power dynamic to his advantage, which is ironic in light of his earlier reaction.
Newman's Rejection of Vengeance over Personal Honor
When Newman learns that Valentin is going to fight a duel over an insult to his honor, he thinks this is absurd and unnecessary, believing that Valentin should instead simply move on from his quarrel with another suitor of Noemie Nioche. However, when Newman's own honor and pride are hurt by being rejected for not being good enough for Claire de Cintre, he also becomes equally consumed by a need for revenge. Whether or not he will ever get Claire back, he wants to feel vindicated, which is the same impulse that he had ironically rebuked Valentin for experiencing.
Newman's Belief About the Need to Protect Women
Newman at various points expresses his belief that women are innocent, fragile, and in need of protection and guidance. He sees his role in relation to his future wife to involve caring for her and sheltering her. This perspective is ironic in that it is the female characters in the novel (Noemie, Mrs. Tristram, and old Madame Bellegarde) who are shrewd, clear-sighted, and able to accurately perceive situations and individuals, using this information to achieve their goals. Newman turns out to be far more naïve and easily manipulated than the women he thinks he needs to protect and care for.
Mrs. Bread's Power in Comparison to Her Position
Mrs. Bread works as a servant to the Bellegarde family; she is economically dependent on them, and has a much lower social status. Yet, because of the knowledge she has gained, particularly about the circumstances surrounding the death of the Marquis, she actually has the power to destroy the reputation of her employers. Similar to Newman, who lacks status but has wealth, she lacks status but actually has the potential to wield great power, revealing that the class system does not always accurately reflect the degree of power individuals possess.
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...