The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter II

Summary

Having bought his first picture, Newman felt a sense of difference and accomplishment. He then began to look around for another picture to buy, even though he knew he had paid too much for the first one. Then he noticed a man who looked familiar, and went over to him. It was Tom Tristram, a man Newman had known some years ago during the war. In their discussions, we hear that Newman has been in Europe seventeen days, and that Tristram has been living here for six years, but this is the first time that Tristram has been inside the Louvre. Newman can't understand this, because Tristram has just said that he knows Paris very well. But Tristram doesn't consider this the real Paris.

Tristram leads Newman out to a nearby café for coffee and a smoke. Newman envies Tristram for having a wife and home, but Tristram maintains that Paris is a place to be without a wife. Newman, however, suggests that he has lived alone long enough and would like to get married. He tells Tristram that he has made enough money now that he wants to see Europe and learn something about the world. He has come abroad to amuse himself, but he wonders if he knows how. Tristram volunteers to take him to an American club where they can play poker, but Newman revolts at this idea. He wants to hear fine music and see lovely sights and visit museums, churches, etc. Tristram doesn't really understand such "refined tastes," and Newman explains how two months ago, he was in competition with a man who had once done him a dirty trick. Newman was then in the position of making this man lose a large sum of money, but on his way to the stock market to close a deal, he became disgusted with the entire affair. He knew that if he didn't carry it through, he would lose sixty thousand dollars, but on the spur of the moment, he told his carriage driver to turn around, thus losing the sixty thousand. It was then that he decided to get out of business and learn to live, and this is why he came to Europe.

A man who could do something like that is outside of Tristram's comprehension, and he tells Newman that he must come and meet Mrs. Tristram who can understand him somewhat better.

Analysis

One of James' techniques as a writer is the use of contrast. The character of Tristram is used as a contrast to Newman. By seeing another American who devotes himself to playing poker in American clubs and who has never come to one of the great art galleries, we form already a better picture of Christopher Newman.

James sums him up in one short stroke of the pen: "He looked like a person who would willingly shake hands with any one." In other words, Tristram is a person who has no taste, no wit, and not a great deal of intelligence. In his discussions of Europe, we see that Newman has learned more and profited more in seventeen days than Tristram has in six years.

We learn much more about Newman in this chapter. We see that he is a person who has the "desire, as he would have phrased it, to see the thing through." This is a typical Jamesian phrase used to suggest that Newman is the type of person who likes to investigate and delve into all aspects of life. Thus, James' novel also delves into every aspect of his subject before he finishes. Newman is also a person who, in the face of many difficulties did "see the thing through."

Furthermore, we find that Newman has made enough money so that he never has to work again. James always has characters who have enough money that they can devote themselves to refining their native talents, but notice that James refrains from saying exactly how much Newman has. This is left up to the imagination of the reader.

Another technique that James uses frequently is that of foreshadowing. In terms of the entire novel, Newman will later relinquish his great chance to get revenge on the Bellegarde family and will destroy a letter that could destroy the Bellegardes. This final action of the novel is foreshadowed by Newman's action with his business rival who had once played "a very mean trick" on him. Newman could have achieved a magnificent revenge on this man, but the idea of revenge filled him with mortal disgust. Thus, this scene prepares us for Newman's actions at the end of the novel. In other words, the reader should not be surprised at Newman's final action when we remember that part of his nature is revolted by the idea of revenge.

Furthermore, Newman says in this chapter that he wants "The best. I know the best can't be had for mere money, but I rather think money will do a good deal." The best later turns out to be Claire de Cintré but it is also true that money is not enough to obtain her. As Newman keeps searching for the best, we must eventually realize that only within Newman himself is there the best for which he searches.

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At the ball, who tries to point out some things to Newman, when he fails to realize them on his own?




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