The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter V

Summary

When Newman told Mrs. Tristram of his failure to see Madame de Cintré, she advised him to carry out his plan to "see Europe." He then began a long tour of Europe seeing the churches, monuments, pictures and other treasures of the continent. In Holland, he met a young American named Babcock who was a Unitarian minister. They became traveling companions.

After traveling together for some time, Mr. Babcock realized that Newman was a very noble person, but perhaps, he thought Newman was too hasty to make judgments. Mr. Babcock thought Newman was not discriminating enough: "He liked everything, he accepted everything, he found amusement in everything." He considered Newman lacking in "moral reaction" and determined to break with Newman. He then explains to Newman how different they are: "You think I take things too hard, and I think you take things too easily. We can never agree." He tells Newman that "you are too passionate, too extravagant." Thus he leaves to "re-see" some of the things he has already seen and is confused about because Newman influenced his judgment. Sometime later, Mr. Babcock writes Newman a letter, but the letter only confused Newman and rather than answer it, he chose an expensive little statuette in ivory and sent it to Mr. Babcock.

After more traveling, Newman realizes that he has been gone from Paris for four months. He still remembers vividly the gleam he saw in Madame de Cintré's eyes and wonders if he would not find more satisfaction in her eyes than in continued travel. He then receives a letter from Mrs. Tristram, and he replies that he will soon be returning to Paris. He tells her of Mr. Babcock, who found him too liberal, and then of an Englishman he traveled with who found him too virtuous and too ''stern a moralist.''

Analysis

James continues to give us more information about Newman. With every chapter we learn more about him. Here James uses the technique of contrast. In an earlier chapter, Newman was contrasted with Tom Tristram and by comparison was seen to be a far superior American, but the contrast left the possible interpretation that Newman was a prude when compared to Tristram. Now Newman introduces a real prude in the person of Mr. Babcock. Thus, by comparison, we see that Newman is very liberal. But again to keep the reader from thinking Newman too liberal, we hear about his English traveling companion who found Newman too moral and too stern. Thus when all things are considered, it seems that Newman is almost the perfect individual, being not too liberal and not too narrow-minded.

The inclusion of these characters who shed extra light on Newman is one of James' favorite tricks. He refers to these types of people as reflectors because by including them in the novel, they reflect something basic about the central character.

Newman's traveling has broadened him and increased his awareness of life. He now realizes things about himself and about other people that previously he would have thought impossible. For example, he sees through much of Babcock's fears, but doesn't judge him harshly. And he is not offended with either Babcock or the English companion for their criticisms of him.

More important is his realization about himself. He knew that he had never done a mean or ugly thing in his life, but he suddenly realized "that if he had never done anything very ugly, he had never, on the other hand, done anything particularly beautiful." Furthermore, he realizes that perhaps he can find more beauty in loving a beautiful woman than he can in seeing many sights. Thus his decision to return to Paris and Madame de Cintré.

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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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