The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter VI

Summary

On his return to Paris, he trusted Tom Tristram to find some suitable rooms for him, even though Mrs. Tristram warned that the place would be hideous if Tom picked it out. But when Newman saw the place which was "gilded from floor to ceiling" and draped in various shades of satin, he thought the place magnificent.

Sometime later, Mrs. Tristram tells Newman that she had met Madame de Cintré coming out of a church where she had gone for confession. She explains that the lady suffers rather harshly "from her wicked old mother and her Grand Turk of a brother." But according to Mrs. Tristram, Madame de Cintré's suffering illuminates her "saintliness and makes her perfect."

Newman wonders if Madame de Cintré is not free to do as she pleases. Mrs. Tristram explains that legally she is free but there is a moral obligation to the family. She fears that Claire de Cintré is being forced into another marriage because the Bellegardes are proud but very poor. Newman is tremendously affected by this news and wants to step in immediately and do something.

A few days later, Newman goes to see Madame de Cintré again, and this time meets her younger brother. Newman had previously thought the house strange, but this time he had a sense of wandering into a "strange corner of the world." During the conversation, her brother offers to allow Newman to "examine the house" promising him that it has many concealed and hidden things in it. Later, he meets Madame de Cintré's sister-in-law, who turns in surprise to Valentin and wonders why Madame de Cintré sees strangers now. She explains to Newman that she is the most modern of the family, and that Madame de Cintré is the proud one of the family. Newman turns to her and asks her directly if she is proud. She asks if he finds her so. Newman explains that she would have to tell him, because he would not know otherwise. He lets her know that he wants to see her again and she tells him to come often and even requests Valentin to invite him also, but Valentin first asks him if he is a brave man. Newman assures him that he is and then Valentin tells him in that case to come and visit again. Newman reminds him that he will be coming only to see Madame de Cintré.

Analysis

James is using a lot of foreshadowing in this particular chapter. First, there is the comment about Newman's new apartment that it was "gilded from floor to ceiling a foot thick." This will later become symbolic of the type of glitter or gild that Newman must learn to discern. Secondly, we learn more about Madame de Cintré and about her situation. She is described in terms of a bird or dove which "folds her wings." This will later be expanded to suggest that Madame de Cintré is similar to the wounded dove as she chooses to renounce this world. Thirdly, there is a suggestion that the house in which the Bellegardes live "looks as if wicked things had been done in it, and might be done again." This is an innocent statement in this context, but we later find out that the Bellegarde house hides many secret sins and of course their forcing Madame de Cintré not to marry is the wicked thing that will occur in this house. Carrying through with the analogy, James has Valentin later suggest that perhaps Newman would like to examine the house because there are many strange things hidden there.

When Newman enters the Bellegarde house "he had an unusual, unexpected sense of having wandered into a strange corner of the world." This is an extension of James' method of creating new and unusual situations for his characters, placing them in these new situations and then observing them. We see that Newman is awkward for a moment, but is soon master of the situation simply by being himself and pretending nothing. It is his quality of complete and direct honesty that serves him best in such situations.

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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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