The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter VII

Summary

About a week after his visit to Madame de Cintré, Valentin came to visit Newman. At first, Newman had the impression that Valentin came to laugh at him, but he is very tolerant anyway. Valentin, however, explains that his sister requested him to come, and a request from his sister is a command for him. Newman notices how much he admires his sister and notices also that he resembles Madame de Cintré.

Valentin asks Newman's permission to ask a few questions. He wonders why Newman came to Paris. Newman tells him for pleasure, but that he is not having much fun; Valentin offers to aid him, but explains that he himself is a failure in the world. Valentin thinks it ironic that he offers his services to a man who has been a great success in life. Newman cannot understand why Valentin doesn't strike out on his own and do something, but Valentin finds this observation delightfully simple, and explains that things are different in Europe than in America. He explains also that there is nothing he can do and that he will probably go someday into a monastery.

During the next three weeks, Newman saw Valentin often and they soon established a firm friendship, and during this time, he often paid visits to Madame de Cintré but seldom found her alone. He continued to admire her and was convinced soon that she was the woman for whom he had been searching.

Once when Valentin visited Newman, he suggested a trip to see an Italian lady who was apparently beginning on a downward path. Valentin was interested in observing her. Newman suggested that perhaps someone should offer this lady some good advice, and suggested that maybe Madame de Cintré could talk to her. Valentin is almost horrified and tells Newman that his sister could never see this type of woman. Newman doesn't understand, and tempts Valentin to his apartment for a long talk.

Analysis

This chapter is devoted essentially to establishing the friendship between Valentin and Newman. This friendship will be the means by which Newman will gain favor in Madame de Cintré's eyes and later the means by which he will discover the terrible secret about the Bellegarde family.

With Valentin, we find out that he considers himself a failure, but even as such, the "honor of name was safer in his hands than in those of some of its other members." This is later seen to be true when we find out how badly the Bellegardes treat Newman until even Valentin is ashamed of his family.

With this chapter, James is rapidly beginning to suggest some basic differences between the American and the European. "In America, Newman reflected, lads of twenty-five and thirty have old heads and young hearts, or at least young morals; here they have young heads and very aged hearts, morals the most grizzled and wrinkled." In this observation, Newman is suggesting a basic difference between the two. The American is essentially innocent but intelligent and willing to learn. But the European is already experienced and knows what to do in every situation, and is seemingly unwilling to attempt anything new: the difference is therefore presented in other ways. Newman sees nothing to prevent Valentin from striking out on his own. He doesn't understand how the name of Bellegarde can prevent a man from going out and earning an honest living. Furthermore, he doesn't know why Madame de Cintré is not free to go see a certain lady if she wants to. Thus, Newman has not yet learned about the restrictions imposed upon a member of the European aristocracy.

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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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