The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter XIX

Summary

Newman immediately catches a train to Switzerland where Valentin lies wounded. When he arrives, he is told that Valentin has already had the last rites of the church, and the doctor in attendance has definitely condemned Valentin. Newman hears how, in the first shot, Valentin intentionally shot to the side and only grazed M. Stanislas' arm, but M. Stanislas demanded another shot. The second time, Valentin fired aside, but M. Stanislas hit Valentin in the chest.

Newman must wait for some time before Valentin awakes. When he does, he says that he knew Newman would be there. He wonders if Newman is disgusted with him, but New man tells him he is too sad to think of scolding him. Valentin asks about Claire de Cintré, but Newman tells him simply that she is in the country home in Fleurières; he wants to know why, but Newman doesn't tell him. Valentin knows that something is wrong, and insists upon knowing what. Newman tells him to get well and then he will tell him. When Newman tells Valentin that his wound is a mean way to end a man's life, Valentin asks him not to insist because somewhere deep down, Valentin agrees with Newman. The doctor comes in and asks Newman to leave.

Later that day, Newman is informed that Valentin is asking for him. Valentin tells Newman that he knows something is wrong about the marriage and asks him not to deceive a dying man. Then Valentin volunteers the information: "They have stopped" the marriage. Newman admits that Madame de Bellegarde and Urbain have "broken faith." Newman tells Valentin that Madame de Cintré is very unhappy; "They have made her suffer." Valentin asks for more information and finally tells Newman that he is ashamed for his family: ''Here on my deathbed, I apologize for my family."

Valentin rests a while, and then calls Newman back to him. He tells Newman that there is a way to force the Bellegardes to ''come round." There is a great secret, "an immense secret. You can use it against them-frighten them, force them.'' He tells Newman that his mother and brother once did something to his father, but he has been too ashamed to admit what it was. But Mrs. Bread knows and Newman is to go to Mrs. Bread and tell her that Valentin requests her to give Newman the information.

Analysis

The reader should notice varying degrees of honor and forms emphasized in this chapter. First, Valentin, while complying to the false concepts of honor involved in a duel, did do the gentlemanly thing and only grazed his opponent's arm and on his second shot fired way off to the side. He adhered to the right forms and honor to the last minute. Note also, that his companions are more interested or more concerned over the fact that Valentin had adhered to the strict code of honor than they are over the fact that Valentin is dying. Newman doesn't care for these fancy concepts of honor but only for the fact that his dear friend is dying.

It is Newman's concept of honor which prevents him from telling the dying Valentin about the Bellegarde's deceit. But Valentin is too perceptive, and he forces Newman to tell. Thus, James presents the scene in such a way so that Newman does not have to burden the dying man with his problems until he insists upon knowing.

As soon as Valentin hears about his family's deceit, he apologizes for the family; he is ashamed for them. His statements in the context take on immense importance. Valentin is lying on his deathbed dying by some concept of honor that he has always adhered to. To find out that his family has betrayed the same Bellegarde honor which is causing him his death is more than he can tolerate. Thus, this is one reason why he turns against his family. The other reason is the affection he feels for Newman and the deep love he feels for his sister whom he knows is suffering now at the hands of his family.

Consequently, he reveals an immense secret concerning his family — a secret that he has been ashamed of, but he refers Newman to Mrs. Bread. As Valentin is dying, we are reminded of the earlier statement in Chapter VII that the "honor of the name was safer in his [Valentin's] hands than in those of some of its other members."

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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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