The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter XX

Summary

Valentin died peacefully and Newman left so as not to see Urbain de Bellegarde. He received a letter from Madame de Cintré and decided to drive down to the country home to attend Valentin's funeral and later see Madame de Cintré.

When he calls upon her, she seems greatly changed. She immediately admits that Newman has been greatly wronged, and she feels very cruel and guilty. Newman tells her that she is not obliged to drop him simply because her mother told her too, but she reminds him that she has always said she was not a heroine. Newman tells her that she is being false to herself and saying bad things about herself in order to cover up for her mother's and brother's wickedness. He reasons with her that the only reason she is giving him up is that her family has tortured her.

Madame de Cintré assures Newman that she is not giving him up for any worldly advantage. Newman knows this and even understands now about Madame de Bellegarde's duplicity in urging Lord Deepmere to court Madame de Cintré. Finally, Madame de Cintré admits that she is not indifferent to Newman, but what she is doing is "like a religion. There is a curse upon the house." She wanted to escape, but her family forced her to remember it. As she is about to go, Newman asks her where she is going. She tells him that she is going into a Carmelite nunnery for life. Newman begs and pleads with her not to take such a drastic step. He beseeches her never to lock all her charm behind an iron gate. She only reminds him that she can't live in the world and not be his wife. She feels this should help him understand her feelings for him. Newman takes her gently in his arms, and kisses her, but she soon forces herself free and hurries through the door.

Analysis

When Newman first sees Madame de Cintré in this chapter, she is described as having a "monastic rigidity." This suggests already her decision to enter the nunnery. The reader should be aware of the tremendous amount of tension in this chapter; both characters are filled with tension, but still control their feelings. This is that Jamesian violence under control.

At first Madame de Cintré tries to make herself seem weak and cowardly, so as to avoid making her family appear in a bad light. But gradually, Newman is able to break through all of her excuses for her behavior, and she finally has to admit that her feelings are based on fear of her family and, furthermore, it is fear that is like a religion. For this reason, there seems to be nothing that she can do but go into a nunnery. She cannot remain in a world filled with such evil, she can't defy the evil, and furthermore, by entering the nunnery, she is attempting to show Newman just how much she does love him even though she can't defy her family.

The fact that she allows Newman to embrace her at the end of the interview — the first physical demonstration of love in the novel — serves as a further proof of her deep devotion to him. It is, therefore, this mutual deep devotion which makes the love a tragic one.

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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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