The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 15 | Summary

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Summary

Newman hasn't seen Monsieur Nioche in several weeks, and he worries that the man may have committed suicide. Also Valentin tells him that Noémie has managed to become attached to an older man who spends money on her. When Newman tracks the Nioches down in a cafe, Noémie is certainly showing signs of having more money. She is dressed very well and appears to be more respectable. After she leaves M. Nioche tells Newman he is angry at Noémie. She has clearly sold herself to this rich man, and some of the money she is given to spend she gives to her father, so M. Nioche benefits from the unsavory arrangement. Discussing this meeting, Valentin expresses his fascination with the enterprising Noémie. Later Valentin confesses he has become infatuated with Noémie. Newman suggests he move to America and get into the banking business.

Analysis

Focusing again on Noémie and her father, this chapter develops the relationship between money and freedom. Newman's wealth gives him a great deal of personal freedom. It has helped him secure a wife whose family dislikes everything about him. Yet he is surrounded by people for whom the lack of money restricts freedom. Claire's and Valentin's limited marriage options are partly due to their family's higher class but also by the need for them to marry people who have both titles and wealth. Noémie is entirely focused on gaining money (and what money can buy) because she herself has no money. Her father remains silent on her lack of morals because he benefits from it financially. The tension inherent in the theme of freedom versus obligation is that money can both grant freedom and create obligation. Deciding to cut ties with family—something both Claire and M. Nioche would obviously like to do—is not a possibility in either case because money is involved.

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