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The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 17 | Summary



A few days later Newman goes to a performance of the opera Don Giovanni. Although he was hoping for a break from socializing, he finds that some of the Bellegardes are there, including Valentin and Urbain and his wife. In addition Noémie Nioche is attending with a new young man, which is upsetting to Valentin. Newman suggests again that Valentin return with him to the States and become a banker. While this does seem like an appealing idea, Valentin can't give up Noémie that easily and ends up getting into a conflict with her companion. A duel is arranged. Noémie is pleased because having men duel over her will "make her fortune." Newman thinks dueling is a silly and old-fashioned way to resolve conflict.


Newman's frustration with Valentin and Noémie is heightened by the fact that Newman has become more convinced that what Valentin needs is to break away from the aristocratic life of leisure and to do some work. Despite the fact that Newman has come to the Old World in search of something to complete his life, which was somehow limiting or unfinished, he is still an American. He believes hard work is the antidote to all of life's ills. So when his friend is at an unhappy impasse in his personal life it is only natural that becoming a banker seems like a legitimate way to solve the problem. Ultimately Valentin's solution could not be further from Newman's banking plan. Rather than finding meaning in hard work he retreats to an absurdly traditional solution to a problem: a duel.

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