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Course Hero, "The American Study Guide," March 7, 2017, accessed December 18, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-American/.

The American | Chapter 20 | Summary

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Summary

Valentin soon dies, and Newman is informed by letter of the time and place of the funeral, which he attends even though his relationship with the family is strained. He leaves the funeral quickly but visits Claire a few days later. She is still apologetic about the way things ended, and Newman is still uncomprehending of the forces that caused her to give him up. She tells him her family is like a religion, that it is cursed, and that she is a horrible person and a coward. She must give up Newman, but she has decided that rather than let her family have any more control over her she will enter a convent. Newman is overcome with the horror of his love's becoming a nun and pulls her close, kissing her. She pushes him away and leaves.

Analysis

Newman's relationship with Claire and his friendship with Valentin end in tragedy. Like Claire, who rejected Newman's offer of help escaping the bondage of her family obligations, Valentin has refused Newman's help. Like Claire, Valentin has gone to his end in a way that feels very Old World. Centuries of men died in duels over women and insults. Centuries of women went to convents to avoid terrible marriages or abusive families.

In a way Claire does defy her family—although her defiance does not take the form of marriage to Newman. Since Claire compares her family to a religion, her decision to enter the convent represents her "conversion" to another religion. By becoming a nun she deprives her family of her marriageable self and so removes a means of financial gain for them. By choosing to serve God she hopes to find redemption for herself and be absolved of the sins of her family.

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