The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 21 | Summary



Newman wanders around the next day, still reeling from the emotional blows he's endured. Although he has no details he decides to confront Madame de Bellegarde and Urbain with the scanty information about the family secret he was given by Valentin. When he arrives he is greeted by Mrs. Bread, who tells him Claire has already left; only Urbain and Madame Bellegarde are there. Speaking alone with Urbain, Newman tells him that he knows about the family secret and will stop prying into what is obviously a sensitive matter if Urbain will consent to let Claire marry him. Later Urbain sends an arrogant note, refusing. Mrs. Bread and Newman meet secretly later that night.


Newman's last-ditch effort to force the Bellegarde family to do what he wants is spurred by Valentin's revelation that there is a dark family secret. Although he has no knowledge of the secret itself, only that there is one, he hopes that it will be the lever that moves them. He is disappointed: they are unmoved.

Even though the secret feels like it is important, Newman's use of it before he even knows what it entails feels like the hasty action of a desperate man. Newman is not good at playing these games of strategy, lies, and silence. In contrast the Bellegardes excel at it. Throughout the novel Newman's rush to reveal what is in his mind has been awkward, albeit endearing. Against the backdrop of lies and manipulations Newman's honesty seems quite appealing. Increasingly it is presented as a weakness, not a strength. He shows his cards too soon and looks like a fool.

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