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The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 3 | Summary



Newman arrives at the home of Tom Tristram and his wife—an apartment located on Avenue d'léna, a wealthy part of the city where many Americans have settled. Mrs. Tristram is a funny, smart woman, a contrast to her somewhat snobbish, uninteresting husband. Over time Newman shares several meals with the couple. Newman enjoys Mrs. Tristram's company greatly even as he comes to have a distaste for the company of Tom, whose main forms of entertainment seem to be smoking at the Occidental Club and criticizing America. A friendship grows between Newman and Mrs. Tristram. When she finds out that Newman is interested in finding a wife, she knows just the right person: Claire de Cintré, a young woman she went to school with, now a widow, who would be "perfect" for him.

Mrs. Tristram plays matchmaker, and Claire and Newman meet coincidentally at the Tristrams' home not long after. Claire politely invites Newman to visit her at home, and that Sunday he goes. Arriving at Clare's residence, Newman tells a young man he is there to see Claire, and the man says he will tell her. However, another man tells Newman Claire is not at home. In the face of this unfriendliness Newman leaves.


Mrs. Tristram is an important friend to Christopher Newman throughout the story and one of the characters through whom James develops the theme of belonging. She is intelligent and outgoing, but these characteristics are explained as being a result of being plain looking rather than pretty: "If she had been born a beauty, she would (having no vanity) probably have remained shy." However, since he is surrounded for most of the novel by people who don't say what is on their minds, her friendliness is just what Newman needs. And she sizes him up fairly well, showing her perceptiveness: "You are the great Western Barbarian," she tells him, "stepping forth in his innocence and might, gazing a while at this poor effete Old World." Her honesty is refreshing. In general Mrs. Tristram's honest welcome of Newman is the first, and possibly only, way he finds any sense of belonging at all in this completely unfamiliar world. Her generous welcome is contrasted by Newman's visit to Claire's home, where he is sent away in a very unwelcoming manner. He is pointedly made to feel that he does not belong there.

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