Study Guide

The American Genre

By Henry James


Family Drama; Mystery; Tragedy

The American would make an excellent soap opera.

It's packed to the gills with family drama, particularly when it comes to the Bellegarde family. Newman attempts to marry into a family that has its share of secrets, lies, and mysterious notes.

Speaking of mysterious notes, we can't ignore the mystery element of The American. Although Mrs. Bread's secret doesn't make its way into the plot until the last act, Newman remains convinced the entire time that the Bellegarde family is hiding something. He's practically Sherlock Holmes…with a more stylish chapeau.
The mystery element of The American changes the trajectory of what first seems to be a tragic story. Newman loses the love of his life, which is pretty sad. The mysterious note jolts him back to reality and steers the plot back to more complicated themes.

In other words, this isn't a straightforward tragedy. Newman takes the lemons he's been dealt and makes lemonade.

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