Study Guide

The American Tone

By Henry James


Satirical, Melodramatic

Typical Henry James.

The narrator's attitude towards the characters in The American often takes a satirical approach, as if to poke a little fun at the aristocratic elite. In fact, the characters' conversations are also steeped in satire. When Mrs. Tristram advises Newman to wait on going to visit Claire, she tells him "Madame de Cintre will keep. She is not a woman who will marry from one day to another" (5.1). Mrs. Tristram is gently making fun of Newman's anxiety about nabbing a wife, but James is also giving us a glimpse into the whirlwind of the marriage market.

James mixes it up, though. For every delicious bit of pointed satire, he throws in a little melodrama to keep us on the edge of our seats. Newman doesn't just decide to ditch the business world—he wakes up "suddenly, from a sleep or from a kind of a reverie" and heads off to Europe (2.69).

We're guessing that the melodrama spices things up, just like the satire keeps the plot from veering too far into telenovela territory.

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