Study Guide

The American Writing Style

By Henry James

Writing Style

Introspective, Meandering

Thinking Deep Thoughts

Nearly every sentence in The American is structured around Newman's perception of himself. How's that for deep?

Even when the narrative doesn't refer to Newman, it's digging deep into the human psyche. For instance, check out this innocent-seeming description of a painting:

It glittered and twinkled in the morning light, and looked, to Newman's eyes, wonderfully splendid and precious. (4.3)

All right, so we know that Newman likes to stare at paintings. But based on this description, we can also guess that Newman's distracted by shiny things. He values beauty on a surface level, but doesn't much care for artistic mastery.

Although we get some pretty precise descriptions of Newman's emotional state, the style sometimes veers on the meandering side. In other words, think of the story's style as an archaeological dig. In order to figure out Newman's inner turmoil, we have to dig through sentences like this one:

This circumstance was at variance with his habitual frankness, and may perhaps be regarded as characteristic of the incipient stage of that passion which is more particularly known as the mysterious one. (5.1)


From this nugget of truth, we get that Newman is usually pretty honest, but he's concealing his desire for Claire to even his closest friend. Meander away, Newman.

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