Study Guide

Mrs. Bread in The American

By Henry James

Mrs. Bread

Loyal Lady Servant

Yes, her name is Mrs. Bread. We're not sure why, either. Did Henry James throw this name in The American as a joke? A baguette joke?

Unfortunately, the estimable Mr. James is dead, so we'll never get to ask.

Mrs. Bread's hair is full of secrets. Even though Newman refers to her as "queer old Mrs. Bread," he can't help but think that she looks "as if she knows secrets" (21.2).

Even Mrs. Bread confirms Newman's suspicions when she confides that she "knows at least too much, sir" (21.8).

Pro-tip: don't mess with anyone with the last name "Bread."

So just how aware are the Bellegardes that Mrs. Bread holds the key to their fate? They're suspicious enough to keep her as a servant for years, despite the fact that she only likes Claire. After all, you don't lurk in hallways and at doors for years without picking up some metaphorical dirty laundry. (As well as literal dirty laundry. She's a servant, after all.)

Despite the fact that Mrs. Bread spills the beans to Newman, her loyalty for all those years is pretty dang impressive. Although she disapproves of the Bellegardes, she doesn't share the incriminating note with anyone.

We think she's bound and determined to protect Claire at all costs, even if it means holding onto precious information. When Claire's out of the picture, Mrs. Bread feels like she's finally released from her bonds. Just call her Dobby the House Elf.

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