Study Guide

The American Choices

By Henry James


At all events I woke up suddenly, from a sleep or from a kind of reverie, with the most extraordinary feeling in the world—a mortal disgust for the thing I was going to do. (2.69)

Turns out that Newman isn't quite the mercenary he thought he was. Our guy is a softie deep down.

"It came upon me like that!"and he snapped his fingers—"as abruptly as an old wound that begins to ache." (2.69)

Newman thinks he makes decisions lickety-split. But describing a decision as "an old wound" seems to imply that he stews on things for a bit longer than he likes to think.

"But I see you are in earnest, and I should like to help you." (3.70)

Mrs. Tristram is a businesswoman through and through. She sees that Newman is a decent investment as a husband. (Also, she's probably more than a little bored at this point in her life.)

Is she not her own mistress? (6.13)

Claire doesn't seem to stand up for herself much, even though she has no trouble speaking her mind.

"My sister asked me to come, and a request from my sister is, for me, a law." (7.11)

Valentin is too lazy to make most of his own choices, but he's fiercely loyal to Claire.

"I declared it was revolting, and told my sister publicly that if she would refuse downright, I would stand by her." (8.17)

It's not like Claire was completely forced to marry her gross old husband. Valentin insists he would have had her back whatever she chose.

"That is my impression. But that is not against you; it's for you to make her change her mind." (8.63)

Newman has a pretty intense task ahead of him. Claire doesn't change her mind easily.

She came in at last, after so long an interval that he wondered whether she had been hesitating. (9.1)

While Newman's decisions are always transparent, it's a little difficult to figure out what makes Claire tick.

"[…] I will agree to anything you choose; I will admit that I am the biggest snob in Paris." (10.2)

Newman relies a little too heavily on his friends to make social choices for him. But he learns that Paris is a city run on social networks and social decisions that are almost completely opaque for a new-to-Europe American.

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