Study Guide

The American Identity

By Henry James


Newman's thrilled about moving to Paris. Give him a baguette and a striped shirt, and he thinks he'll fool the most seasoned Parisian. It doesn't work that way, honey. Mrs. Tristram tries to break the news to Newman that he sticks out like a sore thumb, but it takes more than a little convincing.

Not that anyone else seems to be confident in their identity: Valentin spends half of his time wining and dining with the upper crust and half his time lurking around down-on-their-luck women. The American is all about how cultural identity can sometimes be confusing, especially when cultures clash.

Questions About Identity

  1. How does Newman define himself in relation to his childhood?
  2. What's so unbearable about Newman marrying Claire? How does it challenge Claire's sense of identity?
  3. Is it more important to the Bellegarde family to have a fixed family identity or to maintain family wealth?

Chew on This

Newman identifies more with his French friends because he aspires to gain their cultural capital.

The American depicts Claire finding an identity as well as Newman.

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