Henry James American Literature Analysis
The distinctive focus of James’s early fiction is undoubtedly what the author himself dubbed the international theme. From Roderick Hudson (1876) and The American to Daisy Miller, The Portrait of a Lady, and The Aspern Papers (1888), James wrote about Americans in Europe. One might invoke the “innocents abroad” of the Mark Twain title to characterize James’s overarching sense of how his countrymen, generally wealthy and in search of a cultural breadth and depth unavailable in the Gilded Age United States, came to grief when they encountered the more settled, socially entrenched European culture.
The classic examples are Daisy Miller and The American. In the former, the ingenue heroine dies when she foolishly ignores warnings not to venture out in the Roman evening when the danger of contracting fever is greatest. Her life and death allegorize the Jamesian sense that Americans are vulnerable when they go to Europe, that they are simply naïve in the ways of the world and thus easily fall to the wiles of the more cunning and worldly Europeans.
The American makes the same point less dramatically, depicting the tragic involvement of Christopher Newman, a disillusioned robber baron who has come to Paris to escape the ruthless competition of American business, with an old French family whose daughter he loves and wishes to marry. Newman thinks that his money (which the...
(The entire section is 4775 words.)
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