Our first clue in analyzing Christopher Newman lies in his name. As Columbus discovered the new world (America), now Newman makes the reverse trip. He is the new-man discovering the old world. One approach to the novel is therefore through the concept of observing the actions of a new-man placed in an old, unfamiliar, and settled European world.
Throughout the novel, Newman is constantly developing and changing. He is, in other words, continually learning and experiencing, and thus the reader continually learns more about Newman; but there are certain qualities which Newman possesses throughout the novel.
Our first view of Newman shows him as a tall, relaxed, good-humored, and likeable American. The principal image connected with Newman is that of his stretching out his long legs and making himself comfortable. Throughout the novel, Newman is placed only in one situation where he is not himself or where he does not feel comfortable and that was the private dinner party given for him by the Bellegardes.
The first chapters also emphasize Newman’s innocence or inexperience. In the museum, he preferred the copy to the original. During the course of the novel, we observe Newman losing his inexperience but retaining his innocence and “good nature.”
Newman is also a man of extreme good taste. It is, to be sure, an undeveloped taste, but he does like and respond to the correct things. When Urbain de Bellegarde goes to hear a Mozart opera, he knows ahead of time what his reactions are going to be. Tom Tristram would not even bother to go to the opera. But Newman goes with no preconceived ideas and responds to the work with spontaneity and sincerity.
Through James’ use of contrast, we also see that Newman is the almost ideal American. By contrast with Tristram, Newman is seen to be very moral, sensitive, and perceptive. There is such a contrast that the reader might immediately assume that Newman was somewhat of a prude. To avoid this impression, James sends Newman on a tour with a Unitarian minister who found Newman too advanced, too liberal, too rash, and too loose. Thus, by the series of contrasts, Newman is seen as an almost ideal person.
Newman’s most valuable asset is his strong integrity. Even though he was not able at first to see through European duplicity because of his inexperience, when he gains the necessary amount of understanding, he is thoroughly disgusted with anything that is tinged with immorality. He is the self-made man who has made a large fortune without ever compromising himself. He is the thoroughly morally sound individual.
Newman is also a great human being. He laughs readily and enjoys all aspects of life. He is the sincere and spontaneous person who does not understand why everyone would not respond pleasantly to life. He enjoys giving happiness to others in many small ways, and he is always frank, honest and open in his relationships without being unpleasant.
In general, Newman, though inexperienced and innocent, possesses a strong intelligence and strong integrity. He is sincere and honest. He detests immorality and duplicity. He has sensitivity and perception, and he is a great man both physically and morally. He is James’ ideal American.