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Emily Dickinson's Faith And Daisy Miller By Henry James

1144 words - 5 pages

American writers and poets of the 19th century created literature to criticize and detail the imperfections of society. Emily Dickinson, who retired from contact with the outside world by the age of twenty-three in favor of a life of isolation, can arguably be considered such a poet. Her untitled poem "Faith" can be interpreted as criticism of the masculine-dominated society of her time and supports themes in Henry James's work Daisy Miller: A Study, which also criticizes societal expectations and practices.

The first two lines of Dickinson's poem "Faith" read: "‘Faith' is a fine invention/When Men can see-," the capitalization stressing the words "faith," "when," and "men," suggesting that men can be trusted to believe what is right only when their vision is not blinded by things such as the prejudice and societal expectations. Winterbourne, the main character in Henry James's story Daisy Miller: A Study, is a representative of common 19th century masculine-dominated society of the elite, and a product of all the accompanying prejudices.

It is therefore that Winterbourne cannot help but find some fault in Miss Daisy Miller, who he meets for the first time during a visit to Vevey and who "talked to Winterbourne as if she had known him a long time. He found it quite pleasant" (330). Before society forces him to find fault with Daisy, his instincts allow him to take pleasure in her company and to see her for who she truly is, simply "a person much disposed towards conversation" (329).

However, it is not long before Winterbourne feels a need to place her within the rigid expectations proper to her class and gender. He begins to find her disposition towards conversation and acknowledgment to having a great deal of gentlemen's society as suggesting a flaw of character: "Poor Winterbourne was amused, perplexed, and decidedly charmed. He had never yet heard a young girl express herself in just this fashion; never, at least, save in cases where to say such things seemed a kind of demonstrative evidence of laxity of deportment" (331). Winterbourne must classify Daisy in some way, he can no longer see her as a charismatic outgoing individual, and have faith in his initial interpretation of her as simply unusually charming and outgoing, but must group her into a preconceived category of society.

Still confused as to where she belongs, Winterbourne tries to view her as an alternative "type," as an American or "other": "Never, indeed, since he had grown old enough to appreciate things, had he encountered a young American girl of so pronounced a type as this" (331). Winterbourne believes he is out of touch with the American society of the time, having spent to long in Geneva, suggesting it may be her background which created her ignorance as to the correct social decorum of Geneva. His instincts allow him to still think kindly of Daisy as very pleasant, but his societal beliefs yet again disallow total acceptance of her behavior: "Certainly she was...

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