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The Individuality Of Daisy In Henry James' Daisy Miller

1735 words - 7 pages

Why did James create such a beguiling and bewildering character? Since the publication of James's novel in 1878, Daisy has worn several labels, among them "flirt," "innocent," and "American Girl." Daisy's representation of an American Girl of the late 19th century is evident. Her free-spiritedness and individuality reflect the social movement of the American middle-class.

The “depths” of Daisy Miller that Kelley refers to could be read as “unsounded,” since the reader receives little insight to her feelings, and “unappreciated,” based on the perceptions of most characters. James likely viewed Daisy as admirable because of the individuality displayed in her actions, attitudes, and contrast to Winterbourne.

When she enters the novella, Daisy quickly defies European conventions: after speaking with Winterbourne as though they had been long acquainted, he notes, “She had a spirit of her own” (472). Though perhaps not surprising to modern audiences, Daisy shocks Winterbourne, her mother, and Eugenio when she asks Winterbourne to take her out in a boat at night, declaring, “That's all I want -- a little fuss” (483). This assertive nature is later seen when Daisy invites Winterbourne to travel with the Millers and teach her brother Randolph, likely violating the etiquette with which Winterbourne is so familiar (471); ignoring the expectations for subtlety that Winterbourne complies with, Daisy tells him, “I don't want you to come [to Rome] for your aunt, I want you to come for me” (485).

In Rome, Daisy continues conducting herself independent from the external influences of society. Mrs. Costello, who represents the geographically transcendent society, remarks that Daisy is a “dreadful girl” (477); she updates Winterbourne about Daisy's behavior in Rome, noting, “She rackets about in a way that makes much talk” (486). Mrs. Walker becomes an extension of this society as she directly expresses the unorthodoxy of Daisy's conduct. After pleading with her not to meet the “beautiful Italian,” Giovanelli (489), Mrs. Walker tells Daisy, “You are old enough to be more reasonable. You are old enough...to be talked about” (493). Mrs. Walker articulates to Winterbourne her disapproval of Daisy “flirting with any man she could pick up; sitting in corners with mysterious Italians; dancing all the evening...receiving visits at eleven o'clock” (494), telling Winterbourne, “That girl must not do this sort of thing” (492). Clearly Mrs. Walker is a manifestation of the social expectations for Daisy, but in spite of the warning from the “very accomplished woman” (487), Daisy continues having Giovanelli accompany her publicly, of which Mrs. Costello notes, “That's their folly...not their merit” (499). Upon hearing his aunt declare that Daisy was “going really ‘too far’” (500), Winterbourne echoes Mrs. Walker, cautioning Daisy “I think you will find they do care. They will show it -- disagreeably,” referring to Mrs. Walker's “cold shoulder” (502); however,...

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