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“Daisy Miller” by Henry James Essay

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Updated: Sep 22nd, 2022

Among the galaxy of American masters of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Henry James was perhaps the brightest star. The creative heritage of James, as a mirror, reflected the attitude to the spiritual and cultural traditions of Europe. At the same time, this writer’s work has provided rich material for examining Americans’ national identity (Asiatiodu, 2018). The American James received world recognition as a master of the psychological novel, who laid the tradition of an ironic attitude towards Europe. The theme of this story can easily be translated from the “international” to another semantic aspect.

The works of the “international theme” reveal the collision of free feelings with class prejudices and dogmas rooted in mind. Mr. Winterbourne, Eugenio, and even Giovanelli himself are the embodiment of bourgeois narrow-mindedness, a standard. In his story, Daisy Miller, the main character, is the embodiment of inner freedom and simplicity. Her decisions are not subject to external circumstances, and the girl can independently decide on her destiny.

In the story Daisy Miller, the reader is presented with the image of a European girl who died in Rome from a severe illness. Through the prism of his works, Henry James managed to establish interaction between the two continents to reveal the connection and distinctive features of Europeans and Americans. Daisy is a young American, a wealthy heiress who travels to Europe. She is magnificent, spontaneous, completely relaxed, quickly makes acquaintances, and does not consider public opinion.

The story is told by a young American, Mr. Winterbourne, who lives in Europe. He is carried away by Daisy, but she treats him in a frivolous way and demonstrates provoking behavior. In his works, James was able not only to show the dissimilarity and peculiarity of an American woman but also introduced a new female type into American literature. This new kind of female character was strict, decisive, strong, strong-willed, independent, at the same time not devoid of passion and emotional versatility, profound sensitivity, and spiritual female impressionability. James managed to show the “new” woman of the “New World,” who absorbed the spirit of the “new time,” one of the characteristic features of which was the birth of the feminist movement.

James’ Americans strive for inner freedom, which they achieve through self-improvement and rejection of generally accepted morality, by violating standards and stereotypes. To uncover complex female psychology, James uses the techniques of “central consciousness” and “point of view” developed by him. Thus, in the story Daisy Miller, Winterbourne is given the central perceiving consciousness’s role. Daisy herself is the bearer of the “reflected” consciousness, so she practically does not participate in the story’s action, her life resembled a “show.” The “reflection” of Daisy’s consciousness is achieved in work in various ways; one of them is the compositional features of the story.

In the exposition, when the artist introduces the main character Winterbourne to the reader, it becomes apparent that he establishes a distance between the narrator and nature, thereby showing that the narrator is not omniscient. Contrarily, he does not fully own the inner world of his characters. Thus, in the very beginning, the author declares the work’s artistic principle, which is the lack of uniqueness of the recreated reality. In the work of James, Daisy Miller became the first female character personifying the early stage of the feminist movement in America.

Nonetheless, Daisy became the first character to reflect the “new” American woman’s distinctive qualities. Daisy Miller is a rule-breaker, a “natural” person, an extreme heroine, absolute innocence while feeling a strong and mutual attraction to a vicious hero. It is almost transparent that it is she who enjoys the sympathy of the author. She has a right to choose her destiny independently, and Daisy uses it without focusing on public rules or social opinion.

Reference

Asiatiodu, K. (2018). The turn of the screw and “Daisy Miller”: Henry James’s puritan view on the ideal Victorian middle-class. Gaziantep University Journal of Social Sciences, 17(3), 820-833.

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