Emily Dickinson's Faith and Daisy Miller by Henry James Essay

Emily Dickinson's Faith and Daisy Miller by Henry James Essay

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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...


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...some Italian" (363) for Winterbourne to recognize his mistake. Like looking through a microscope, the clues of Daisy's innocence are finally brought to light, into focus, and are undeniably evident.

Faith failed Mr. Winterbourne, as he was unable to see past what society expected him to see, and it was only through hard facts and evidence-the testimony of the dying girl and the Italian man with whom she spent most of her time-that Mr. Winterbourne could finally accept Daisy as she was, truly a girl disposed to conversation and nothing else. He tells his aunt that Daisy "sent me a message before her death which I didn't understand at the time. But I have understood it since. She would have appreciated one's esteem" (364), meaning that Daisy would have liked to be thought of kindly and not labeled as someone or something she was not, and never gave evidence to being.

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