Duality of Nature in Henry James' Daisy Miller

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Within each of us lies the potential for good and evil--virtue and vice. Our daily actions reflect the combination of good and bad in a world that is neither black nor white. In literature, however, characters often depict complete goodness or vice in a world that holds no room for a duality of nature. Winterbourne possesses a notion that Daisy Miller must be restrictively good or bad, but the concept is not as black and white as he perceives it to be. A realistic portrayal of Daisy Miller as an infusion of good and bad—virtue and vice—in a world full of gray increases her moral influence upon us, as we too, have inherent dual natures in an imperfect world.

A quest into the nature of the young American girl, Daisy Miller, is the task Winterbourne seems to struggle with through his acquaintance to her. Winterbourne “felt that he had lived at Geneva so long that he had lost a good deal; he had become dishabituated to the American tone…Was she simply a pretty girl from New York State—were they all like that, the pretty girls who had a good deal of gentlemen’s society? Or was she also a designing, an audacious, an unscrupulous young person?” (13). Conflict battles in the mind of this man as he struggles for an answer to the question, “Is Daisy a good girl?” A clear cut answer to the question alludes Winterbourne as he continually answers “yes” or “no” to the dispute.

Many occasions bring Winterbourne to answer the affirmative—Daisy is a good girl—at least he gives her the benefit of the doubt. Daisy “was only a pretty American flirt. Winterbourne was almost grateful for having found the formula that applied to Miss Daisy Miller” (14). The certainty that flies around Winterbourne as he i...

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...cence, we strive to achieve the goodness that Daisy maintains. Though we often look for a clear answer to the question, “What is right,” the answer is not always as clear-cut as Winterbourne, subconsciously, admits.

The implications of the novel may not fully impact us until later, after we take the time to examine the flaws and strengths we see in Miss Daisy Miller. Like us, this young American girl is completely human—possessing a dual nature of both virtue and sin—and because of her realistic nature, she has a greater moral influence on us. We come to realize that the issue is not black and white as Winterbourne insists, but rather it is complex and double sided in a world that has more gray than black or white.

Works Cited

James, Henry. Daisy Miller. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1995.

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