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Observation in Daisy Miller

Powerful Essays
He said to himself that she was too light and childish, too uncultivated and unreasoning, too provincial, to have reflected upon the ostracism or even to have perceived it. Then at other moments he believed that she carried about in her elegant and irresponsible organism a defiant, passionate, perfectly observant consciousness of the impression she produced. (43)

The socialites in Daisy Miller's world aspire to a perfection, a nobility, and a superlative of character. But character is a misleading word; interiority is important only insofar as it reflects the assumed depths that come with an appearance of refinement, for the relationships in "Daisy Miller: A Study" are formed by observation, not by conversation. Winterbourne's penetrating gaze dissects and complicates Daisy's appearance and, subsequently, personality, beyond what her own projection of an personality warrants. The narrator of Henry James's story furthers this atmosphere, peppering visual and even abstract sentences with modifiers and other syntactical strokes to force a system of visual refinement on the reader. The reader, however, must engage his imagination to form a picture of Daisy, her most evident quality, while he is kept privy to her relatively blank consciousness, thus ensuring an emotional detachment from her which allows him to "see" her as she really is. The heroine captivates Winterbourne, on the other hand, for most of the story, because he can only surmise as to the mystery, or "riddle," as the narrator calls it, of the "ambiguity of Daisy's behavior" beneath her deceptive exterior (46). His recognition of his reliance on the gaze, and on Daisy's vacuity otherwise, triggers his final disgust and enables him to select an answer from the ...

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...he right way of regarding Miss Daisy Miller. (46)

The vocabulary of observational terms which can double as evaluative verbs‹"reflecting," "regarding"‹strikes the philosophical change in Winterbourne's literal outlook, as does his using her full formal name as a way of sapping her of any suggestive mystery behind the ambiguous "she." He later repents slightly after Daisy's death, but seems not to take the lesson to heart. The real "study" of "Daisy Miller: A Study," then, is Winterbourne, whose faltering attempts to "study" Daisy we follow until his brief redemption, and of whom the final line of the narrative‹reinforcing his return to the gaze, albeit now directed at an ostensibly more deserving, but still "very" refined foreigner‹should come as no surprise: "...he is "'studying hard'‹an intimation that he is much interested in a very clever foreign lady" (50).
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