Essay on Role of the Narrator in Henry James' Daisy Miller

Essay on Role of the Narrator in Henry James' Daisy Miller

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The narrator of Henry James’ Daisy Miller contributes to the novella’s realism, as defined by James himself in his essay “The Art of Fiction,” by creating a narrator who acts as an observer to the events described in the story rather than an omniscient narrator who informs the reader of the thoughts of the characters. Rather than focusing on the internal workings of the character’s minds, James focuses on the external details which offers the reader a realistic perspective of the characters and leaves moral judgment to the readers.

James states in “The Art of Fiction” that “the only reason for the existence of the novel is that it does attempt to represent life” (322). The novella begins, after a short description of setting, with “I” (281). The “I” refers to the unnamed character who acts as a first person limited omniscient narrator limited to the point of view of Winterbourne. Though the character narrates the story, the use of “I” rarely resurfaces after the opening. James actively distances the story for the reader in a vague and obscure manner. This narrative device allows for the novella to act as the account of an unnamed observer. Thus, the narrator is not privy to all aspects and inner thoughts of each character and the reader cannot view all the descriptions as all-knowing and finite. In other words, the narrator is not an absolute authority. Rather than James simply telling the reader the meaning of the characters’ actions, the narrator describes them. This narrative device helps in James’ efforts to depict life accurately.

In “The Art of Fiction,” James states that “the air of reality,” which he describes as the “supreme virtue of a novel,” can be defined as “solidity of specification” (327). Specific...


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...ator acts as a witness to the events of the story rather than an omniscient author who informs the reader of the true intentions and thoughts of the characters. In this way, the novella is extremely realistic and shows how James’ technique establishes a novel approach to writing literature. By asking the reader to actively take part in the text, James arguably begins a tradition that would be taken to extreme lengths in the Modernist tradition.

Works Cited

James, Henry. Daisy Miller: A Study. The Heath Anthology of American Literature Volume C Late Nineteenth Century 1865-1910. Ed. Suzanne P. Weir. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. 281-320.

James, Henry. “The Art of Fiction.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature Volume C Late Nineteenth Century 1865-1910. Ed. Suzanne P. Weir. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. 320-334.

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