The Innocence of Daisy Miller Essay

The Innocence of Daisy Miller Essay

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In 1878, Henry James wrote, Daisy Miller, a novella about a young American girl and her travels in Europe. Daisy Miller is a complex short story with many underlying themes such as appearance versus reality, knowledge versus innocence, outward action versus inward meditation, and Nature versus urbanity. In this short story, one is left to judge whether Daisy Miller, the main character of the story, is “a pretty American flirt” or a misunderstood, modern young woman. By probing into the complexities and contradictions of Daisy’s character, it is obvious that Ms. Miller is merely a misunderstood young woman.

Through his novel, Henry James shows his readers that the gap between what people believe to be true and the actual truth can be large, hence the theme of appearance versus reality. To the Europeanized Americans in the novella, Daisy’s independence causes her to appear immoral. She is innocent and uncultured and incautious but the circle sees only the surface of her character and the actions that character takes. She rebels not by having a great knowledge of the rules which bind the society and consciously deciding to throw them out the window, but by being limited in her scope of experience and by refusing to change her natural ways in order to please a culture to which she does not belong.

The great theme of the disparity between reality and appearance is at its greatest strength in the relationship between Winterbourne and Daisy because of the conflict which roars inside of Winterbourne regarding the appearance he cannot overcome and the reality he cannot accept. Daisy's lack of knowledge and experience deceives Winterbourne who is incapable of seeing life through the lens of inexperience after leaving America. He thus fails to understand her inexperience as innocence. Winterbourne attempts to apply the conventional rules he has accepted since leaving America to Daisy without realizing that she is not dissecting the world with the same meditating process that he undertakes.

In Europe, Daisy behaves just as she had back in America. She even goes as far as to say “I’m a fearful, frightful flirt! Did you ever hear of a nice girl that was not?” (44). It is through this quote that one can see that Daisy does not realize in Europe, nice girls are most definitely not “flirts”. It is such behavior that scandalized the conservative Americans that she...


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...y. At one point, Winterbourne tells Daisy that it did not matter whether he thought she was engaged or not. This so upsets Daisy that she cries, "I don't care...whether I have Roman fever or not!" (56). Winterbourne's ultimate rejection of Daisy, his decision to side with the American circle in Daisy's condemnation, hits Daisy so cruelly that she no longer cares to live. He refuses to believe in Daisy's innocence and she quickly fades away. Her resiliency and natural spontaneity have died.

Winterbourne does not realize his mistake until Mrs. Miller relays Daisy's message to him and Giovanelli speaks to him at the funeral. Giovanelli looks to Winterbourne and states, “She was the most beautiful young lady I ever saw, and the most amiable...and she was the most innocent” (58). It was through this conversation that Daisy's innocence triumphs. The lasting message of this novella is Daisy's innocence and the cruelty of the society, which condemned her to death.

Works Cited

James, Henry.  Daisy Miller:  A Study.  The Heath Anthology of American Literature.  3rd ed. Vol. 2 Eds. Paul Lauter and Richard Yarborough.   Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.   452-92. 2 vols.

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