Comparing Daisy Miller and The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James Essay

Comparing Daisy Miller and The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James Essay

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      Henry James' Daisy Miller and "The Beast in the Jungle" are

first and foremost powerful tragedies because they employ such

universal themes as crushed ambitions and wasted lives. And the

appeal of each does not lie solely in the darkening plot and atmosphere,

but in those smallest details James gives us. Omit Daisy's strange little

laughs, delete Marcher's "[flinging] himself, face down, on [May's]

tomb," and what are we left with? Daisy Miller would be a mere

character study against the backdrop of clashing American and Euro-

pean cultures and "The Beast in the Jungle," a very detailed inner diary

of a completely self-absorbed man who deservingly meets his fate in

the end. It is only when we consider the unfulfilled social ambitions of

Daisy Miller and the hopeless, empty life of John Marcher as tragedies

that we begin to feel for these two works and discover the unmistakable

depths that make them so touchingly, and sometimes disturbingly,

profound. Their tragic conclusions are about the only thing these

stories share, though; there is a stark difference in the way Henry James

approached his narrative and characterization technique to convey most

fully the underlying tragedies. And yet, despite such differences, which

draw mainly from the use of opposing tones of voice in the two stories,

the bleakness of the stories of Daisy and Marcher is unmistakable.


      Edith Wharton proposes an interesting theory as to what makes a

tragedy, and it has very much to do with our reading experience. What

we know about the events slowly unfolding before us, or what the

author allows us to know, heavily influences the way we feel about the

story and its characters, ...


... middle of paper ...


...knowing that comes

from reading is sometimes also granted to the characters we are reading

about. Despite the differences in narrative techniques, the two stories

do converge here. It is sad to leave these stories knowing that part of

the blame for the fates of the two main characters must actually be put

on themselves, but even sadder to see that they are not allowed to

remain ignorant forever, to know that they, too, finally realize how they

have become their own worst enemies. And herein lies the essence of

their tragedies: this "illumination" (54), "this horror of waking" (673).


                              Works Cited

James, Henry. "The Beast in the Jungle." The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford Books, 1995.

______. Daisy Miller. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1995.

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