Symbolism in Daisy Miller by Henry James

Symbolism in Daisy Miller by Henry James

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The story of Daisy Miller starts off in Vevey, Switzerland with Winterbourne and Daisy meeting through Daisy's brother Randolph. Winterbourne is immediately attracted to her stating, "she was strikingly, admirably pretty" (James 470). The story continues with Winterbourne giving Daisy a tour of the Chateau de Chillon, and Winterbourne returning to Geneva, where he had an older women waiting for him. Daisy ends up meeting an Italian man, Giovanelli, which eventually leads to her death of malaria. Although the characters seem simple enough, they symbolize much more than themselves. In Henry James's Daisy Miller, Daisy symbolizes all American women who travel abroad to Europe, while Winterbourne symbolizes the European mentality of American tourists.

Daisy is the "pretty American flirt" throughout the novella (James 474). She is nice and sweet, but also rebellious and ignorant. Daisy really does not care what society thinks of her. You see this throughout the course of the novel when she goes to Chillon with Winterbourne alone and when she frolics the streets at night with Giovanelli. Most Europeans look down upon American travelers in Europe, especially when they do not follow the customs and culture of their country. This is something that still has not changed today. The Miller family treats their carrier, Eugenio, like one of the family. Typically carriers live and sleep on the lower levels of the house, while Eugenio sleeps on the same level and interacts with the family. This is something that stands out to Winterbourne's aunt, Mrs. Costello because that is unheard of in European culture. When Winterbourne tells Mrs. Costello about Daisy, you can see the symbolism already becoming very prevalent, "They are very common; they are the sort of Americans that one does one's duty by not- not accepting" Mrs. Costello feels very strongly about the Americans in a negative way. She refuses to be introduced to Daisy and tells Winterbourne that she should be more like his cousins from New York. Ironically enough, he has heard that his cousins are "tremendous flirts" (James 478). This is interesting because of Winterbourne's belief that all American girls are flirts.

Daisy did not help her case any of being the typical American flirt when she goes to Italy and meets many different men, including Giovanelli. If the Europeans have not met many Americans and the usually the ones that can afford to travel are rich, they can only assume what America is by what they have seen.

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Daisy flirts with many different men, she is naïve and unwilling to adapt to the culture and standards of others. When she goes for a walk with Giovanelli and Winterbourne, Mrs. Walker tells her to come home nd get in the carriage because it is improper for her to be out walking with men. Daisy states, "I never heard anything so stiff! If this is improper, than I am improper and you must give me up" (494). It is evident that Daisy really does not care about other cultures or others' feelings, even Winterbourne's when he asked her to get in, she refused and stayed with Giovanelli. This is why she is symbolizing America, because it is about freedom of choice and everyone has different cultures and customs. She is not used to having to adapt to certain beliefs. Especially because she is wealthy and her mother seems to be a pushover, it is evident that she is a little on the spoiled side.

Daisy is also young and clueless, as America was at the time. This eventually leads to Daisy's downfall and death. She goes out at night to the Coliseum with Giovanelli, when she was warned not to, and she gets malaria. If she had only listened to others instead of being self centered and unwilling to adapt to the customs, she would have stayed alive and gotten to tell Winterbourne that she was not engaged herself.

Winterbourne, symbolizes the opposite of Daisy. He represents the typical European thought and belief. He has the same generalizations and assumptions about Daisy that all the Europeans do. When Winterbourne is describing her to Mrs. Costello he calls her "completely uncultivated, but she is wonderful pretty" (James 477). The fact that she is uncultivated does not seem to matter to any of the European men in this novella. However she is the center of gossip for the women. Winterbourne, many European men see all American girls as flirts and uncultivated, "But they don't all do these things- all the girls in America" (478). Winterbourne really does not know how all the girls are but he makes his assumptions from those he knows, his cousins and Daisy, as do all the Europeans. The interesting thing is that Winterbourne really does not know what to think about Daisy, he is mystified by her throughout the novella.

Winterbourne does not know if Daisy is really naïve and nice or just pretending to be. He listens to others opinions about her and hold Mrs. Costello's opinion in high regard, although he does defend her in front of others. Winterbourne wants to be able to put that American category on her, but he is having more trouble doing it as the story gets deeper. At the end of the story when Mrs. Miller tells her that she was not engaged and asks if he remembers their trip to Chillon, Winterbourne decides she really is innocent and she cared what he thought about her.

Symbolism is evident in the entire novella of Daisy Miller. The two main characters, Winterbourne and Daisy, represent the most in the novella. Daisy, the pretty American flirt, represents American travelers in Europe. She was ignorant, naïve, did not unwilling to adapt to other's customs, young, and clueless. Winterbourne on the other hand, symbolized the European outlook on American travelers. Although he defended her and changed his views at the end, he still did not know what to think of her, and knew she was uncultivated and did not care what others thought.

Works Cited

James, Henry. Daisy Miller. 1878. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995
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