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Daisy Miller

In writing the story of "Daisy Miller," Henry James's intention was to point out the rigidity and hypocrisy of 19th century American and European society in not recognizing the difference between innocence and courage and wanton behaviour. Henry James's intention is defined and demonstrated almost right through the narrative by the way Daisy's friends and acquaintances are both charmed and repelled by her behaviour. People who meet her are attracted by her freshness and candidness while at the same time they are confused and cannot accept her open flaunting of established norms of society.

The first evidence of this is clearly evident in Winterbourne's very first encounter with Daisy where he hesitates to open a conversation with her given his schooling of "In Geneva...as a young man was not at liberty to speak to a young unmarried lady" (Part1. p2). Yet, he is encouraged by the opportunity presented in a place distant from his own home and by virtue of the fact that Miss Miller, herself, did not seem "in the least embarrassed herself" (part 1, p4). Winterbourne is also charmed by the fact that Daisy's reception of his presence was "singularly honest and fresh" (Part 1, p4).

Winterbourne is also "amused, perplexed, and decidedly charmed" by Daisy's frank conversation as she tells him, "I have always had a great deal of gentlemen's society" (Part 1, p6). Winterbourne is taken aback since he had been brought up to believe that only ladies of rather questionable morals felt they had the leeway to express themselves in such fashion. Yet, on the whole, he is so charmed by her prettiness and candor that he concludes that "this young girl was not a coquette in that sense; she was very unsophisticated" (Part 1, p6).

Even when Winterbourne is told by his wealthy aunt, who is a member of American Society, that Daisy and her family, "... are very common.... They are the sort of Americans that one does one's duty by not -- not accepting" (Part 1, p9), he defends his decision to befriend Daisy by trying to persuade his aunt that she is "completely uncultivated...but very nice" (Part 1, p9).

Throughout the early narration, Henry James, captures the conflict within Winterbourne who is, at once drawn to the freshness and open nature of Daisy, yet cannot seem to place her in any stereotypical role of either a brazen young woman or an innocent. On the one hand, he is touched by her frankness when she admits that her family is not accepted by society: "We don't speak to everyone - or they don't speak to us" (Part 1, p 10), and by the evident hurt and courage in her when she says with a tremor in her voice, "She doesn't want to know me...You needn't be afraid. I'm not afraid" (part 1, p 11).

Winterbourne is also constantly taken off guard by Daisy's character and confesses that he is puzzled when she openly challenges his social background: "I hope you are disappointed, or disgusted, or something" (Part 1, p 15). Indeed, he finds Daisy a complete mystery with her 'caprices' and 'familiarities' (Part 1, p 15), but admits to himself that he would definitely enjoy 'going off' with her somewhere - indicating the degree to which she has captured his fancy.

That Winterbourne is completely out of his depth is borne out by his further being surprised by Daisy's conduct of herself on the steamer that bore them to the Castle of Chillon. His aunt's priming of Daisy and her family background, coupled with his own astonishment by her total departure from accepted codes of social behaviour, lead him to fear rather 'common' behaviour and that she would "talk loud, laugh overmuch," whereas Daisy was "not at all excited; she was not fluttered..." (Part1, p15).

The hypocrisy of society is amply demonstrated in Winterbourne's own behaviour when he generously pays the custodian to not hurry his tour with Miss Miller and to leave them alone as much as possible. This action of Winterbourne is proof of his not so honorable intentions while continuously casting aspersions on Daisy's conduct in his own mind.

Henry James portrays Daisy's straightforward nature as a marked contrast to Winterbourne's own implied double standards. During their sojourn to Chillon, James shows Winterbourne's manipulations with the custodian followed immediately by Daisy's speaking her mind freely and calling a spade, when she speaks of Winterbourne having no business engagement but an appointment with, "... The mysterious charmer in Geneva whom she appeared to have instantly taken it for granted that he was hurrying back to see" (Part 1, p17).

Through Part 1 of the story, James cleverly uses the rigidity of Winterbourne's upbringing and conduct as juxtaposition to Daisy Miller's innocence, frankness and courage to demonstrate the hypocrisy in society. This is all the more artful by virtue of James showing the stereotypical, cautious nature of Winterbourne being both charmed and attracted by the free spirited Miss Miller.

The fact that Daisy has thoroughly charmed her way into Winterbourne's affections is established by the eagerness with which he travels to Rome that winter to renew his acquaintance with Daisy. This, inspite of his aunt writing to him and informing him "The young lady...is also very intimate with some third-rate Italians..." (Part II, p1).

If at all Winterbourne is put off, it's more on account of his own ego as he acknowledges that he had carried the image of "a very pretty girl...asking herself urgently when Mr. Winterbourne would arrive" (part II, p1). As a matter of fact, one inference from Winterbourne's dreaming could be that Winterbourne primarily saw Daisy as an innocent, young girl, whose friendship with other gentleman is just friendship in the true sense of the word and that when she gave her heart, it would be in good faith.

In spite of doubts in Winterbourne's mind, he displays a feeling of caring towards Daisy. This is seen in his actions when he joins Daisy in her walk with Giovanelli. It is not just Winterbourne who shows this caring or protectiveness towards Daisy, this trait is also shown in Mrs. Walker, who is an accepted member of society, but sees enough merit in Daisy to go to the trouble of taking out a carriage and going to the park to persuade her to "To ask her to get in...so that the world may see she is not running absolutely wild..." (Part II, p 7).

Here, too, the author displays Daisy's strength of character in her refusal to abandon Giovanelli inspite of Winterbourne, too, endorsing Mrs. Walker's advice. If anything, there is an indication that Daisy is disappointed with Winterbourne's obedience to social dictates when he gives into Mrs. Walker's insistence that he accompany her and not Daisy: "But she only shook his hand, hardly looking at him..." (Part II, p 8).

A further example that Henry James intended to highlight the hypocrisy in society lies in the dialogue between Winterbourne and Daisy when he admonishes her: "I'm afraid your habits are those of a flirt" but a few minutes later also confesses to her that he wants her to: "You're a very nice girl, but I wish you would flirt with me, and me only" (Part II, p 11).

Winterbourne also advises Daisy that society in Rome did not approve of young, unmarried girls flirting with men, at which point Daisy retorts that she understood it to be the done thing. When Winterbourne re-emphasizes her single status, she aptly points out: "It seems to me much more proper in young, unmarried women than in old married ones" (Part II, p12).

Thus, at this juncture, we see both the hypocrisy of social standards bared as well as proof that Winterbourne continues to be enraptured by Daisy's innocent spirit while repelled by her refusal to toe the social line. This is also made amply clear by Mrs. Walker's behaviour as well, since she initially forgets her resolve to cold shoulder Daisy, which shows her instinctive attraction to the girls' lack of artifice. It is only much later, as Daisy comes to take her leave that she is reminded of her resolve and turns her back, leaving Daisy very pale. Winterbourne, who witnesses the entire episode, is forced to acknowledge Daisy's vulnerability and thus, even goes to the extent of pointing out to Mrs. Walker, her cruelty.

Perhaps, the most significant key to the author's intent in portraying Daisy's character as a true innocent lies in Winterbourne's admission, when he observes Daisy's reception of him, even when she is with her supposed paramour Giovanelli:

he liked her the more for her innocent-looking indifference and her apparently inexhaustible good humour" and "with regard to the women who had hitherto interested him, it very often seemed...that, given certain contingencies, he should be afraid...of those ladies...he had a pleasant sense that he should never be afraid of Daisy Miller" (Part II, p 13).

One clear interpretation of the above admission of Winterbourne…[continue]

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