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Henry James' Daisy Miller
Henry James' short story, "Daisy Miller: A Cast Study" is certainly as study of Daisy Miller's character, but it is also a very revealing case study of Frederick Winterbourne's character as well. By taking a close look at his character, we can learn how he fails to make a correct judgment of Daisy and therefore fails to learn anything about himself or the society in which he lives. This paper will examine how Winterbourne succumbs to the attitudes of the people in Geneva despite his own inclinations and misjudges Daisy; thus forgoing the opportunity to become more of a man.
Winterbourne is an excellent case study because he represents how individuals can be influenced by the opinions of others to the point of making false assumptions. While he was busy studying others in Geneva, he reveals his own snobbery and self-absorption. One of the first things we realize about Winterbourne is that he is in no way as innocent as his aunt believes him to be. (James 560) We know this because the narrator of the story has informed us of his interest in a "very clever foreign lady" (590). Winterbourne thinks it is perfectly fine for him to carry on in any manner that he finds suitable, but it is not "right" for Daisy to do the same.
Winterbourne is clearly a hypocrite because he wishes to be perceived in one way, while he secretly acts in opposite ways. Daisy is important in this respect because she serves as his opposite. She cares not at all about what others think and Winterbourne cares too much about what people think. It is Winterbourne's attraction to Daisy allows his "darker" side to show through. In fact, Winterbourne is very aware of the people around him. He worries about what they are thinking. For instance, while they are on their way to the Castle of Chillon, he notices the people "were all looking at her hard" (566). We are told that they continued to look at her, and that Winterbourne took "much satisfaction in his pretty companion's distinguished air" (567). Winterbourne also demonstrates the level of his snobbery when he worries that Daisy would "talk loud" or "laugh overmuch" (567). These scenes illustrate how Winterbourne is overly concerned with what people think -- but only relation to how it effects him.
Mrs. Wilson also influences Winterbourne. As Mrs. Wilson tries to save Daisy from herself, Winterbourne proves that he hasn't learned much about people, despite his studies. While Mrs. Wilson tries to tell Daisy that it is not the "custom here" (576) to walk with her companions, Winterbourne can only find it in himself to agree with her. Although he tries to defend her by claiming that she is "uncultivated" (578), he is only proving how stiff he, and the rest of society really is. They are expecting her to follow their rules instead of allowing her to be herself. Winterbourne's inability to let go of his false notions prevents him from seeing things as they truly are. This is a problem from which Winterbourne will never be able to recover.
Winterbourne is drawn to Daisy not because she is a bad person but because she is charming and nice. He is puzzled by her actions and his mistake is judging her based on preconceived notions. He allows his Calvinist beliefs, his aunt's opinions, as well as his own snobbery to influence his impression of her. We are told that Winterbourne was a man of "imagination and . . . sensibility . . . As he looked at her dress and, on the great staircase, he little rapid, confiding step, he felt as if there were something romantic going forward. He could have believed he was going to elope with her" (567). This scene reveals just how smitten he is with Daisy, but because he cannot rise above his own snobbery to see her for who she truly is, he does not learn anything. In fact, his own attitudes prevent anything wonderful from happening between the two.
Additionally, while they are at Chillon, he notices that Daisy "cared very little for feudal antiquities, and that the dusky traditions of Chillon made but a slight impression" (567). In this scene, he is evaluating her sense of style and her knowledge. The very fact that he would take notice of this indicates that he is snobbish. He is forming an opinion of Daisy on what she knows of the antiques in the castle. In other words, he is sizing her up. Again, he is looking for other reasons to judge her instead of simply allowing himself to like her and enjoy her company.
When Winterbourne returns from Rome, we discover that he still allows himself to be influenced by not only what his aunt thinks, but also what the others in Geneva are saying about Daisy. For instance, his aunt writes to him that Daisy has become "very intimate with some third-rate Italians, with whom she rackets about in a way that make much talk" (569). In addition she tells him:
The girl goes about alone with her foreigners . . . She has picked up half-a-dozen of the regular Roman fortune hunters, and she takes them about to people's houses. When she comes to a party she brings with her a gentle man with a good deal of manner and a wonderful moustache. (569)
Winterbourne's meek attempt to defend Daisy and her family by calling them "ignorant -- very innocent only. Depend on it they are not bad," (570) is only countered by his aunt's assertion that they are "bad enough to dislike . . . And for this short life that is quite enough" (570). His aunt's relentless harping on Daisy's less-than-acceptable behavior proves to be more than Winterbourne can bear.
In addition, his personal reaction to Daisy's new acquaintances reveals his own self-absorption. We can see this very clearly when we are told that he had apparently not "flattered himself that he had made an ineffaceable impression upon her heart" (570). Additionally, he was:
annoyed at hearing of a state of affairs so little in harmony with an image that had lately flitted in and out of his own meditations; the image of a very pretty girl looking our of an old Roman window and asking herself urgently when Mr. Winterbourne would arrive. (570)
These thoughts indicate that Winterbourne is extremely confident of himself and what Daisy's impression of him should be. The fact that he is annoyed because of how it effects him and his impression of her reinforces his complete selfishness. While he is away visiting his "mysterious charmer" (568) in Geneva, he wants Daisy to be gazing out the window, watching and waiting for him.
It is very clear that Winterbourne possesses the ability to be a good student, but his assumption that he has been away from America too long proves to be true. It seems that Winterbourne is able to forgive Daisy's behaviors until the people of Geneva had decided her behavior was "abnormal" (585). Her nonchalant attitude regarding her relationship with Giovanelli is more than Winterbourne can bear. It not only makes Daisy look "bad," it also makes Winterbourne incredibly jealous. We are told that Winterbourne begins to think his belief in Daisy's innocence was "more and more a matter of fine-spun gallantry" (585). We can see how Winterbourne is stepping away from his gut feeling about Daisy and beginning to support what society believes of her. His anger, jealousy, and preconceived notions have had their way with him, and he justifies in his mind that a nice girl wouldn't behave in such a way. He tells his aunt that Daisy is "intellectually incapable" of realizing that her behavior is not suitable for Europe.
When Winterbourne spots Daisy and Giovanelli, we are told that it is as if a "sudden illumination" causes him to see the light. He was "angry with himself he had bothered so much about the right way of regarding Miss Daisy Miller" (587). When she speaks to him in the Colisseum, he begins to consider her a "reprobate" (587). We can see how Winterbourne's jealousy had overcome him and he can no longer accept the belief that she is simply ignorant of European customs. He thinks she should know Giovanelli's true character. Winterbourne tells himself, "a nice girl ought to know!" (575). He even begins to feel a "superior indignation at his own lovely fellow-country-woman's not knowing the difference between a spurious gentleman and a real one" (575). Indeed, Winterbourne's true snobbish colors are shining through. In fact he questions the fact if a nice girl would "make a rendezvous with a presumably low-lived foreigner" (575). By this point in the story, Winterbourne has allowed his thoughts to be clouded by too many outside influences to be able make a fair judgment concerning Daisy.
In the end, he allows himself to become so bothered by her behavior…[continue]
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