Human Nature Explored in Henry Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

Winterbourne is no doubt attracted to Daisy and is proud to be seen with her on the way to the Chillon. He simply cannot allow himself to be with her because he is too concerned with what others might be thinking. For example, he considers what others are thinking as they look at her "hard" (111) but is overcome with "satisfaction in his pretty companion's distinguished air" (111). However, Winterbourne cannot completely escape his social training, which is illustrated in his concern over the prospect that Daisy might "talk loud" (111) or "laugh overmuch" (111). Here we see that Winterbourne cannot relax and enjoy the company of this girl that seems to attract so much undesired attention. Winterbourne also has outside influences working against him in the area of snobbery. His aunt wastes no time telling him that she disapproves of Daisy, believing her to be "dreadful" (124) and that her behavior is "crazy" (124) because allows her self to walk with two men at the same time. She snubs Daisy later, an act that even Winterbourne finds "cruel" (132). These circumstances lead to Winterbourne's hypocrisy. He cannot make up his mind about Daisy and that turns out to be his downfall. He wants to believe in her goodness because he is attracted to her but he cannot escape the trappings of what society says about her. He does not listen to his gut feelings when it comes to Daisy and this is precisely because he allows himself to be persuaded by others. His first impression of Daisy is that she is "uncultivated . . . But she is wonderfully pretty, and, in short, very nice" (James 102). He also wonders if she is the epitome of all pretty girls from New York with a "good deal of gentlemen's society? Or was she also a designing, as audacious, an unscrupulous young person? (James 97). By the end of the novel, as he hears her in the Coliseum, he comes to the conclusion that Daisy is "a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect" (140). This estimation is significant because it allows Winterbourne to finally give in to what society has been teaching him all of his life. This final analysis allows Winterbourne to place Daisy in a group of women that is not respectable. One can almost see him sighing with relief as he has finally decided that Daisy does not deserve his attention and he has finally found the evidence he needs to write her off as a lost cause.

Winterbourne's conclusion about Daisy is the apex of James' point regarding the complexity of human nature. McEwen maintains, "James's realism is most evident in the close of the story. Winterbourne is remorseful over Daisy's death. He regrets that he did not try harder to understand her and correct her misconceptions" (McEwen). Winterbourne does realize until it is too late the truth not only about Daisy but his own feelings as well. McEwen notes that this is not the end of what James is teaching us. While Winterbourne may have realized this truth, he certainly did not do anything about it. McEwen explains, "So far, the story has seemed to advance a moral thesis about the corruption of innocence and the valuable truths that can be learned. James closes . . . On a note that proves how realistic his vision of human nature was . . . James had no illusions about people" (McEwen). This is true. Winterbourne makes one feeble attempt to defend Daisy in front of his aunt but returns to his former way of life.

Daisy and Winterbourne become the perfect couple because they represent what James is trying to express perfectly. The respectable man of the world possesses more personality defects than Daisy, the object of almost everyone's disdain. The contrast is more complicated in that Winterbourne is perceived as a better, more refined, individual even though he is carrying on a charade. In the end, Daisy turns out to be more authentic than Winterbourne. The innocent girl dies with a smeared reputation simply because she was unaware of how society in Vevey behaved. She was not arrogant nor was she hypocritical; she was simply being true to her nature in the way that she understood it. She is more real than Winterbourne will ever be because he has allowed himself to be shaped by what others think. He must go away to be who he actually wants to be because he cannot face the criticism of his aunt and those like her. Had Daisy lived, we might have seen how Winterbourne could never have allowed himself to fall completely in love with Daisy because she was so uncultured. We would have seen her marry someone else and be completely happy while Winterbourne grew older and more biter. These characterizations resemble the individuals we generally become in the end and this is what James wishes to teach us.

Works Cited

James, Henry. Daisy Miller. The Great Short Novels of Henry James. New York: Dial Press.…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

James, Henry. Daisy Miller. The Great Short Novels of Henry James. New York: Dial Press.


McEwen, Fred B. Henry James Critical Survey of Long Fiction. GALE Resource Database. Site Accessed April 08, 2009.

Scheiber, Andrew. "Embedded Narratives of Science and Culture in James's Daisy Miller."

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