Essay: Daisy Miller by Henry James

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  • Subject area(s): English literature essays
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  • Published on: January 17, 2020
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  • Daisy Miller by Henry James
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Society is a community of individuals with common geographics, traditions, and beliefs. In the Victorian era, European society had a high regard for status and social class. In Daisy Miller, Europeans look down upon Daisy Miller, an American, because of her reckless behavior in searching for men. Higher social classes specifically condemn her actions and shun her family. However, Frederick Winterbourne, a conformist in society, ignores society and establishes a close friendship with Daisy throughout the novella. In Henry James’s novella Daisy Miller, Frederick Winterbourne does not change his beliefs as a result of his encounter with Daisy Miller before and after her death because of her innocence.
Immediately, Frederick Winterbourne admires Daisy at first sight and questions her innocence. He views her as charming and sociable. He is surprised at how open she is to begin deep conversation with him about her family life. This encounter makes him question if she is innocent or if she is “unscrupulous”(James). Months later, Daisy and Winterbourne rekindle in Rome, but she is seeing another man named Giovanelli. Winterbourne dislikes Daisy and Giovanelli’s relationship but continues to accompany Daisy. He continues to view her as innocent when he says, “When you deal with natives you must go by the custom of the place. Flirting is a purely American custom; it doesn’t exist here”(James). While Winterbourne believes women should act respectful and pure, he realizes Daisy’s innocence toward the beliefs of Europeans. She is uncultured to their ideals and believes entertaining men should be seen as enjoyment in public; Daisy is shown to stay true to her American personality and beliefs. Winterbourne respects her ideals in all of their encounters and also remains unchanged in his European beliefs.
In addition, Frederick Winterbourne is not responsible for Daisy Miller’s death because of his concern for her well-being and innocence before and after her death. Daisy dies from Roman fever days after she was found in the Colosseum with Giovanelli by Winterbourne. Winterbourne attempted to save Daisy when he informs her: “I am afraid that you will not think Roman fever very pretty. This is the way people catch it”(James). He wanted her to leave the infected place so that she will be safe, but her carelessness demonstrates her innocence because she stays with Giovanelli at the Colosseum. Also, Winterbourne demonstrates his concern for Daisy’s health: “Winterbourne went often to ask for news of her, and once he saw Mrs. Miller, who, though deeply alarmed, was, rather to his surprise, perfectly composed, and, as it appeared, a most efficient and judicious nurse”(James). He is not responsible for her death but rather struggles to save her and visit her family.
Frederick Winterbourne maintains his European beliefs throughout his experiences with Daisy Miller due to her innocence. While he familarizes and understands Daisy Miller, Winterbourne does not allow her to change his opinion on society’s traditional values on status and love but rather recognizes her naive behavior and attempts to help her: during her sickness, he chooses to contact her family and maintain a relationship because he cares for health. Rather, other conformists to European society despise and neglect her actions and family as they travel Europe. Society remains authentic in the traditions, status, and beliefs of the people.

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