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Analysis of Daisy Miller Essay


Values of an American Girl

Henry James issues the reader a direct challenge to determine Daisy Miller's system of values, or value system. In Chapter 1 of Daisy Miller, when Winterbourne, upon first seeing Daisy in the distance, says of her, "American girls are the best girls!" a remark instantly rebutted by Daisy's brother Randolf who says, "My sister ain't the best!" The story then proceeds to examine the idea of whether Daisy is the best or not the best of girls. James makes one thing perfectly clear at the end of the story. At Daisy's graveside, Giovanelli says unequivocally to Winterbourne that Daisy was the "most innocent" of girls; this refers to her moral innocence and purity. It is possible to ascertain is that Daisy's value system stressed moral integrity and purity that in Daisy's case sprang from moral innocence.

The rest is not so easy. When going with Winterbourne to Chteau de Chillon, she accepts the idea of a chaperon; however, nowhere in the rest of the novella does she actually appear with a chaperon. Mrs. Costello brands her as common and on the steamer to Chillon. Winterbourne has to agree, although her charm overrides her commonness in his eyes. In Italy, she willfully goes without a chaperone when visiting all around Rome escorted by Italian men, a prime offence in English society. In conversation with Winterbourne, she points out that she has a great deal of being in company is social gatherings ("society") in America, yet among the English tourist, she causes herself to be ostracized. Daisy is unembarrassed when in public with Winterbourne or her Italian cavaliers. She has what Winterbourne thought of as a "habitual sense of freedom," and required "a little fuss of attention" from her admirers.

She has enjoyed the company of many gentlemen in New York about which she easily brags but she does not intend to be more than a flirt. Daisy acts on first instinct, naturally following her reflexes and acting on her feelings. She is a symbol of America's natural innocence and looser modes of custom. She is a type, representing the American flirt. She refuses to obey the rules of European society (including that of the Americans abroad in Europe) and is thus a regular topic of gossip. She becomes good friends with Winterbourne in Vevey as they are mutually attracted to one another and he shows her favor. In Rome, she becomes very close to the Italian Mr. Giovanelli prompting further repudiation by her compatriots. When hurt by Winterbourne's rebuff, she goes too far and declares that she does not care whether she gets the Roman fever or not.

It seems Daisy's value system, along with moral purity and innocence, includes guilelessness. What you see is what you get. Its converse being that what Daisy saw is what Daisy expected to get as the genuine article: society was to be as lovely, charming and genteel as it appeared to be. Her value system includes an unstudied freedom and independence: she didn't try to be these things; she just was by virtue of her American background. It includes trust. It includes the expectation of sincerity and genuine affection. It also very much includes the notion of making just enough trouble to get "just a little fuss." James indicates in Daisy's character that her value system is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is good to not judge superficially or cruelly, as she was judged. On the other hand, having Daisy's inability to comprehend the dangers and risks in friendships and situations can lead to disastrous ends, such as Daisy's death.

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