Comparing Daisy Miller and The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James

2559 Words 11 Pages
Henry James' Daisy Miller and "The Beast in the Jungle" are

first and foremost powerful tragedies because they employ such

universal themes as crushed ambitions and wasted lives. And the

appeal of each does not lie solely in the darkening plot and atmosphere,

but in those smallest details James gives us. Omit Daisy's strange little

laughs, delete Marcher's "[flinging] himself, face down, on [May's]

tomb," and what are we left with? Daisy Miller would be a mere

character study against the backdrop of clashing American and Euro-

pean cultures and "The Beast in the Jungle," a very detailed inner diary

of a completely self-absorbed man who deservingly meets his fate in

the end. It is only when we consider
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Miller reveals its tragic qualities very subtly; not until the very end do

we realize the tragedy that is Daisy's life and her futile struggle to be

accepted by the European society that rejects her. James effectively

employs "a comic mask" such that the final tragedy really catches us

by surprise, as we have been ill prepared for it. The story opens with a

pleasing description of "the little town of Vevay" (1) and the pleasanter

sides of life in Europe. Daisy is presented as a pretty young American

woman, travelling alone through Europe, and with James's quaint

depiction of the glamour of the high society, we easily see why Daisy

wants so much to be part of that society. In fact, it may be said that the

opening scenes of Daisy Miller read like a Jane Austen comedy of

manners. The atmosphere is gay and lighthearted, and we, like Daisy,

start enjoying ourselves in the novelty the European high society

offers, as well as in the ready attention of the young men who flock

around her. In short, the novella starts out almost as a study of social

mannerisms, with their tricks and blunders. This setting of the town of

Vevay and the ancient beauty of Rome are certainly no preludes to

Daisy's death, and the story does not stay at this almost-idyllic level.

Tragic overtones begin to emerge, in, for instance, Winterbourne's

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