Duality of Nature in Henry James' Daisy Miller Essay

1769 Words 8 Pages
Within each of us lies the potential for good and evil--virtue and vice. Our daily actions reflect the combination of good and bad in a world that is neither black nor white. In literature, however, characters often depict complete goodness or vice in a world that holds no room for a duality of nature. Winterbourne possesses a notion that Daisy Miller must be restrictively good or bad, but the concept is not as black and white as he perceives it to be. A realistic portrayal of Daisy Miller as an infusion of good and bad—virtue and vice—in a world full of gray increases her moral influence upon us, as we too, have inherent dual natures in an imperfect world.

A quest into the nature of the young American girl, Daisy
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He believes her to be a flirt, but nevertheless an upright girl. Yet, as soon as he “finds the formula that applies to Miss Daisy Miller” he slides to the negative end of the spectrum.

Winterbourne’s response to Daisy’s behavior strikes a cord of distrust and lack of faith in her virtue. When Miss Miller walks about the streets on the arm of Mr. Giovanelli, Mrs. Walker feels the need to follow Daisy and save her reputation. Winterbourne’s trust in Daisy’s goodness is put to a test as she asks, “Does Mr. Winterbourne think…that—to save my reputation—I ought to get into the carriage?” (55). Winterbourne betrays his trust in virtue as he reflects that it is “strange to hear her speak that way of her ‘reputation.’ But he himself, in fact, must speak in accordance with gallantry. The finest gallantry, here, was to simply tell her the truth; and the truth…was that Daisy Miller should take Mrs. Walker’s advice” (56-57). A benefit of doubt was given early to Daisy from Winterbourne, but he quickly retracts the faith in Miss Miller as he openly objects to her actions—sustaining his doubt that Daisy is in fact a “good” girl.

Complexity marks itself on the face of Winterbourne as he continually strives to find an answer to the formula of Daisy Miller. His journey leads him back and forth upon the spectrum of good and evil. Difficulty arises in placing a label on Daisy and, while Winterbourne cannot perceive it, the
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