The Character of Daisy in Henry James' Daisy Miller Essay

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What is the purpose of Daisy in the novel Daisy Miller by Henry James? Why did James create such a beguiling and bewildering character? Since the publication of James's novel in 1878, Daisy has worn several labels, among them "flirt," "innocent," and "American Girl." Daisy's representation of an American Girl of the late 19th century is evident. Her free-spiritedness and individuality reflect the social movement of the American middle-class. The question of Daisy's innocence, however, remains unanswered. One of the most interesting aspects about Daisy is her distance from the reader. The reader is not given access to Daisy's inner thoughts or emotions. Instead, the reader must observe Daisy through the limited perception …show more content…
Henry James's Daisy, however, is a free-spirited individual who "ignores class structures and customary behavior...treating all she meets as equal human beings" (Hocks 33). At first Winterbourne is enchanted by Daisy's freshness and spontaneity. But eventually, under his aunt's influence, he begins to turn away from Daisy and the freedom she offers. He vacillates from thinking of her as pretty and charming to regarding her, as his aunt does, as "common" and "rather wild" (James 461).

One reason for Winterbourne's changing opinions about Daisy is that she associates with people of lower classes. She talks to chambermaids and couriers, for instance. But most damning is her friendship with the Italian music-master, Mr. Giovanelli, who is socially unacceptable to Winterbourne and his aunt. Daisy's close friendship with Giovanelli lessens her chances of being accepted by Mrs. Costello and her contemporaries. Daisy's relationship with Giovanelli leads to Winterbourne's conviction that she is "wanting in a certain indispensable delicacy" (James 477). Thus, in Winterbourne's eyes, Daisy is not worthy of his respect.

Another way in which Daisy's free-spiritedness fails to change Winterbourne is that it threatens his masculinity. According to critic Robert Weisbuch's article "Winterbourne and the Doom of Manhood in Daisy Miller," Winterbourne is a misogynist, or hater of women, who "blame(s) evil on women" (Pollak