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Daisy Miller Critical Essay

In a certain sense, Henry James’s “Daisy Miller" seems to reflect a time that has passed, a time in which the notion of literal physical and geographical mobility was just beginning to facilitate one’s social mobility. In “Daisy Miller," the reader encounters characters who travel and insert themselves into other societies simply as a means of asserting and affirming their social pedigree. The setting of Daisy Miller is one characterized by parties and salons that demand proper manners and a practiced formality; as such, the relevance and familiarity of such a setting may seem utterly foreign to the contemporary reader. Nonetheless, James’s message in the short story about the psychological implications of a society characterized by sharply divided social classes remains pertinent in our own time.

Henry James does not necessarily condemn the hierarchical structure of social class in this short story, but what he does seem to convey in this story is his empathy for people like the title character, Daisy Miller, who struggle to move beyond the confines of the class into which they were born and who, in doing so, create fraudulent, pathetic versions of themselves. James is not saying that we should not strive to be better or to surmount our circumstances; however, he is advocating that we do so authentically, and he achieves the effective delivery of this message by developing the character of Daisy in great detail while ensuring that she does not mature. Daisy Miller is not, the reader learns, Daisy Miller after all. Her “real name’s Annie P. Miller" (11), and this early revelation about Daisy signals that she is a person who wants so much to change who she is that she will go so far as to alter her name. Names are, in fact, important in the society to which she is trying to gain access and acceptance, but what Daisy fails to realize in this short story by Henry James is that there are many other nuanced behaviors that are required for one to be a credible member of high society. She is adept at mimicking the dress and the desires of the European upper class; however, she lacks the refinement and, in particular, the taste and good manners of the people she wants to befriend. Although she claims that she is “very fond of society, and [has] always had a great deal of it” (14), Mrs. Walker and the ladies of her rank recognize that Daisy is uncouth and coarse. Even Winterbourne observes that Daisy “is completely uncultivated" (21). “But," he adds, “she is wonderfully pretty, and, in short, she is very nice" (21), and for this reason, he is willing to give her the chance that the ladies will not.

Ultimately, Daisy is unable to realize her dream of becoming a woman she is not. In fact, her trip and the subsequent illness that she contracts and which causes her death seem to represent much more than the termination of her physical life. James expertly delivers his message about the futility of being someone that one is not by permitting this unhappy ending for Daisy. James did not feel the need or pressure to make Daisy mature. Daisy never develops true insight into herself or into social hierarchies because she is insistent that she should not “change my habits for them" (61). While in this sense, she remains true to who she is, Daisy cannot accept who she is, and her desire to always be someone more literally kills her. In “Daisy Miller," then, the reader finds a cautionary tale about managing the tension between desire and authenticity, and in particular, psychological issues related to social class.

James, Henry. Daisy Miller and Other Stories. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1998.

on�m ta�؋� depiction of Detective Mike using masculine terminology. Her voice is deep and rasping, masculine in tone and volume after years of smoking and drinking. Her attitude and interpersonal skills are not traditionally feminine; she is rough around the edges, she is not particularly careful about the words she chooses to talk to others about tough subjects, her speech is peppered with vulgarities, and her work has apparently worn her down to the point that the most brutal and devastating scenes are simply commonplace. At the same time, though, Detective Mike does maintain some feminine qualities and habits that can be found his quotes and actions, among them, a boyfriend named Deniss. These qualities and habits call any other image that we think we have constituted about the detective into question, frustrating a facile reading of Night Train.


Finally, Amis’s word choice, while often seeming not so well-considered, actually serves to reinforce the ambiguity that the characters and the narrative conflict of Jennifer’s death create. Is Amis compassionate about the death or is he callous? It is hard to tell, as he puts descriptions like “To-die-for-brilliant" and “Drop-dead beautiful" in Detective Mike’s mouth (Amis 4). Language in Night Train is slippery, constantly casting doubt about the characters’ and even the author’s own motives and emotions. Even the phrase “[W]e want suicides to be homicides" is problematic, as it fails to acknowledge the individuality of victims and sees them only as categories. These are but a few of the many ways in which Amis’s apparently thoughtless but actually well-crafted word choices emphasize the theme of the novel.

Amis’s Night Train is “deliberately, defiantly inconclusive" (Wolcott 64). In Night Train, Amis contests the notion of an “ideal world without disorder" (Turnbull 67). In the author’s world—and indeed, in ours—no such thing exists. The fact that the crime, if, in fact, it is a crime, is never solved means that the philosophical and psychological dilemma at the core of the novel is not resolved, either. Detective Mike’s observation that “[W]e want suicides to be homicides" is a reflection of our own attitude: we want everything to fit into a neat, explicable, graspable category. The world, however, is not neat. It is not orderly. It is messy and it is complicated, and somehow, we have to learn to live with that.

Works Cited

Amis, Martin. Night Train. New York: Harmony, 1998.

Turnbull, Sue. “‘Nice Dress, Take It Off’: Crime, Romance, and the Pleasure of the Text." International Journal of Cultural Studies 5.1 (2002): 67-82.

Wolcott, James. “Night Train." New Criterion 16.7 (1998): 64.

The Character of Daisy in Henry James' Daisy Miller Essay

2178 Words9 Pages

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

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