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Analysis of Henry James' short story 'Daisy Miller'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1040 words Published: 3rd Aug 2021

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It is very interesting to analyze this short novel "Daisy Miller” written by Henry James. This novel has a lot of fascinating things ready to be discovered and understood, and behind the story of the novel a lot of symbols are hidding ready to be dyscovered and understood. This symbols are revealing a new perspective upon the story, a new way of understanding the narrative.

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Another interesting thing noticed in “Daisy Miller” is the permanent contrast that is being created, like a symbolic opposition between summer and winter, hot and cold, youth and old age, flower (daisy) and winter, life and death. Daisy Miller herself is an image situated in the middle of contrastive opinions, she plays the part of the innocent girl, being permanently judged by society, judged by Winterbourne, although deep inside she is innocent and pure; so, an incongruity between reality and appearance is being created.

Another interesting aspect of this novel is the setting. From the beginning of the book, the author makes a great introduction by situating the action, placing the reader slowly in the situation. Firstly the location is being named: “At the little town in Veney, in Switzerland”, so, the place is set. The narrative technique used by the author in the first paragraphs is a very interesting one. The image is firstly enlarged and then slowly with every word, the background converges, persisting on the description of the hotel and the tourist, ending by setting the time: “a beautiful summer morning” and then concentrating on one of the novel’s character: Winterbourne. So, a part of the action takes part in Switzerland and another segment of the novel’s action takes place in Rome. These two settings are notarbitrary chosen, both have a deep significance. These places are symbols of other literary works or genres. Firstly both are tight related with Romantic poets whom Winterbourne deeply regard. “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein takes place largely in Switzerland, and Mary Shelley wrote it during the time that she, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron sojourned at Lake Geneva. Mary Shelley and John Keats are both buried in the Protestant Cemetery, which becomes Daisy’s own final resting place” [4] .

Chapter three starts with the sentence: “Winterbourne, who had returned to Geneva the day after his excursion to Chillon, went to Rome towards the end of January” [5] . This sentence points exactly the three main locations where the action of the novel takes place and where the characters of the novel express their relationships and their attitudes.

Not randomly chosen, the capital of Italy, Rome might be seen as a mute character, a silent witness of the action or as a background that links contrastive matters. Rome is the city of Renaissance, the city where art bloomed, a city where the artist might easily find the place to express. Here, Daisy behaves in a very libertine way; she doesn’t care about any social or ethical values, maintaining her innocence and her integrity without anybody, especially Winterbourne to notice that. Daisy, like an artist, is only judged and condemned and only after her dead she is being understood and appreciated.

In Rome there was a lot of talking about the so called “Roman fever”; this line has a double significance, although firstly it could be understood as the mothers’ worry about their daughters, this expression symbolize a disease: malaria, the malady that was haunting the city, and who finally kills Daisy.

Another important setting of the novel’s action is the Coliseum; this is the background where a very important scene takes place. Here Daisy has the final encounter with Winterbourne, here she contacts the fever, malaria and after that she dies. This place is not randomly chose. In ancient times, the Coliseum was a place famous for different fights and contests. But also, the Coliseum is well-known as the place “where centuries of Christian martyrdoms took place” [6] . Considering this background from a symbolic perspective the Coliseum becomes a place where an innocent girl was killed without having any guilt and being pure and sinless just like the Christians in the ancient times.

It is typical for Henry James to represent the society of people interested in ideas and refinements of subtle manner. He often was considered as being a cosmopolite because he liked travelling so much and he often moved between America, England and Europe.

The conflict between Americans and Europeans can be found as one of the main themes in the background of his novel. This theme has at its basis a modernistic concept specific to the age.

The American origin plays a great role in the novel because all the characters that bare this nationality are the greatest characters, that mature and finally achieve a greatness at the end of the novel.

The usual image that we find is the one of the American that loses a part of that initial innocence when encountering the figure of the European with life experience.

When it comes to James’ structure of the novel, we can find that almost all of them are structured in the same way. We have a central thing that “supremely matters”, as James himself said, that all the lines point at. In “Daisy Miller” , this supreme matter is Winterbourne lust for the discovery of Daisy’s innocence. As a consequence we have the circular structure of the novel as an approach to the central subject.

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Henry James offers us situations of a society that he was part of and we can see that in his novels, every incident has its function in providing us more information about a situation or a character. Although we may be tempted to say that he had a sort of “realism ” in his works, the only reality we can find is the description of a society of conflict.


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