The Character Analysis of Daisy Miller in a Novel by Henry James
Daisy Miller appeared to be a flirtatious enigma to those around her. Society speculated about the inner workings of her character, about her motivations, about her intentions. Winterbourne was viewed mainly as someone who ‘played it safe’, but also as someone who was interested in women, and therefore always seemed a little bit ‘off’. Although, he was merely an observer and admirer in the story of Daisy’s life. It can be said that “man’s character is his fate”, that the outcome and effects of your life are proportional to who you are deep down. In ‘Daisy Miller’, by Henry James, this statement is shown to be correct; Daisy’s character does correlate to circumstances behind her death at the end, and to her ‘legacy’ after death; In addition, Winterbourne’s ‘fate’ of returning to Geneva with indifference corresponds to his personality as well.
The first impression one forms of Daisy is one of excitement. Even her name “Daisy” is an indicator of the freshness of spring, in contrast to the cold of “Winter”-bourne. Daisy is first described as “pretty” (pg 7), and then “beautiful” (pg 8); furthermore, she is wearing an all white outfit with frills and flounces, white likely being a symbol of purity. On page 8, when Winterbourne forms his first impression of Daisy, he describes her as “honest”, “fresh”, and “delicate”. Even from the beginning of the novel, we get the impression that Daisy is simple and innocent, whose character is reflected in the way she passes away, and in the events beforehand. This is apparent in the way she dies, and in the circumstances surrounding her death. Firstly, she is buried in a “little protestant cemetery” and “beneath the cypresses and spring flowers” (pg 63). These descriptions of her final resting place, her “fate”, are exactly as her character is portrayed throughout the book. Being in a small cemetery reflects her simplicity, cypress represent mourning, and the spring flowers represent a part of her bright personality. Therefore, her funeral reflects who she was in life. At Daisy’s funeral, she was regarded as the “most beautiful…most amiable… most innocent” (pg 64) by Giovanelli; part of her fate is how she will be remembered by those who knew her, and this aspect of her fate certainly reflects her character.
Even before Daisy’s death, through the circumstances that lead to it, we get a sense of how character leads to a certain fate. She catches the Roman fever out of a desire to stay out with Giovanelli at the Colosseum, to “see the Colosseum by moonlight” (pg 62). Moonlight represents Daisy’s sense of adventure; she is not afraid of the moonlight, rather she embraces it and delights is staying out late. When Winterbourne spots her with Giovanelli, even more about character is revealed: we can see that even up the her end, she remained a nonconformist through being her regular, flirty self, despite society’s (and, in this case, Winterbourne’s) protests. Her fate, and her final moments, were all heavily influenced by character. Furthermore, Daisy is talking to Giovanelli about the Christian martyrs, further placing emphasis on another aspect of her character: her uniqueness in a society that longed to quell her spirit. In a way, she died a martyr of free-spiritedness, in a time when she represented “everything that [was] not done” (pg 44): the place where Daisy received her fate was definitely a place that solidifies much about who she was.
Another part of Daisy’s fate is the way society chose to view her, and talk about her, after she was gone. Daisy was always “commented upon” (pg 62), referred to as “ruining herself” (pg 42), and as “common” (pg 17); yet she payed these naysayers no mind, and kept being as open and outgoing as she was before traveling to Europe and receiving criticism. Just as she payed no mind to the pompous people around her, she payed no mind to the rebuke of Winterbourne prior to her death. In addition, a “number larger than scandal excited by the young lady’s career would have led you to expect” (pg 63) attended her funeral- showing that in death, society was still interested in Daisy, the same way as they were during her life. Being the object of gossip- and the opposite of stiff society- was a part of her character, and is shown through her fate.
Winterbourne’s fate, his return to Geneva, and his return to the exact lifestyle he had before meeting Daisy in Vevey, reveal much about his character. Winterbourne used his final conversation with Daisy to tell her to do the “right” thing. His fate in the eyes of Daisy shows us that as a character, he exists to observe and judge Daisy and to ‘play it safe’ with the people around him. During his time at the Colosseum, he attempted to be ‘classical’ by reciting poetry at night by the Colosseum, but he changed his mind and decided to be sensible by avoiding the fever; these final moments before talking to Daisy for the last time are a part of his fate, and reveal him to be someone who is deeply rooted in history, but also in practicality. As a product of these traits, he is a very boring, predictable person who returns to the exact same state in life as he had prior to meeting Daisy. He doesn’t grow at all as a character- and that is emphasized by his fate. During the summer following Daisy’s death, Winterbourne visits his aunt and confides in her that he blames himself a little for Daisy’s death because he misinterprets Daisy’s desires. This is due to his need to conform; Winterbourne guesses that she would have liked the “esteem” (pg 64) that he could have given her, which is such a part of his character (as seen in the beginning of the novel by his reference to having ‘no enemies’- pg 4), and not at all part of her life. He reveals more about himself than he does about her with his judgement, and it proves that his fate is to remain the stiff and shallow man that he was throughout the novel. At the very end, Winterbourne’s final fate is to return to Geneva: once again to study, once again to meet a woman. This is the exact same situation he was in at the beginning of the book (pg 4), and shows that his fate emphasizes his lack of change.
In conclusion, Daisy’s free-spirited nature is reflected in her final interactions, her death, her funeral, and the posthumous opinions of those around her. Winterbourne’s lack of freedom and personality is seen is his fate of returning to the same situation he was in at the beginning of the book, and in his final interactions with Daisy. Through the many parallels between character and fate, we can clearly see that in ‘Daisy Miller’, the quote “A man’s character is his fate” is resound
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