Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller, A Study can be examined as the story of initiation of Daisy, one of its main characters. To demonstrate this conception, we will consider Marcus Mordecai’s, Joseph Campbell’s and W. R. B. Lewis’ works as well as examples from the nouvelle itself. Marcus Mordecai states, ‘the most decisive initiations carry their protagonists firmly into maturity and understanding, or at least show them decisively embarked toward maturity. These initiations usually center on self-discovery’ (Mordecai,1960:223). Daisy’s process of initiation fits clearly in Mordecai’s decisive initiation. She enters the world of maturity through a series of steps.
To begin with, we should cite the definition of story of initiation that Mordecai provides: An initiation story may be said to show its young protagonist experiencing a significant change of knowledge about the world or himself, or a change of character, or of both, and this change must point or lead him towards an adult world. (… ) it should give some evidence that the change is at least likely to have permanent effects. (Mordecai,1960:223) To continue, the stages by which Daisy accomplishes her decisive initiation are depicted by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
On our opinion when the story begins, Daisy has already crossed the threshold, in others words, she has accepted the call of the adventure in Europe. This is the stage of departure. Being an American girl, what she sees as an adventure is the search for sociability and for being accepted as she had been in America. Daisy is the archetypical innocent uncontaminated heroine: There isn’t any society; or, if there is, I don’t know where it keeps itself. Do you? I suppose there is some society somewhere, but I haven’t seen anything of it. I’m very fond of society, and I have always had a great deal of it (… I used to go to New York every winter. In New York I had lots of society. Last winter I had seventeen dinners given me; and three of them were by gentlemen (… ) I have (… ) more gentleman friends; and more young lady friends too,” (… ) She paused again for an instant; she was looking at Winterbourne with all her prettiness in her lively eyes and in her light, slightly monotonous smile. “I have always had,” she said, “a great deal of gentlemen’s society. (James, 1879: 11) Moving forward along the story we readers witness the stage of initiation proper.

Daisy undergoes several experiences, that is to say, the trials or tests in Campbell’s terms. There are several crucial episodes outlining these tests. Many of them are mainly decisions taken by Daisy, which are seen as inexcusable mistakes by the American European society, though seen as natural behaviour by Daisy, quite the opposite to what she herself qualifies as ‘stiff’. As a way of example, Daisy has to cope with Mrs. Costello’s disdainful rejection, who refuses to become personally acquainted with her. Most importantly, Daisy herself deduces this fact through Winterbourne’s hesitant words.
This is not a minor detail, because it is by her capacity of deduction that Daisy’s increasing emotional maturity is made evident: I shall be ever so glad to know your aunt. ” Winterbourne was embarrassed. (… ) he said; “but I am afraid those headaches will interfere. ” (… ) “But I suppose she doesn’t have a headache every day,” she said sympathetically. (… ). “She tells me she does,” he answered at last, not knowing what to say. Miss Daisy Miller stopped and stood looking at him. (… ) “She doesn’t want to know me! ” she said suddenly. “Why don’t you say so?
You needn’t be afraid. I’m not afraid! ” (… )You needn’t be afraid,” she repeated. “Why should she want to know me? ” (… ) “Gracious! she IS exclusive! ” she said. (James, 1879:18) At Mrs. Walker’s, one of the society matrons, Daisy makes a succession of social mistakes, such as asking Mrs. Walker, who was having a party, to bring her friend Mr. Giovanelli with her. Additionally, she confesses that she is going out for a promenade alone with him. Although this scandalizes Mrs. Costello, who prompted Daisy to desist from this plan, Daisy only fulfills her own desires.
To make matters even worse, later on when Daisy is walking with Giovanelli and Winterbourne, Mrs. Walker follows Daisy and urges her to leave the men immediately and go with her in her carriage. Daisy’s firm refusal only accelerates what will be inevitable in the end, her social alienation. At the same time her determination and personality have reached their high peak: Do get in and drive with me! ” said Mrs. Walker. “That would be charming, but it’s so enchanting just as I am! ” (… ) “It may be enchanting, dear child, but it is not the custom here,” urged Mrs. Walker, (… ) “Well, it ought to be, then! ” said Daisy. “If I didn’t walk I should expire. ” “You should walk with your mother, dear,” cried the lady from Geneva, losing patience. “With my mother dear! ” exclaimed the young girl. (… ), “I am more than five years old.
“”You are old enough to be more reasonable. You are old enough, dear Miss Miller, to be talked about. ” (…)Daisy gave a violent laugh. “I never heard anything so stiff! If this is improper, Mrs. Walker,” she pursued, “then I am all improper, and you must give me up. Goodbye; I hope you’ll have a lovely ride! and, with Mr. Giovanelli, who made a triumphantly obsequious salute, she turned away. (James, 1879:38-39) Mrs. Walker’s party is what Campbell designates as the Climax. Again, Daisy’s actions only seem to precipitate her dramatic fall. Initially, while she remains at home with Giovanelli, she first sends her mother alone. When she finally arrives she does not wait to be spoken to, totally unconscious of the ‘all the cold shoulders that were turned toward her ,‘ especially those of Mrs. Walker’s (James, 1879: 48). Eventually, the awful truth only dawned on her later:
When Daisy came to take leave of Mrs. Walker, this lady (… ) turned her back straight upon Miss Miller and left her to depart with what grace she might. (… ). Daisy turned away, looking with a pale, grave face at the circle near the door;Winterbourne saw that, for the first moment, she was too much shocked and puzzled even for indignation. (James, 1879:44). Lastly, Daisy confronts Campbell’s Final Battle at the Roman Colosseum. When, disappointedly she perceives that Winterbourne, whom she had considered as a real friend, mistrusts in her chastity, she understands hat she will never fit in that hypocrite society, far advanced her ideas are for that era. Now she knows that her Gift, her knowledge, cannot be shared with this community. Therefore, she ultimate resolves to detach herself physically from that corrupted society. Being aware that being non native in Rome, hence not immune to malaria, and having spent many hours at the Colosseum, which is presumed to be infected with this illness, she nonetheless refuses to take Eugenio’s disease preventing pills. In this way, Daisy completes the cycle of her story of initiation, by fulfiling Mordecai’s Decisive model.
However, she does not do so in Campbell’s terms, namely in what he calls the Return. Quite the contrary, she follows W. R. B. Lewis’s pattern of Denitiation of the American Hero, explained in The American Adam : “… the valid rite of initiation for the individual in the new world is not an initiation into society, but, given the character of society, an initiation away from it: something I wish it were legitimate to call denitiation’ “ (W. R. B Lewis,1955: 115). In other words, the American hero does not return to the place from where he has departed.
Instead, from disillusionment he prefers alienation, sealing her physical and social evinction. Henry James used many strategies when writing Daisy Miller, A Study. Whether literary, discourse or narrative, these features are what brought his nouvelle to life and provided it with unity. Henry James was born in New York, in a family of intellectuals. His father was a man known not only for his intelligence but also for encouraging his children to become the best in their fields of study. In Henry’s case, it was literature and he decided to follow literary realism.
However, it was psychological realism what he was more interested in. This is what encouraged Henry James to create the term “central intelligence”: This term is used to describe a character in a story whose main purpose is to tell the story and filter the events taking place in it thought his or her thoughts and feelings. The central intelligence in Daisy Miller, A Study is Frederick Winterbourne. He is the character who filters the events in the nouvelle and he is the teller of the story, even though he is not the narrator.
He is introduced in the second paragraph, once the setting of the story is provided to the reader by the narrator. The concept of central intelligence is probably the most important discourse strategy in the nouvelle. It is the main procedure by which the writer brings unity to the text, turning it into a whole. The centre of intelligence can also be seen as a narrative strategy, since it is the use of this character along with the presence of a narrator, the medium by which the writer tells the story.
Daisy Miller, A Study has a 3rd person narrator as well as a center of intelligence. The narrator is not an omniscient narrator; it is a narrator who lacks the knowledge of what is happening in the minds of the characters, he only knows what Winterbourne perceives about them. An example that shows this relationship between the narrator and Winterbourne is the following:“Winterbourne wondered if he had been like this in his infancy, for he had been brought to Europe at about this age”. (James 1879: 6) In this extract of the text Winterbourne meets Randolph, Daisy’s brother.
We can see the central intelligence of the nouvelle, how his feeling and thoughts filter the information, in this case Randolph’s behavior, and compares it with his own behavior, of which he is not certain of, since he does not remember. The narrator merely tells us what Winterbourne felt at the time but he does not give us any further information. An example of the narrative strategy found in the text, that shows us that Daisy Miller, A Study is in fact a story of initiation, is how the nouvelle is structured.
It is divided in two parts. In the first part of the story we see how the two main characters meet and we learn about Daisy’s personality and peculiar manners. We could say that in this part of the nouvelle, which takes part in Switzerland, Daisy earns herself a bad reputation. An example of what people thought of Daisy can be seen in this extract taken from the text: In the evening Winterbourne mentioned to Mrs. Costello that he had spent the afternoon at Chillon with Miss Daisy Miller (… ) She went with you all alone? …) And that, she exclaimed, is the young person to whom you wanted me to know! (James 1879:27) In the second part of the nouvelle, which takes part in Rome, we can appreciate how Daisy is rejected by Mrs. Costello and how the young woman accepts she will probably never be accepted as a respected member of society. As mentioned earlier, this is the moment we think Daisy receives her gift, in this case, the gift of knowledge, which is evidence in itself of Daisy’s acquired maturity. She knows what the rules of European society are and refuses to follow them.
As the nouvelle progresses, this knowledge is what brings Daisy’s life to an end, both physically and socially. In Daisy Miller, A Study, there is a vast amount of literary devices playing art in what we consider the story of initiation. One such device is symbolism, and we have chosen to give this example since we believe it summarizes Daisy’s story. Flowers are said to be images that furnish sentences that would be very common otherwise. Moreover, the image of a flower can imply growth, maturity. Once flowers are mature enough, they blossom.
The following quote shows how Daisy mature, from being a very naive girl, to a “very clever foireign lady”, as Winterbourne later puts it: “Winterbourne listened to him [Giovanelli]: he stood staring at the raw protuberance [bud] among the April daisies. ” (James 1879:54) To conclude this essay, we would like to ratify our working hypothesis. We strongly believe Daisy Miller, A Study is a story of initiation. As illustrated previously, Daisy Miller, our heroine follows the stages proposed by authors such as Marcus Mordecai, Joseph Campbell and W. R. B. Lewis in her process of initiation and personal growth.
As was also previously mentioned, we consider that this story of initiation was possible through the many strategies available to the author and writer of this nouvelle, that is, to Henry James. We also believe, this nouvelle transcends the obvious, it transcends the story of the encounter between an American man and a naive young American lady who does not seem to fit in European society. We think Daisy Miller, A Study is not only the study of the personalities its author describes, but also, and more importantly, the initiation of a young lady into womanhood.

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