Essay: Symbolism in Daisy Miller

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Symbolism in Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller is a novella that is replete with symbolism. Part of Henry James' appeal is that he is, arguably an existentialist absorbed in pointing out the uselessness of people's lives and the pity that so many of our lives end up unfulfilled and directionless. Henry James, brother of the famous William James, was an astute psychologist in his own rights with the streams of self-consciousness that his characters indulged in and the actions of his characters being replete with keen psychological insights.

Daisy James, alongside those of any of the other Jamesian stories contains similar morals. Daisy James is another allusion to the unlived life where Winterbourne's focus is placed, for the majority of the story, on a red herring.

Winterbourne is, in fact, peripheral to the story. The entire story is taken up with his obsession with Daisy Miller, not that he wishes to marry her but that he is intrigued with her actions and seeming innocence. His impressions with Daisy fluctuate, first seeing her as a flirt, then intrigued, then seeing her as an artless, unprotected innocent in Italy, and eventually defending her when he feels she runs the risk of death. The story culminates with Daisy dying and we are left with a feeling of incompleteness; we fail to see the hero's connection with the heroine. Winterbourne never arrives at a consummate realization of Daisy's character -- and even if he had of what use are his musings to us or to him - and, therefore, the whole narrative seems to be inconsequential, empty and symbolic of Winterbourne's foppish drifting through life. Daisy Miller, in short, seems to be a motif and symbolism of the unlived life unraveled in aimless pursuits of diversionary red herrings.

This aimless pursuit of life may also be indicated by the background context that strings throughout the story. Gossip is an inherent part of the unraveling of the narrative where Daisy Miller itself is a story of gossip transmitted as a datum of gossip. The whole is handed to us as a meaningless diversion. Someone -- a girl - who possessed the earnestness and naiveness of the typical American as James saw it was taken in and manipulated by the worldliness and hypocrisy of European society. Unfamiliarity with its norms led to her death and, saddest of all, no one seemed to care about her death. This is the unfairness of life shown in symbolic terms in the context of gossip and an aimless, artless existence.

James was in two modes regarding the American individual. On the one hand, he saw him as earnest, sincere, and well meaning if not naive, clueless, ignorant, self-centered, lacking in sense… [END OF PREVIEW]

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