Daisy Miller – No Plot

Throughout Henry James’ Daisy Miller, the character of Daisy Miller is constantly referred to as beautiful by the men she entices. The main character, and arguably the narrator, Mr. Winterbourne struggles to decide whether her appeal, besides her beauty, comes from her free-spiritedness, innocence, or her foreign ignorance. However, the expression of Daisy’s beauty is always followed by the expression of her innocence. Moreover, her innocence is always noted by the men besotted by her, but never by the men would have been rejected by her in some way. Nevertheless, despite his alternating opinions of Daisy, her beauty remains, and in the end of the short novel Daisy’s other suitor, Mr. Giovanelli, also refers to her as “the most beautiful young lady I [he] ever saw” (82).

Looking at this, the repetition of beauty and innocence, from a Freudian lens, it is obvious that Daisy has nothing more to her than physical appeal. Moreover, her beauty and “innocence” is a façade to hide her conceit and agitating ways. In truth, Daisy is an ignorant foreigner, travelling through some of the world’s most beautiful countries, and is arguably unphased by her surroundings. Instead she remains fixated on the attention she receives from her male suitors, disregarding the custom of women to remain passive to men’s opinions.

Daisy’s perceived beauty and “innocence” from the young men who interact with her, says more about them than her. Daisy is obviously unintelligent and manipulative, but still the desire to have her remains high amongst single men. This either means that men are easily enticed by foreign objects, for that is essentially how she is treated, as an object, or, that her beauty, and lack of personality, mimics the lack of plot in the book. I would argue the latter. Like Peter Brooks states, plot is essential in understanding the novel, yet this novel does not seem to have any plot whatsoever. Thus, it is impossible to find the intention of Henry James, for he does not give much to analyze. Though I could analyze the repetition of the words beautiful and innocent, there is not much more to the character of Daisy Miller besides those words, so thus is impossible to analyze this novel under Freud’s or Brooks’ argument. Instead this novel just reasserts gender roles, as the male protagonist is a deep thinker trying to explore the different layers of the main, female character. However, the female character is one dimensional and manipulative, so regarding her layers, there is nothing more than her physical beauty.

2 thoughts on “Daisy Miller – No Plot”

  1. I think it’s interesting how your description of Daisy differs from that of Hannah. You see Daisy as an object because of the repetition of “beauty” and “innocence”. On the other hand, Hannah focuses on the word “flirt” and how Daisy’s claiming of the identity of “flirt” gives her agency. What’s the benefit of having a divisive character like Daisy? I wonder if the duality of Daisy could show us something about the novel that we haven’t considered. Perhaps this novel is trying to suggest that a woman can be both objects and subjects, but if she violates the balance between the two she is punished.

  2. I definitely wrestled with Daisy as a character too. Throughout the book, it was hard for me to understand just why she was such the object of attention when in fact, it seemed as if she was a very one-dimensional character whose worth is strictly based off of the approval and satisfaction of men. I think your point about how we cannot see James’ intentions because the novel has no plot is interesting–and I would go as far to disagree with it. I think that the novel, through the repetition of “beautiful” and “innocent” shows the author’s perception of women. When we talked about Daisy Miller in class, I remember someone mentioned how many people think that James, the author, was a closeted gay man. So, this leads me to wonder…was he trying to write from a skewed perspective of a straight man when he, himself was not attracted to women? Or was he writing this and obsessively focusing on the beauty of a woman to hide his true identity?

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