Winterbourne’s false self-image

As Winterbourne escorts Daisy to her date with Giovanelli, he declares: “that I intend to remain with you” (James 39), insisting that he will accompany her whether she likes it or not. Daisy responds with calling him out on “dictating” to her. Winterbourne tells her that she is making a mistake and that himself is the “right gentleman” whom she should listen to as opposed to acting as she pleases. This is the first scene in this novel where Winterbourne tries to interfere with Daisy’s way of living and subtly suggests to her that what she does is not different, but wrong, in Europe. As jealousy ferments in him, Winterbourne becomes increasingly more upfront about his readiness to “correct” Daisy’s behavior. He goes out of his way to find Mrs. Miller when Daisy isn’t at the hotel, to literally educate her on how to teach shame into Daisy. But thankfully, as readers we are spared the discomfort of having to read that scene since Winterbourne gives up on his notion.

Winterbourne is a character who is so pre-occupied with narrating what is happening around him, that he rarely reflects upon himself. He reminds me a lot of Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, who declares from the first chapter that he detests judgements but somehow shamelessly contradicts himself throughout the novel. Winterbourne sees himself to be an upholder of European tradition, while courting a lady, who is older than himself, in Geneva. He likes to act like the mature and reasonable gentleman around Daisy but in fact, he is deeply frustrated by Daisy’s indifferent attitude towards him. And Winterbourne has an irresistible urge to offer protection and guidance to Daisy Miller, because he thinks of Daisy as vulnerable and ignorant when it comes to European conventions or what people think of her. On the other hand, Daisy is in fact keenly aware of who she is, and of what people think of her. She admits that “I’m a fearful, frightful flirt! Did you ever hear of a nice girl that was not” (49). Her speech is powerful, and she is courageous in the face of her own true identity, which instills fear and almost admiration in Winterbourne and puts him to shame.

4 thoughts on “Winterbourne’s false self-image”

  1. Winterbourne can definitely be seen as hypocritical. He does not see a problem with taking Daisy out on a boat alone at night, or taking her to the castle alone, even though he acknowledges that it is not accepted to do so in Europe. He seems fine with it when Daisy is with him, but when Daisy engages in similar activity with Giovalelli, he tries to interfere and can’t understand why she doesn’t see the repercussions of her “social deviance.” This definitely seems to imply that after all of his analysis of Daisy’s innocence, he has completely ignored his own moral state. What confused me was how highly he regarded innocence in Daisy’s character without the novel, but then plays with his mustache and insists to his aunt he is not innocent in chapter 2…

  2. I’m totally with you (both)! Winterbourne tries to correct Daisy’s behavior—her adherence to American social norms and traditions, her performance of an American socialite or debutante—whenever she’s being “free” and “flirty” with other European men. But when Daisy first met Winterbourne and was fulfilling the European idea of impropriety in wanting to hang out with him alone (gasp), he was cool with it. Hypocrite for sure.

    Interesting for you to draw a parallel between Winterbourne and Nick from “The Great Gatsby.” Goes to show that Winterbourne holds no real authority or accountability over himself because he refuses to turn his judgmental gaze onto himself and analyze the sort of false-face he’s created: an American who abandoned American culture in preference of European ideals, but moves between them depending on which conveniences him more.

  3. I agree that Winterbourne likes to think he’s more “proper” than he acts. He seems to project this thought of innocence on Daisy partly to try to justify his own feelings for her. He thinks that if she really is innocent then there’s nothing wrong with liking her. Cat you make a really good point how even though Winterbourne criticizes everyone else through a European lens, his own actions are more American. He has no problem when it’s him who’s with Daisy, but when it’s someone else it becomes inappropriate. Jennifer I like how you mention how Winterbourne never looks at himself. Because if he saw himself as this stand up European gentleman then he would never had agreed to take Daisy to see the castle in Part 1. He doesn’t seem to realize his own actions don’t fit with the European standards either.

  4. I think it’s really interesting that you mention how Daisy seems to be more secure than Winterbourne. She seems to feel justified in her own opinions and actions, while Winterbourne spends the entire story questioning everything. We also might think that Daisy is more confident than Winterbourne simply because the novella focalizes through him and so we miss Daisy’s inner thoughts, and any potential self-doubt. I do think this poses an interesting question about the ending, regardless. Is it necessary for Daisy to be killed off at the end because she is a female character who is more secure and confident than her male counterpart? Killing her off seems to be necessary to calm the audience and reinsert Victorian ideals. Daisy cannot hold more power in the narrative than Winterbourne so she must be either subdued or killed.

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