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.

The Wine

“Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even in handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths; others made small mud-embankments, to stem the wine as it ran; others, directed by lookers-on up at high windows, darted here and there to cut off little streams of wine that started away in new directions; others devoted themselves to the sadden and lee-dyed pieces of the cask, licking, and even champing the moister wine-rotted fragments with eager relish” –(31).

As a class, we discussed the significance of this passage at a metaphor for the war that would later happen in France—the wine was meant to symbolize blood. While I agree that this metaphor is a possibility, I feel that there is more going on within the passage than just the imagery of spilt blood running down the streets. The scene that Dickens depicts is one that is, at the least, chaotic. Mothers are using their headwear to absorb wine to feed their children, and others are using everything that they can to stop the flow of wine, so that they may gather it all for themselves. Simply put, it is a scene of pure desperation.

            If I am to go along with the assumption that this scene is meant to metaphorically replace blood, from war, tainting the streets red, then I feel that I would fail to acknowledge the layers that are set up within the scene. Dickens’ portrait is not one that takes place solely on the ground, but up above, too. There is the mention of “lookers-on up at high windows” (31) telling those down below where to go to gather wine. Is this not more indicative of the social hierarchy in both England and France, than of the oncoming war? For those down below are depicted in such desperation to feel the need to, quite literally, pounce on the spilt wine, that they lose all sanity for a moment. Though, I am aware that the late 18th century was not a time of great hygiene, I am sure that most people did not eat or drink from the ground often. Nevertheless, this is what the scene portrays—people doing whatever they could, despite the pieces of earth and other debris that would have been inevitably intermixed, to absorb the wine.

            Though not obviously, I feel that there is a connection from this scene to the scene within the Cruncher’s household as young Jerry is the spitting image of his father, though smaller, and follows his every demand. I feel that there is a strange parallel set up here between the two, which uses the different elevations as metaphors critiquing the social standings of the time. Even though one scene is more chaotic than the other, the image of height is used and associated with power. As height is only able to be used as a comparison between two things, thereby the more height one has, the more power they hold over the smaller being to which they are being compared.

Thus, I feel this scene is a direct reflection, and even critique, of the social standings of the time. Those down below, who are in the middle of all the chaos, are being directed by the onlookers who sit up above. There is not only a level of separation within the actions of the two groups, but in height. This quite literally sets up a hierarchical scene where those above direct those below. Moreover, those above are yelling from their windows, balconies, or at least some elevated surface that protects them from the chaos below. Whereas those down below are using their bodies as ways to contain the wine. While one has protection, and directs with their voice, the other uses their body and follows the orders of those above.