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Monday, June 13, 2011

One Aspect of Naturalism in “Daisy Miller”

“Daisy Miller” presents readers with a relationship between two Americans abroad.  One, Miss Daisy Miller, is new to the American upper class society in Europe, while the other, Frederick Winterbourne has been in Europe for quite some time – in the realm and under the influence of high society all the while.  He understands the “rules” of such a social circle and sees what everyone around him sees. When those around both Daisy and Winterbourne disapprove of her conduct, it seems that he is a young man with a conscience that will not allow him to discriminate against her. Winterbourne's unwillingness to do so is fueled by a hopeful yet undefined romantic interest in Miss Miller. “Winterbourne was impatient to see her again, and he was vexed with himself that, by instinct, he should not appreciate her justly”. (James 11) While this story offers the reader several different examples of naturalism, one example can most easily be found within the context of various different reactions to her throughout the story, ending ultimately with Winterbourne’s lack of change at the end of the story.
Miss Miller is declared from the beginning of the story as not only uncultivated but also unfit to be accepted by Mrs. Costello, Winterbourne’s aunt.  “They are the sort of Americans that one does one’s duty by not – not accepting”. (James 9)  It appears, once in Rome, that others are not as quickly unwilling to simply not accept Miss Miller as she and her mother are invited to a party given by Mrs. Walker, another within the social circle that they all find themselves.  However, by the time of the party, Mrs. Walker’s open mindedness has faded as she openly disgraces the young girl to everyone at the party.  “She turned her back straight upon Miss Miller and left her to depart with what grace she might”. (James 13)  The story culminates with everyone having turned their back on Miss Miller for her wild and unsavory behavior with a particular man from Rome, Mr. Giovanelli when they are alone at midnight in the Colosseum – a night that ultimately leads to Miss Miller’s death via “Roman fever”.
According to Dr. doCarmo’s Notes on Realism and Naturalism, naturalist writers “don’t think it’s the individual’s place to change the world, and whatever moral struggle s/he goes through may very well add up to little or nothing”.  Throughout the story, Frederick often admits that Miss Miller does not live up to the caliber that their social circle is accustomed, “they helped him to make up his mind about Miss Daisy.  Evidently she was rather wild.” (James 9) “She seemed to him, in all this, an extraordinary mixture of innocence and crudity”. (James 18) “She was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect”. (James 19)  While he admits this both verbally and internally, he is still at a tug of war with himself due to his admiration for the young lady.  After her death, he confronts Mr. Giovanelli about the detrimental behavior from the night when they were found in the Colosseum together.  He had taken Miss Daisy to a “nest of malaria” (James 19) and a native should have known better.  Giovanelli’s response to him is weak, at best and leaves Winterbourne thinking of Daisy’s “mystifying manners” (James 21) over the next several months. In all of this time of thinking about her, he concludes little except that his aunt was right from the beginning “You were right in that remark that you made last summer.  I was booked to make a mistake.  I have lived too long in foreign parts.” (James 22)
The story ends with a description of Winterbourne that is identical to the one found at the beginning of the story.  This is a clear example of what doCarmo is explaining in his notes.  Winterbourne went through this experience – attempting, albeit without much conviction, to change other’s minds but failing to do so.  In the end, the entire experience does nothing to change anyone’s mind, not even his own.

Works Cited

James, Henry. “Daisy Miller”.  Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. Web. 31 May 2011.
doCarmo, Dr. “Dr. doCarmo’s Notes on Realism and Naturalism”. BCCC Faculty Web Server. Web. 31 May 2011                                                                                         
*** Got an A on this one.  Which makes me smile.  Not a high A but an A nonetheless.  Still working on Beloved... pg 243.  Gotta finish the last bit tonight.***

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