An Argumentative Essay Of Daisy Miller By Henry James

Topics: Woman, Gender, Gender role Pages: 5 (1088 words) Published: April 27, 2015
An Argumentative Essay of Daisy Miller by Henry James
Simone de Beauvoir once said that "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman", distinguishing the terms "sex" and "gender", traditionally mixed up by society. To clarify, the term "gender" is a cultural label gradually acquired by our presence in time and space throughout the history of mankind (man/masculine - women/feminine), whereas "sex" is a biological and innate quality (male - female). As it is shown in the title of the novella written by Henry James, Daisy Miller: A Study, Winterbourne (the main male protagonist) is constantly analyzing Daisy Miller and trying to classify her, as it is shown in some Winterbourne's inner reflexions, as the following:

Never, indeed, since he has grown old enough to appreciate things, had he encountered a young American girl of so pronounced a type as this. (James, 2007:12) Daisy Miller is categorised as a "mere object" of the male gaze, not a human being. By denying Daisy an internal voice, she is being silenced from her thoughts during all the novella as a metaphor of women's position in public sphere. Moreover, the reader can only perceive Daisy through Winterbourne's eyes, which means that her image is already filtered through Winterbourne's conventions when she is introduced to the reader. Social behaviour and manners have changed through history, but they have maintained their strong influence and oppression upon the population. Gender roles in the Victorian society were set in binary systems, closely bound up with class society; as men occupied the role of the subject, women were set in a subordinate position (the object) with a reproductive function. Upper classes women performed three main functions: mother, wife and entertainer. These roles were built and actively obeyed by men and some women (such as Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker in the novella) and passively followed by most women. The code contained a double standard of sexual morality, while young unmarried women had to remain virgins, especially in the upper echelons of the European society, men had the role of sexual predators; as Winterbourne indirectly shows considerable erotic interest in Daisy Miller, by being depicted with symbols associated to virility, masculinity and sexually experimented:

"My dear aunt, I am not so innocent," said Winterbourne, smiling and curling his moustache.(James,2007:18) In nineteenth-century European society, upper-class unmarried women must be chaperoned in order to protect their reputation. But as it is reflected in the novella, the main female protagonist defers to those. She is constantly walking in public with men and no chaperone. Daisy does not follow all the qualities of this subordination; such as passivity and complacency, which provokes Winterbourne's bewilderment, as it is presented in these extracts:

Winterbourne reflected for an instant as lucidly as possible- "we" could only mean Miss Daisy Miller and himself. This programme seemed almost too agreeable for credence; he felt as if he ought to kiss the young lady's hand." (James,2007:14)

Winterbourne coloured; for an instant he hesitated greatly. It seemed so strange to hear her speak that way of her "reputation." (James,2007:43) Daisy Miller does not conform with the authoritarian patriarchal social structure, which traditionally has been endured. Daisy adopts the style of the new independent American womanhood, displayed through her flirtatious behaviour and speech, as it is depicted in the following extract:

"I used to go to New York every winter. In New York I had lots of society. Last winter I had seventeen dinners given me; and three of them were by gentlemen," added Daisy Miller. "I have more friends in New York than in Schenectady- more gentlemen friends; and more young lady friends too," she resumed on a moment. [...] "I have always had," she said, "a great deal of gentlemen's society." (James,2007:11) In refusing Mrs Walker's...
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